Father Schecker mixes with parishioners during a celebration held during his time as pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven. Rosemary Daniels photo
Father Schecker mixes with parishioners during a celebration held during his time as pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven. Rosemary Daniels photo

Having served as a parish priest for 44 of his 50 years of ministry, Father Robert Schecker has quite the resumé, including five parish assignments and pastoral responsibilities for a wide range of ministries throughout his tenure prior to retirement.

Those experiences have left him with some advice – called the five As – that he offers to fellow priests striving to be servant leaders:

Be available, not absent.

Be approachable, not aloof.

Be accommodating, not adversarial.

Be accountable, not avoiding.

Be authentic, not authoritative.

“I think they are very applicable guides to putting into practice the Gospel message of Jesus,” he said. “It requires a lot of altruistic behavior and nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance of people and their circumstances – helping to make their lives meaningful, and (strengthen) their relationship with God.”

Whether serving as a parochial vicar or a pastor, the same tenets apply, he said.

“I think that guide is even applicable to those in the secular world, in the business world,” he added.

This year, Father Schecker marks the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Since his retirement in 2015, he traveled to Italy and Ireland with groups of friends, and now lives in Brick with his sister. In retirement, he has had the chance to visit and reunite with family and friends.

“I love every minute of it,” he said.

He also assists a fellow priest with his weekly sermons. The priest is Colombian, and often asks Father Schecker for help to ensure that captures the right idioms and phrases.

“I review his homily over the phone like a proofreader, (and) I am enjoying that,” he said. “It is also a part of my own spiritual life. It kind of enlightens my own spiritual life, too.”

‘Being with them’

Father Schecker was born in Jersey City, May 1945, to William and Anna Schecker, who were living in North Bergen until 1955, when his family moved and became members of St. Joseph of the Palisades Parish, West New York, N.J. In 1963 he graduated from Memorial High School in West New York.

Father Schecker attended Seton Hall University, South Orange, and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore. He was ordained a priest by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Joseph of the Palisades Church, West New York, Dec. 11, 1971. In January 1972, Father Schecker was named associate pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, Cinnaminson. The following year, he was named spiritual moderator of the Holy Innocents Society of Burlington County. In 1975, he was assigned to Holy Angels Parish, Trenton, where he served until he was named pastor of Epiphany Parish, Brick, Dec. 11, 1981, 10 years to the date of his ordination.

He spent 11 years in Brick before being named pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, where he served from 1992 until 2004. He then began his final assignment as pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven.

Father Schecker said that living and serving in the parish environment was such an important part of the connection he would have with his parishioners.

“That fed into my ability to be what I consider an effective presider at liturgies,” he said. “I was being with them in our faith experience.”

‘In the beauty of nature’

In his retirement, Father Schecker has grown fond of spending time in his gardens, listening to birds and watching the clouds.

“I could just sit outside in my driveway in the middle of my gardens, and enjoy peace and quiet,” he said. “I am very reflective in silence. It becomes a prayer experience, of just sitting in silence in the beauty of nature.”