By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
Not long after Father Nicholas Dolan was ordained as a transitional deacon last year, he returned to his seminary studies, sharing with a priest friend that he had never before experienced God in such a unique way.
Photo Gallery: Father Dolan celebrates first Mass in St. Anthony of Padua Church, Red Bank.
“He said to me, ‘Well you’re right. When we receive the Sacraments, it is a new experience of God. You’re coming to know him in a way that you’ve never known him before, and he’s revealing himself to you in a way he has never revealed himself to you before.’
“I think that will be even more the case with the priesthood,” said Father Dolan, who was ordained a priest June 2 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
While most priests begin their journey at a new parish, Father Dolan returns to St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, where he has served for the past five years with pastor Father Alberto Tamayo as a brother and most recently a deacon. The parish is the home of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, who was known for his great humor and joy. As an Oratorian, Father Dolan lives and prays with his fellow priests and brothers, as the Oratory is the community’s permanent residence.
“This is my home,” Father Dolan said fondly, sitting in the parish hall weeks before his ordination. “I have served the people here for five years and have gotten to know them so well. To be ordained by the Bishop to be a priest for them is a really awesome thing because the priesthood is not a Sacrament for myself. It’s a gift of God for building up his Church.”
Finding Common Ground
Though it may not have been intentional from the start, building up God’s Church has been an ongoing part of the 25-year-old priest’s life. One of four sons born to Robert and Maria Dolan, Father Dolan grew up attending Mass with his family and went to Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft. Feeling called to the priesthood in high school, he attended college at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where he earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy. He went on to St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned a master of divinity degree in May.
One of his main goals at the parish over the years has been to find ways to relate to his congregation – whether by holding Youth Oratory meetings for teens and families or taking Spanish lessons to meet the needs of the parish’s growing Hispanic population.
Working with the Youth Oratory – a group of eighth- to 12th-graders that meets five times a month for games and sports, service to the poor, as well as Eucharistic Adoration and Gospel teachings similar to how the Oratory priests and brothers pray – has been an opportunity to strengthen families, he said, as oftentimes, parents attend as well.
“Part of this experience is seeing how one of the roles of priests is to help people pray,” he said. “Prayer can be daunting, especially when you just begin doing it.”
Prayer, he said, is “like a language that we have to learn. It takes time, and it can be difficult at first.”
In a similar way, learning Spanish has been a way for Father Dolan and Father Tamayo to reach the Hispanic faithful, which make up about 30 percent of the community, especially since the parish is designated as a Center for Hispanic Ministry as part of the Diocese’s Faith in Our Future initiative.
“Our priesthood is meant to be for the people, and we’re doing this because we love them and we want to be able to provide for the Sacraments and the faith in the language of the people,” Father Dolan said. “One of the beautiful things that Father Al has said is that ‘this is the language that they speak to God in.’ This is the language of their own heart, and we want to hand on the faith to them in that way.”
Father Dolan admits prayer is a language that he had to learn as well. The three ways he grew in prayer, and continues to grow: praying before the Blessed Sacrament, with Scripture and with the Rosary.
“Without prayer, faith is empty. It’s like a shell – it doesn’t have a life and a soul within it because your prayer is your constant and daily conversation with God,” he said.
Ultimate Role Model
When it comes to Father Dolan’s aspirations for the priesthood, his goal is simple: to be like Jesus.
“I think the biggest thing that stands out about Jesus – ‘how no one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends.’ That would be how I would hope to live my priesthood – with that generosity and self-sacrifice and love for the people, but above all, a love for God.
“After our Lord, it would be in imitation of St. Philip Neri, who exemplifies that same generosity and cheerfulness, since he was the patron saint of joy,” Father Dolan continued. “For me, that’s the heart of my faith, the heart of the life of an Oratorian and St. Philip’s life, and I think the heart of the Gospel, too – to bring the joy that Christ alone can give to the people.”