To celebrate Father Fernandez's retirement and 50th anniversary of ordination, a festive banner and the door leading into the parish offices were decorated. Courtesy photo
To celebrate Father Fernandez's retirement and 50th anniversary of ordination, a festive banner and the door leading into the parish offices were decorated. Courtesy photo
Father José Fernández-Bangueses reflects on his 50 years of priestly ministry as being an experience too fulfilling to simply ease out of parish life and into retirement.

“It’s been unforgettable,” he said of his seminary days, 31 years of ministry in his native Spain and nearly 20 years in New Jersey parishes.

That’s why Father Fernández-Bangueses plans to remain in active ministry in Sea Girt’s St. Mark Parish, where he has served as parochial vicar for six years.

“I thank God from the moment I went into the seminary to now,” he said. “I am going to remain here this coming year if my health is good and be a resident priest and do what I was doing.”

Hope Amid Sorrow

The only child of Jesus and Nicasa Fernández-Bangueses, the young José was born in 1945 in Arnoia, Ourense, Spain. He prepared for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary of Ourense and a year later in the University of Santiago de Compostela, where he earned degrees in both English and Spanish.

“I entered the seminary at the age of 12,” he recalled. “We used to do things very early in those days.”

Ordained Sept. 7, 1970, by Bishop Miguel A. Araujo Iglesias, he served in Spain as a parochial vicar, administrator and pastor in several parishes. He also served as a teacher and director of the migration apostolate and vocations in his diocese and taught in the diocesan seminary.

After three decades as a priest there, Father Fernández-Bangueses began his ministry in the United States in the Archdiocese of Newark on Sept. 10, 2001. Attracted by the vibrancy of faith that was so apparent on visits and teaching experiences in the United States, Father Fernández-Bangueses said he was anticipating a dynamic experience of faith.

He remembers arriving that day with a sense of optimism and a lot of hope that “a wonderful experience” was about to begin. He settled in at St. John Parish, Orange, where he would serve as parochial vicar, never dreaming what the next day would bring.

On the morning of Sept. 11, he described finding his new pastor, Msgr. Ricardo González, absorbed by a commotion on the television. He quickly realized something was terribly wrong.

“I saw the towers smoking,” he said. Then, he and the pastor saw them fall, claiming the lives of thousands and altering the lives of millions forever. The anthrax scare soon followed, adding to the fear and the upset of the times.

“I was terrified and very sad. At least I had people around me. But I could never forget it,” he said.

His spirit was uplifted by the genuine concern of his new community. “Coming here called my attention to how much people appreciated a priest,” he said. “In Europe, things are different. Here, they value the faith. That’s why I came, and I never [regretted] it.”

Positive Step

Father Fernandez-Bangueses went on to serve in St. Joseph of Palisades Parish, West New York. It was during that time that he visited Asbury Park and met Bishop John M. Smith, who, impressed with his language skills, encouraged Fernandez-Bangueses to consider coming to the Trenton Diocese, where the Hispanic population was growing. “I was very happy. You don’t forget a really wonderful experience,” he said of the invitation.

Arriving in the Trenton Diocese in 2006, Father Fernandez-Bangueses was incardinated in 2008. Assigned as a parochial vicar in Our Lady of Angels Parish, Trenton, he served there until June 2010. He then was assigned as parochial vicar of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, where he served before arriving to St. Mark in 2014.

He is grateful for all the parishes in which he has served and is happy to be transitioning to retirement life as a resident priest in St. Mark Parish with its harmonious blend of communities, which he considers a true American-Spanish experience.

He said the festive, drive-by celebration for which the community united June 8 to celebrate his retirement and golden jubilee as well as the 45th anniversary of Msgr. Sean P. Flynn’s priestly ordination reflected that sense of togetherness admirably. Msgr. Flynn is pastor of St. Mark Parish.

“To live as a priest on this landscape has been unique,” Father Fernandez-Bangueses said. “I felt appreciated and loved.”