Father Magdaraog celebrates Mass in St. James Church, Red Bank, where he has been assigned as parochial vicar since 2017. John Batkowski photos
Father Magdaraog celebrates Mass in St. James Church, Red Bank, where he has been assigned as parochial vicar since 2017. John Batkowski photos

Ask most seven-year-olds today about their future plans, and chances are the priesthood doesn’t make their top 10 list. But for Father Vicente Magdaraog, parochial vicar in St. James Parish, Red Bank, the choice would have been number one.

However, Father Magdaraog – known affectionately to many as “Father Vic” – will be the first to assert that the priesthood is “not that you just choose to go to school to become a priest – it is a call from God.”

Born in 1964, this year Father Magdaraog marks 25 years of priestly ministry. He believes he knew at seven years old what God had in mind for him because of the deep family faith that surrounded him on all sides in his native Philippines.

“Because my parents really loved the Church, we would go to Mass every day, and most especially Sunday,” he remembered fondly. “It’s like the family get-together – church, then breakfast.

“My parents did not push me” toward a vocation, he said, “but my father was always [teaching] me the beauty of priesthood and [example] of married life.”

Father Magdaraog also found profound friendships among the many priests at his family’s parish. He served as an altar boy from fifth grade until college, learning the intricacies of the ministry.

He graduated from Bicol University, Legaspi City, with a bachelor’s degree in industrial education – a degree like automotive engineering that could potentially assist the family business if he was not called to become a priest.

“My father said, ‘You never know, you could be a missionary [in another country] and need to work on cars or fix something in the church,’” he explained.

Father Magdaraog chose to come to the United States at the suggestion of Father Thomas Gier, a missionary priest and friend. “He said, ‘Remember this, if it were not for the Spanish missionaries [who introduced Catholicism to the Philippines], I do not think you would be Catholic.’”

He was also influenced by Pope John Paul II, who visited the Philippines in February 1981. “I was so amazed with him that he was able to preach in Tagalog, like a native Filipino,” Father Magdaraog remembered. “Then I heard his voice to all young people, ‘Do not be afraid of giving up your life for the Church.’”

Father Magdaraog moved to the U.S. in 1986 and earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Seton Hall University, South Orange, before pursuing theological studies in Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, Conn. He completed his preparation for the priesthood in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained by Bishop John C. Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Dec. 14, 1996.

Upon his ordination, Father Magdaraog was assigned to serve as parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, for six months, where he was inspired by the youth.

“I was so touched with the young people there,” he said, noting that while many came from well-to-do families, they had hearts for service, adding that “The parents … showed them to work with the poor and help around the neighborhood. I was so impressed by what they did.”

He was assigned parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, in 1997, where he was introduced to an enthusiastic senior community. “I have seen the gifts and talents of the seniors; they are very much involved in the Church. I was able to relate to them, enjoying my ministry for them,” he said.

After five years in Barnegat, Father Magdaraog was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, in 2002. In 2006, he was named parochial vicar of St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown, where he remained until being assigned to St. Veronica Parish, Howell. In 2017, he was appointed to his current post as parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank, and to hospital ministry in nearby Hackensack Meridian Riverview Medical Center.

The most important part of Father Magdaraog’s ministry has been the opportunity to celebrate the Sacraments.

“Hearing Confession, celebrating the Mass, sacramental Anointing of the Sick – those for me are very important, for every priest. It’s a beautiful ministry Jesus allows [priests] to do … it’s very rewarding.” 

To those in seminary, Father Magdaraog advises, “enjoy the preparation and seminary training. Associate with priests with different experiences in ministry – mingle with them, learn the life of the priesthood. Go with them to the hospital and wake services.”

In his spare time Father Magdaraog can be found walking and biking along the Jersey Shore. He’s profoundly grateful for his good health, to God, “and for the bishops I have served,” he noted.

Of his current bishop, the Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., Father Magdaraog said, “He is like our spiritual father. He’s very personal, and especially when you want to call him and talk – he’s always there for his priests.”