By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Father Kenneth W. Ekdahl’s path to the priesthood came by way of a career in the insurance industry, with his ordination coming at the age of 43. That path, he believes, provided a unique perspective that helped him serve faithfully throughout his 27 years as a priest.
Photo Gallery: Father Ekdahl celebrates Mass before retirement
“I entered the seminary at age 38,” he said. “The experience I had prior to entering the seminary and prior to being ordained, to me, was invaluable.”
Experiences such as renting an apartment and handling daily responsibilities or working a more traditional job, he said, gave him perspective on helping parishioners.
Father Ekdahl recently retired from his assignment as pastor of Jesus the Lord Parish, Keyport, a community that merged July 1 with St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, to become Our Lady of Fatima Parish.
Father Ekdahl was born in October 1947 in East Orange. He spent his early childhood in Florida in St. Paul School, Jacksonville Beach, before returning to New Jersey to attend Holy Cross School, Rumson, and Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft. After high school, he moved on to Mount St. Mary College, Emmitsburg, Md., and spent one year studying at Loyola University, Rome. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 in English literature with a minor in philosophy.
From 1969 to 1986, he embarked on a career in the insurance business, working for several different companies until answering a call from God to enter the priesthood – a call he most likely had been hearing since childhood. He entered Pope John XXIII National Seminary, Weston, Mass., in late August 1986. He received a master of divinity degree in 1990 and was ordained a priest by Bishop John C. Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, on May 18, 1991.
Upon his ordination, he was named parochial vicar in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony), Hamilton, where he served until 1996. During that time, he also served as spiritual moderator of the Mercer County Federation of Holy Name Societies. After his time in Hamilton, Father Ekdahl was named parochial vicar in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, and chaplain of Holy Cross Academy, Delran, before being assigned to St. Ann Parish, Keansburg. He was appointed as administrator of Jesus the Lord Parish on July 12, 2002, and served as pastor from Jan. 3, 2004, until his retirement.
It was in that assignment, he said, that he found himself doing something he never expected – celebrating Mass and preaching in Spanish.
While it was challenging at first, despite having previously taken Spanish courses, Father Ekdahl began to find his way and enjoy Spanish ministry even more, he said, noting the additional parishioners with whom he was able to connect.
“That really became as much a part of my ministry as preaching in English,” he said, adding that preaching in Spanish became one of his favorite experiences as a priest.
Reflecting on his retirement, Father Ekdahl said he was still in the midst of processing the transition, as well as his move to Port St. Joe, Fla., a town along the Gulf Coast. While movers brought most of his possessions south, Father Ekdahl drove his Ford Mustang down himself, with the assistance of an auto train for part of the journey.
In retirement, Father Ekdahl plans to revisit some passions – writing being one of them. Over time, he has written three plays – one of which was performed in Our Lady of Sorrows and later in Jesus the Lord Parish.
“Part of what I intend to do is perhaps write more plays, certainly more songs, and I’d like to write in general,” he said, adding another activity that is on the horizon. “I hope to get on the golf course again.”