By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
There were tears of laughter and sadness as hundreds of faithful from St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, said goodbye to the man they have called pastor for 23 years.
Photo Gallery: Father Mathias retirement Mass
“I am not going far, but I ask you to keep me in your prayers as I will surely remember and pray for you,” Father Edwin J. Mathias said during the June 23 Mass and subsequent party celebrating his retirement from the priesthood.
Father Mathias, who will reside in Villa Vianney, Lawrenceville – a residence for retired priests of the Diocese – acknowledged having mixed feelings on retirement.
“Of course it’s a very sad time to leave, but I’ve also accepted that at 75, I’m supposed to retire,” he said, adding that it would be beneficial to have what he called “new blood” in the parish that continues to grow in new and exciting ways.
For example, he cited the growing Latino community in the Burlington County area and how the parish has been designated a Center for Hispanic Ministry as part of the diocesan Faith in Our Future initiative.
“There should be someone here who is able to speak with them in their own language and make them feel very much at home,” Father Mathias said.
Of course, continuing to think of the faithful – even in retirement – is not surprising, say those who have known him for years.
“Parishioners come first. He’s always done whatever he thought was best for the parish,” said parish secretary Kim Dunckley, who’s worked with Father Mathias from day one.
She explained that he oversaw many projects, including a new parish hall that he designed, a preschool, yearly scholarship and the installation of a Spanish Mass.
Deacon Michael O’Brien, parish temporary administrator until Aug. 31, agreed.
“What strikes me about Father Edwin is his motivation, generosity, kindness and compassion and practical pastoral ministry. He gives me a lot of inspiration,” said Deacon O’Brien, who credited Father Mathias with inspiring his vocation as a deacon.
“Father Edwin is so supportive, of all the different organizations, and he lets you have your space. He doesn’t interfere, but he’s always there if you need his guidance,” the deacon continued. “When you have someone like that, you want to do things right for him.”
Life of Service
Father Mathias was born in 1942, in Mangalore, India. One of seven children, he received his education at Allahabad University and at Christ the King Seminary, Karachi, Pakistan. He joined the seminary when he was 15 and was ordained Jan. 8, 1967, at age 24.
He spent three years in Pakistan after ordination and then went on to serve 18 years in the Diocese of Bhopal, India, including in mission stations and time as a mission director in the city of Ashta, India.
Though enjoying his work in India, by 1989, all of his family had left the country, the majority of whom were living in Canada.
Desiring to be in the same hemisphere as his family, Father Mathias came to the Trenton Diocese, serving as a parochial vicar in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish (now Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony), Hamilton, and St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton.
Father Mathias was incardinated a priest of the Diocese Sept. 23, 1993. In 1995, he was named pastor in Browns Mills. On a diocesan level, Father Mathias served a three-year term on the diocesan Incardination Board from 1999 to 2002.
Father Mathias said he plans to spend time with family in Canada before taking up residence in Villa Vianney – though his service to God won’t be on hiatus.
“In retirement, I would like to help out in other parishes,” he said. “As a priest, you are called to pray. It’s not a job but a vocation. Whether you are retired or not, you minister and are a help to the people.”
Deacon O’Brien said it was no surprise that Father Mathias has no plans on slowing down anytime soon.
“Father is the type of person who looks toward the future. He’s going to be the type of person in retirement who finds things to do,” Deacon O’Brien said. “But I want him to remember how much the people here at St. Ann’s loved him.”