Father William Dunlap visits with a well-wishing parishioner following his retirement Mass.
Father William Dunlap visits with a well-wishing parishioner following his retirement Mass.
As Father William Dunlap looks back on the 48 years of his priesthood, it was just a natural step in a progression of a vocation that began with childhood curiosity and culminated in a lifelong devotion to God’s plan which now includes his retirement.

Serving most recently as parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, his vocation has spanned multiple assignments and pastorships, each with an opportunity for him to participate in that plan.

PHOTO GALLERY: Father Dunlap's Retirement Mass

Born in 1947 in Trenton, and belonging to Sacred Heart Parish there with his family, Father Dunlap found a natural home in the Church, attending the 9 a.m. Mass and singing with the entire student body of the parish school. Both his parents and parish religious influenced his eventual path to the priesthood.

“I started talking about it at about three years old, and of course there was a lot of encouragement from the sisters and the priests,” he recalled, eventually adopting the practice of injecting a bit of humor in his homilies as modeled by a childhood priest.

As he neared the end of high school, young Will got onto a waiting list for Trenton State College and simultaneously took the entrance exam for the Diocese for seminary.

“Bishop [George W.] Ahr said, ‘we need priests!’ Father Dunlap explained, noting the Bishop sent him to St. Phillip Neri School, Boston, to be prepared for entering the seminary. His time there was followed by attending Trinitarian College, Baltimore, and St. Bonaventure University and Christ the King Seminary, both in St. Bonaventure, N.Y.

After ordination by Bishop Ahr on May 18, 1974, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Father Dunlap began his first assignment in St. Mary of the Lake (now part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish), Lakewood, where he remained for 10 years.

“I was 27 years old when I was ordained, and it was all new to me,” he said of those first years. “It really was mind-boggling in a certain sense. I remember walking into church that first Saturday I had to hear Confessions, and thinking, ‘I’m really doing this!’ It was very mystifying.”

Father Dunlap continued in Ocean County parishes during his appointment as temporary administrator of Epiphany Parish, Brick, and later St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River.

After a brief period as temporary administrator of St. Jerome Parish, West Long Branch (now part of Our Lady of Hope Parish), Father Dunlap returned to his hometown when he was appointed parochial vicar of St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton), serving 1989-1990, when he was named pastor of Visitation Parish, Brick, where he served for more than 19 years and acquired many special memories.

“We had the parish’s 50th anniversary, with a lot of activities,” he remembered fondly. “One was to remove the pews to be refinished, section by section, as well as the carpet; when it was all done, people felt like they were in a new church.” Another warm memory was a one-day carnival for the religious education children – a combined 2,000 kids in grades K-8 – with a parish cookout and rides.

Father Dunlap was twice appointed to the diocesan Priest Personnel Committee, first in 1991 and then again in 1995, each time to serve a three-year term. He also spent more than a decade as spiritual director of the Cursillo Movement in the Diocese. A pastorate in Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish, Atlantic Highlands, was followed by a 2013 assignment as parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake.

A great lover of books, Father Dunlap has set aside the first few months of retirement to organize his vast personal library, hoping to share it with other retired priests in Villa Vianney which he now calls home. With religious education and CYO basketball among the highlights of his ministry, Father Dunlap has had a vocation full of bringing Christ to the young.

“It’s very fulfilling and meaningful,” he said of his priesthood. “You do have to work hard at times, and it’s a life where sometimes you may feel lonely, but you’re never alone. You develop a relationship with the Lord, and as long as you stay spiritually-minded – work at and pray at it – it’s a fulfilling life.”