Rev. Mr. Sansevere is called to the Promise of the Elect, declaring his intention to assume the responsibilities of a priest, and kneels before Bishop O'Connell, promising his obedience to the Bishop and his successors. Jeff Bruno photo
Rev. Mr. Sansevere is called to the Promise of the Elect, declaring his intention to assume the responsibilities of a priest, and kneels before Bishop O'Connell, promising his obedience to the Bishop and his successors. Jeff Bruno photo
Newly ordained Father Stephen Sansevere was reminded of two of the Church’s holy Sacraments – the Sacrament of Holy Orders and that of Matrimony – as he listened to the words of Trenton Diocese’s shepherd.

“This chalice, which I consecrated this morning, contains in the cross at its base the wedding ring of Susanne, who I’m sure is with us in the most beautiful and special way today,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said as he presented the paten and chalice to Father Sansevere during the Ordination Rite.

Family and friends would agree that the memory of Father Sansevere’s wife, Susanne – who died nearly three years ago – was present throughout the Mass as her husband made his priestly promises June 27 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

“There’s not a day in my life I don’t think about her,” Father Sansevere said. “But to be a priest, this is my life coming full circle.”

Answering the Call

About 15 priests concelebrated the Mass of Ordination with Bishop O’Connell, all of whom processed past nearly 100 family and friends wearing face masks at the start of Mass. All in attendance, who needed tickets to attend, had their temperature taken upon arrival and practiced social distancing due to the coronavirus.

“My sisters and brothers, what a glorious day we celebrate today as we ordain this man, our brother, our friend, our colleague to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Steve, I wish you every blessing,” Bishop O’Connell said before the Readings were proclaimed.

Photo Gallery: Ordination Mass for Father Sansevere

Photo Gallery: Father Sansevere celebrates first Mass 

Both Readings spoke to being called by God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart,” Lawrence Sansevere, the soon-to-be priest’s younger brother, proclaimed from the Book of Jeremiah. The Second Reading, from Hebrews, stated, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God. … No one takes this honor upon himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Proclaiming from the Gospel of John, the Rev. Mr. Rjoy Ballacillo, who was ordained a transitional deacon June 20, recounted Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after his Death and Resurrection.

“‘Peace be with you,’” he quoted from John 20:19. “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.’”

Following the Gospel, the Rite of Ordination began with Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians, presenting Rev. Mr. Sansevere to Bishop O’Connell.

“He who is to be ordained a priest come forward. Rev. Mr. Stephen Anthony Sansevere,” he said.

“Present,” Deacon Sansevere responded.

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

“Do you know him to be worthy?” Bishop O’Connell asked. Msgr. Mullelly responded, “I testify that he has been found worthy.”

“Relying on the help of the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, we choose Stephen, our brother, for the order of priesthood,” Bishop O’Connell said to the applause of the congregation.

A New Path

“Steve, it’s been quite a journey,” the Bishop said earnestly in his homily. “All of us are so proud today to be able to participate with you in this next step in your life. As you look at the priests who are here, you see people who inspired you over these years, people who guided you in your work.

“For many years, you served as a deacon in our Church, and now with the passing of your beloved wife, this opportunity comes for you to advance to the priesthood. We say to you, ‘Be a good priest. Be a faithful priest.'”

Reflecting on a recent conversation, Bishop O’Connell recounted asking the then-Deacon Sansevere if he knew what his last name meant in French.

“You said it without missing a beat,” the Bishop explained. “Without severity, without harshness. You see, that’s a good way to minister to the people of God. Preach the truth to God’s people, and preach it with love and compassion.”

Ordination Rites

After Rev. Mr. Sansevere was called to the Promise of the Elect and declared his intention to assume the responsibilities of a priest, he knelt, promising his obedience to Bishop O’Connell and his successors. Shawn Mack, director of Diocesan Festival Choir – which was not in attendance due to COVID-19 limitations – chanted the Litany of Saints.

Deacon Sansevere lie prostrate on the floor near the first pew, a moment he would later remember as a flurry of thoughts – ranging from the ministry he was embracing to the warmth of hearing his wife’s name read among the saints.

He again knelt before the Bishop, who laid his hands on the deacon’s head, a gesture bestowing the Holy Spirit and ordaining him a priest. The Diocese’s concelebrating priests then each moved around the altar to lay their hands on the now-priest’s head. Among them were Father John Large, pastor of St. Theresa Parish, where the then-Rev. Mr. Sansevere had spent the past year as a transitional deacon; Msgr. Michael J. Walsh, pastor of St. James, Pennington; St. Alphonsus, Hopewell, and St. George, Titusville – where Father Sansevere will serve as parochial vicar come July 1; and Father Eugene Roberts, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, who not only vested Father Sansevere, but guided him as a deacon in the parish for the past 20 years.

After dressing in his new priestly vestments, Father Sansevere had his hands anointed with the Oil of Chrism and wrapped in a linen cloth by Bishop O’Connell. The Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and Father Sansevere joined at the Lord’s table as a priest concelebrant for the first time.

Legacy of Devotion

“God.” “Bless.” “You.” “Father.” “Steve.”

Those were the five poster boards awaiting Father Sansevere in the parking lot as he exited the Co-Cathedral after Mass. Among the men holding signs – those ordained deacons the week before in the same church. Family and friends smiled as they congratulated the new priest; others bowed their head for a blessing.

Father Roberts reflected on his friend’s 20 years as a deacon in St. Gabriel Parish. “His tenure … the time went by quickly,” he said. “When you love what you do, the hours, the years become a minute.”

He continued, “When you are doing the Lord’s work, you can’t help but be at peace with yourself and those around you – and he’s an example of that.”

The pastor was only one of many who called Father Sansevere a superb homilist, a priest faithful will be able to relate to.

“His messages are always very personable, almost like having a conversation with him,” said Father Sansevere’s cousin, Bob, reflecting on how he has watched his childhood friend walk out into the aisles, among the people, when he preaches. “He likes to relate to his past, usually with a little bit of family humor at times.”

Lawrence Sansevere, dipped his head for a moment, emotional as he spoke of his older brother being a priest. “I get choked up thinking about it. Mom and Dad would have been so proud,” he said of his devout Catholic parents, who have both since passed.

In addition to being married nearly 40 years, Stephen Sansevere, 66, spent 25 years with the Jersey City Police Department before retiring as a police sergeant. Chet Urbanowicz was the Jersey City native’s partner for about six years.  

“He was always the voice of reason,” Urbanowicz said. “He was always out there to help people.”

“He was always very devoted to Susanne, and she was behind him 100 percent when he went for the diaconate and all through his education. I’m sure she would have been very pleased to be here today and see this.”

Father Sansevere agreed. “Whatever decisions I’ve made, she’s always believed in me. She’s always been a steadying force, and I think she still is a steadying force in my life.”

He said he is grateful for both chalices he received – the one with his wife’s wedding ring, which was purchased by the Jersey City Police Union and Emerald Society, and the one given to him on behalf of St. Gabriel Parish. Both were blessed by Bishop O’Connell.

“I don’t know what the priesthood will bring, but I know what I hope it brings,” he said. “I hope I’m able to bring this ministry to the faithful and that my experience all these years assists me in helping others.”