Father Kegley meets with students and faculty during the school’s participation in the diocesan Day of Service in 2018. Mike Ehrmann photo
Father Kegley meets with students and faculty during the school’s participation in the diocesan Day of Service in 2018. Mike Ehrmann photo

Reflecting on 25 years of priestly ministry, Father Jeff Kegley admits that he wasn’t seeking religious life until an encounter with the Holy Spirit marked a turning point in his future.

“I felt the call to the priesthood after an experience I had with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – a renewal of the grace of my Baptism – and it changed my life,” reflected the pastor of St. Mary Parish, Middletown. “I first became involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in 1985 when two parishioners from St. Ann, [Keansburg], invited me to the New Jersey Charismatic Conference. … From that moment on my life hasn’t been the same.” 

Father Kegley was ordained May 18, 1996, by Bishop John C. Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton. He began his priestly journey at his current assignment as a parochial vicar and chaplain for Mater Dei High School, now Mater Dei Prep, Middletown.

Although the priesthood was not his first aspiration, he came from a faith-based household. St. Ann’s was a great parish to grow up in,” Father Kegley said. “My family was involved with the parish; we always went to holy Mass on Sunday. We had wonderful priests, religious sisters, and amazing parishioners.”

Born to Leon and Kathryn Kegley in May 1959, Father Kegley attended St. Ann School, Keansburg, then graduated from Keansburg High School as a member of the Class in 1978.

After high school, he entered the workforce and was involved in politics at a young age, being elected a county committeeman at 19 and to the town’s Board of Education at 21, serving as board president.

“As a young man, I wanted to work in New York City,” Father Kegley said. “I was hired by a bank that would also pay for college. I enjoyed my 10 years in the banking industry, but God had other plans for me.” 

He attended Thomas Edison State University, Trenton, and later studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Seton Hall University, South Orange. After his first assignment as parochial vicar in Middletown, he served as parochial vicar in the parishes of St. Catharine, Spring Lake, and St. Veronica, Howell; administrator, then pastor in Holy Angels Parish, Trenton, and pastor in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish in Hamilton, before returning to Middletown in 2012.

Other influencing figures in Father Kegley’s life included a grandmother who was a daily communicant and a great aunt, Sister of Mercy Victoria Kolodziej who was one of the community’s first missionaries to Costa Rica. “I was blessed to have them as great examples of love for the Lord, his Church and his people,” he noted.

Sharing some of the highlights of his ministry, Father Kegley mentioned the establishment of the Catholic youth program, Life Teen, in three parishes in which he has served. “Life Teen’s mission is to lead teens closer to Christ” through the celebration of Holy Mass where the homily and music are directed to teens.  Father Kegley has also been involved with establishing perpetual Adoration chapels in St. Mary and St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parishes.  

Across 25 years Father Kegley experienced many ups and downs. “The most exciting part about being a priest is celebrating the holy Sacraments,” he explained. “I also love the work of new evangelization, presenting the Gospel in ways that people will have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

“The biggest challenge is presenting the Gospel in our current culture,” he continued. “Over the years, we have changed so much as a society, we are more secularized, and many people are not dialed in to God or their faith … There are so many people that need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This work is right before us, we don’t have to go looking for it.”

Known for his leadership in the New Jersey Catholic Charismatic movement, Father Kegley was assigned as diocesan liaison for the movement, leading and creating prayer services, retreats and conferences for the Diocese and the state.  In the fall, he will establish the Encounter School of Ministry – New Jersey Campus at St. Mary – a two-year training program to equip, teach and activate students in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“Pope Francis has instructed the leaders of the Renewal to “bring the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the whole Church.”

Father Kegley is chairman for the annual Catholic Men for Jesus Christ Conference, set for February, which calls together men to a day of prayer, reflection and fellowship. He has also previously served as a chaplain for the Middletown Fire Department, the same organization his brother Robert served as a lifelong firefighter.

Reflecting with gratitude, this anniversary has meant a lot to Father Kegley. He recalled the words of the psalmist (116:12), “How can I ever repay the goodness of the Lord?”

To young men discerning a vocation he advised, “What I recommend is to continuously pray to the Holy Spirit and completely surrender your heart to the Lord!”