By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Ask newly ordained Father Christopher James Dayton what he’s looking forward to as he begins priestly life in Belmar’s St. Rose Parish, and he quickly answers: being part of people’s lives in good times and bad, in the sacred and the every day.
Photo Gallery: Father Dayton's first Mass in St. Catharine Church, Spring Lake
In doing so, Father Dayton said he hopes to follow the examples of his family and the priests who nourished his faith formation from kindergarten to ordination.
In the weeks leading up to his June 2 ordination as a priest by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Father Dayton reflected on how much the support of his family and priest mentors meant to him as he discerned his vocation. Father Dayton is one of four boys and four girls born to Chip and Melissa Dayton.
“The family played a huge role in the whole process that led to becoming a priest,” Father Dayton said. “The love of my mom and dad held me to an ideal. I wanted the happiness they have had through their self-giving to eight kids.”
His family is devoted to the life of the Church, and in fact, his parents have spent nearly 20 years in family and youth ministry. Their relationship and generosity of spirit with the wider community was one of the models that inspired his vocation, Father Dayton said.
“I have seen in their relationship and how they raised us as good Catholic kids that going into the priesthood wasn’t giving something up,” he said. “It was a way of giving the same kind of love my parents gave to me and my siblings.
“They have all been very supportive,” he continued. “They have made sure I kept a level head, and everyone has played their own part. It’s been a whole family process.”
That process, he said, contributed greatly to his ability to be comfortable with people of all ages, as did the priests who served as his mentors.
“On a parish level, I’ve seen priests immerse themselves in ways that are beautiful,” said Father Dayton, who was raised in Spring Lake’s St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, where he served at the altar and was encouraged by his pastor, the late Msgr. Thomas Luebking, to take an active role in parish life.
Among the priests he regards as true inspirations throughout his discernment process and the seminary is Msgr. Leonard Troiano, who vested him during the ordination Mass. It was Msgr. Troiano who, Father Dayton said, “finally pushed me into the pool” after years of mentoring by Msgr. Luebking.
He got acquainted with Msgr. Troiano when the then-Lavallette pastor resided in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Father Dayton said that before Msgr. Luebking died, he asked Msgr. Troiano to “look after me. He calls me all the time, offers great priestly advice. I wouldn’t have had it any other way than having him vest me.”
Father Dayton added that Father John Bambrick, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, who mentored him in his year as a transitional deacon, and Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, who taught and advised Father Dayton while he was a student at Lincroft’s Christian Brothers Academy, also served as role models of the priest he hopes to become.
He said he and Father Koch “met every week for the good part of a year when he, himself, was a transitional deacon at St. Catharine’s, helping me to prepare to enter seminary, answering every question and fear I had.”
Ready and Willing
His Catholic school education also played a significant role in his decision to become a priest, Father Dayton said. Born Aug. 27, 1987, he is a 2006 graduate of Christendom College, Front Royal, Va., where he received degrees in political science and economics.
Father Dayton, who prepared for the priesthood in St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he graduated May 17 with bachelor of sacred theology and master of divinity degrees, spoke warmly of his year as a transitional deacon in St. Aloysius Parish.
“Father Bambrick and the entire parish opened their arms to me,” Father Dayton said. “Father Bambrick was a good mentor. He was very thorough and fatherly, like a priest should be, always ready with good advice.”
Father Dayton said he’s looking forward to beginning his priestly ministry – celebrating Mass, hearing Confession, visiting faithful in the hospital, “all of it.”
“I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running. Being a priest for the people, that’s what I’m most excited about,” he said.
“I bring the experience of coming from a big family and everything that goes into it, which has made me comfortable and able to chat with all age groups. I like to be a consensus-builder, someone who will listen and be part of the parish.”
“My biggest concern,” he said, “is that I hold myself up to be the best priest I can, making it not all about me, but allowing God to use me as his instrument.”