Father Santangelo, at right, participates i a Good Friday service in Epiphany Church, Brick, where he has served as pastor since 2013. Other parishes where he has served as parochial vicar, administrator and as pastor include St. Joan of Arc, Marlton; St. Paul, Princeton; St. Paul, Burlington; St. Mary of the Lake, Lakewood, and St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford. Monitor file photo
Father Santangelo, at right, participates i a Good Friday service in Epiphany Church, Brick, where he has served as pastor since 2013. Other parishes where he has served as parochial vicar, administrator and as pastor include St. Joan of Arc, Marlton; St. Paul, Princeton; St. Paul, Burlington; St. Mary of the Lake, Lakewood, and St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford. Monitor file photo

“It’s easy when you look back on your life, and all the steps are in place, to see God’s plan,” Father Michael A. Santangelo said as he reflected on his 25 years of priestly ministry. “It is a graced moment.”

Father Santangelo, who serves as pastor of Epiphany Parish, Brick, and as Catholic Scouting chaplain for the Diocese of Trenton, has enjoyed many of those graced moments throughout his life, beginning with his time as a third-grade chorister in his Bayshore community parish.

Born in 1967 in Montclair, young Michael grew up as a member of Keansburg’s St. Ann Parish with a bit of a vocal disadvantage.

“I had a thick New York accent. Everyone in Keansburg did back then,” he said, explaining that rather than going to speech therapy, one of the religious sisters recommended he join the choir to learn better diction. “I sang all the way through [St. Mary] high school [in South Amboy.]”

Father Santangelo admitted he had big plans upon his 1990 graduation from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in economics focused on finance and accounting. “I thought I would be running the Big 8 [national accounting firms], but I became more involved with campus ministry my last two years of school.

“I was heading toward accounting and knew who I was going to be,” he continued. “I had to let go and realize God’s plan was better, though it was difficult.”

Family of Faith

Father Santangelo prepared for the priesthood in Washington Theological Union, Silver Spring, Md., and Immaculate Conception Seminary, Seton Hall University, South Orange. After time as a Carmelite, he changed his focus to the diocesan priesthood and was ordained by Bishop John C. Reiss on Sept. 9, 1995, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

After completing his first assignment as parochial vicar in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, Father Santangelo served as parochial vicar in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, before his 2003 assignment as administrator, and later, pastor of St. Paul Parish, Burlington. Shortly after he arrived in Burlington, he underwent cancer surgery on his tongue. The priest credits his youthful training in the choir as helping to restore his diction after the surgery. He also served as chaplain to the Serra Club International of Burlington County.

In 2008, Father Santangelo became parochial vicar in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, before moving to St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. His tenure at Epiphany Parish began March 1, 2013.

In Epiphany Parish, Father Santangelo said there is a strong emphasis on evangelization, noting the parish livestreams Mass each week and had finished a novena for the Holy Spirit just before Pentecost this year. Meetings and retreats with core volunteers and the parish in general have been put on hold due to the coronavirus, but plans exist to resume in the fall. “We need to fan the embers, renew the spark,” he said.

Epiphany’s pastor expressed gratitude about how the family of faith have been reaching out to those in need during the pandemic.

“We have volunteers to call everyone on our rolls to check on them, alert them to the livestreaming and our in-person Communion procedure,” Father Santangelo said. “Our Helping Hands Food Pantry was running low on supplies, so we put out an appeal on Facebook, and the response was overwhelming. The number of people they are helping has more than doubled.”

Character Building

Himself an Eagle Scout, Father Santangelo has served since 1996 as diocesan Scouting chaplain, hosting a number of events each year for Scouts including the annual Boy and Girl Scouting Awards Mass and Ceremony.

Because of coronavirus conditions, Father Santangelo’s annual June trip to the Boy Scouts’ High Adventure Camp at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico has been canceled this year, but he is looking forward to attending next year. The excursion to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains, tests Scouts’ outdoor endurance, fosters leadership skills and builds character.

Similar to how the camp can cultivate strong qualities in Scouts, so does a call to discernment foster what is necessary for the priesthood: a surrender to God.

“It is his journey to take,” Father Santangelo said of any man considering the priesthood. “God calls those he will make worthy and capable. We must surrender.”

He added, “If you want to be a real radical, do what God wants you to do.”