Day of Joy -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., center, is pictured with the four men he ordained to the priesthood June 2. From left are Father James R. Smith, Father Michael G. DeSaye, Father Christopher James Dayton and Father Nicholas R. Dolan. Craig Pittelli photos
Day of Joy -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., center, is pictured with the four men he ordained to the priesthood June 2. From left are Father James R. Smith, Father Michael G. DeSaye, Father Christopher James Dayton and Father Nicholas R. Dolan. Craig Pittelli photos

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

“It’s an interesting coincidence that directly behind the Bishop’s chair is a depiction of the bishop ordaining,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said June 2, gesturing to the stained-glass window behind him in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

“Between this window, and that window,” he said, pointing to the one above the Diocese’s four newly ordained priests on the opposite side of the Cathedral, “which pictures a priest doing his work and preaching, what do we have? We have these four men –  Father Smith, Father Dolan, Father DeSaye and Father Dayton – and we all say congratulations to you.”

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Hundreds of priests, deacons, women and men religious and lay faithful erupted into applause in welcoming Father Christopher James Dayton, Father Michael G. DeSaye, Father Nicholas R. Dolan and Father James Richard Smith to the priesthood.

Later revealing what he was thinking as Bishop O’Connell spoke on the holiness depicted in stained glass, Father DeSaye said,  “It’s very priestly – the consecration is happening right there. Those were my thoughts as I was looking at that window: I hope to be a priest like Christ.”  

The Worthiest of Men

Voices lifted in song to “O Christ, High Priest Eternal” and “Ecce Sacerdo Magnus,” led by the Diocesan Festival Choir and instrumental accompaniment under the direction of Shawn Mack, marked the start of Mass, which was celebrated by a visibly moved Bishop O’Connell.

“The Bishop and I joked that we both had allergies at the same moment,” Father Dayton, seen wiping away tears during the Mass, said later with a smile.

After Introductory Rites, Richard Smith, uncle of Father Smith, and Christian Brother Frank Byrne, president of Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft – of which three of the new priests are alumni – proclaimed the Readings. The Gospel was proclaimed by Deacon Christopher Pinto, who was ordained a transitional deacon May 19.

The four men, seated in the sanctuary during Mass, were then presented for ordination by Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan vicar of clergy and consecrated life and director of vocations.

“Most Reverend Father, Holy Mother Church asks you to ordain these, our brothers, to the responsibility of the priesthood,” Msgr. Mullelly said.

“Do you know them to be worthy?” Bishop O’Connell asked.

Msgr. Mullelly affirmed the men’s worthiness, and Bishop O’Connell accepted them for the Order of the Priesthood to the applause of the crowd – among them, faithful representing the home parishes of the newly ordained, or where they had served as part of their seminary formation.

“There’s a beautiful prayer that was prayed about God holding us up and helping us to stand up,” Father Dolan later recalled of the Ordination Rite. “You just felt like falling over and falling apart, but it was a real grace to be held up by God.”

Heart of the Priesthood

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell preached on Pope John Paul II, and how 50 years after the now-saint’s ordination, he referred to the priesthood as a gift and mystery.

“The gift of priesthood is given you by God,” he said. “You were chosen for this gift, set apart from all else that you could have been in this world, because God wanted YOU to receive this gift. Believe that with every fiber of your being, with the conviction of your mind, with the beating of your heart, with the depth of your soul.” 

“Here is the mystery of the priesthood. Why you? Why any of us? The Scriptures say, ‘Before you were born, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart,’” the Bishop continued, quoting from the day’s First Reading, Jeremiah 1:4-9.

“Yes, for a gift, for a mystery, for a priesthood that invites us, my brother priests and you, the newest among us: to ‘know what you are doing and to imitate what you handle.’ Let us listen now to the voice of the Church, ‘ever ancient, ever new,’” he concluded, quoting from St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”

Again pausing with emotion, Bishop then addressed the four candidates as “dear sons,” asking them to declare their intention to assume the responsibilities of the priesthood. Called by name, each then knelt before Bishop O’Connell and, placing their hands in his, promised obedience to their shepherd and his successors.

The chant of the Litany of Saints filled the Cathedral as the men then lie prostrate in the front of the altar.

In their last act as priest candidates, Father Dayton, Father DeSaye, Father Dolan and Father Smith rose and approached the Bishop one by one, kneeling before him. Bishop laid his hands upon their heads – the official act, rooted in Scripture, that indicates the bestowing of the Holy Spirit and ordains the men priests.

“What a powerful feeling,” Father Smith later recalled of the moment, and the following minutes as the Diocese’s concelebrating priests approached the men to each lay their own hands upon the new priests’ heads.

“I was crying the whole time,” Father Smith said. “By the end of the time that all the brother priests laid their hands on us, and I saw the faces of each one of them go by … it all hit me at once.”

Mentors in Faith

After the Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination, the priests were bestowed with their vestments – the stole and chasuble. Father Dayton was vested by Msgr. Leonard Troiano, episcopal vicar for planning, and Father DeSaye by Father Michael Saharic, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Hampton.

Father Dolan was vested by Father Alberto Tamayo, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, and moderator of the Oratory of Philip Neri, who later said of  the new priest, “I’ve seen him move from being a seminarian to Christ giving him the heart of a priest. What does the heart of a priest look like? The heart of Jesus.”

Father Smith’s vesting priest was Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski, with whom he served during a summer assignment in St. Barnabas Parish. 

“He’s got a great desire to work with people, and his desire to want to be a priest can be seen in his everyday lifestyle,” the Bayville pastor said of Father Smith after Mass.

Adorned in their new vestments, the priests again knelt before Bishop O’Connell, who anointed their hands with the sacred Oil of Chrism and wrapped their hands in a linen cloth. 

Following the presentation of the gifts, which were brought in procession by the ordinandi’s family members, the Bishop and concelebrating priests embraced the new priests and Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Faithful Support

Following Mass, the faithful – including dozens who traveled by bus from St. Anthony of Padua Parish – lined up around the Cathedral to receive a blessing from the new priests.

Father Dolan is part of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, located on the parish’s grounds. As such, he has served there as a religious brother before and during his time as a transitional deacon. He will continue to serve at the parish, as it is the Oratory’s permanent residence.

“Every time he would come back from seminary, you would see him more and more comfortable. He would be able to explain to you more the different pieces of the faith,” said Anthony Privetera of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

“There’s a vocation lesson in seeing him become a priest,” Privetera added, explaining that Father Dolan has been involved in the Youth Oratory for years.

Privetera’s wife, Gabriela, agreed. “Teenagers can be a little complicated; they need strength,” she said. “He has an ability to connect with them on a personal level, but at the same time, they respect him and follow him as a leader.”

Parishioners in Father Smith’s home parish, Incarnation-St. James, Ewing, spoke over each other in excitement in praising the new priest.

“Fantastic,” “excellent,” “wonderful,” longtime parishioners Marie Emourato, Mafalda Fabe and Edith Ann Mrazik gushed, describing the type of priesthood they think Father Smith will lead.

“He’s a real inspiration,” Mrazik said, explaining how Father Smith was part of the parish prayer group for roughly 10 years. In his childhood, Father Smith’s mother worked in the parish rectory.

“His smile and his ability to draw people to him ... he finds something good to say about everybody,” Mrazik continued. “He’s a wonderful example for the Catholic Church.”

Following the example of his shepherd, Father Dayton recalled the words of Bishop’s homily as he bestowed blessings upon the faithful.

“The gift of the priesthood is exactly what Bishop said. It’s to give it away. That’s my prayer, too,” Father Dayton said. “That going forth, I take the gift I’ve received and the love that I feel today and give it to every single person that I’m sent to serve.”