By David Karas | Correspondent
When you ask Father Jerome M. Nolan about his 44 years in the priesthood, his response comes quickly.
Photo Gallery: Father Nolan Farewell Mass in Ascension Church, Bradley Beach
“I have to say that all my expectations of being a priest have been fulfilled,” he said. “I wanted to serve God; I wanted to serve the Church, and I wanted to serve the people of God.”
He added, “I’ve been very happy.”
On July 1, Father Nolan retired as pastor of Ascension Parish, Bradley Beach, which on the same day merged with St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Avon, to form St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish as part of the diocesan Faith in Our Future process.
“I just celebrated 44 years as a priest in May… [and] I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the years,” he said. “I had the opportunity of serving in seven parishes in the Diocese of Trenton, and I think of all the many people that I met over the years and hopefully guided them in their spiritual journey of life. I think of all of the many weddings, happy times and then the sad times…as I think back, I’ve been very happy doing all of that.”
Father Nolan was born in 1945 in Neptune. The third of five children, Father Nolan grew up in Philadelphia and Brooklyn before attending St. Mary College in Kentucky. He completed his priestly formation in Christ the King Seminary, St. Bonaventure, N.Y., and was ordained May 18, 1974, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop George W. Ahr.
Father Nolan’s first assignment was as associate pastor in Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield. During his time there, he also served as chaplain to the South Plainfield Police Department. He later served as associate pastor in St. Paul Parish, Burlington; St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown, and St. Dominic Parish, Brick. On Sept. 12, 1986, Father Nolan was named pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, Asbury Park, then pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, on Jan. 10, 1992. He served the community of Nativity Parish for 12 years before he was assigned to Ascension Parish on June 11, 2004. He also spent a time in 2006 simultaneously serving as temporary administrator of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Avon.
During his time leading Ascension Parish, Father Nolan played a key role in preparations for the parish’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2007. And in 2015, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., appointed Father Nolan as dean of the Coastal Monmouth Deanery.
“That was an opportunity to gather priests in the neighboring parishes,” he said, noting that they would meet several times each year to share fellowship and ideas, and to raise questions or concerns to share with the Diocese. “And we were planning Advent and Lenten penance services in the area where we could all gather together and be available to greater numbers of people who were going to Confession.”
Whether it was collaborating with his brother priests, visiting patients through a hospital ministry or performing any of his other duties as a priest, Father Nolan said he was happy to wear the collar.
“I am grateful to God that I was called to be a priest,” he said.
Admittedly, retirement was something with which Father Nolan struggled – and he put off the decision for a couple of years.
“In many ways I am sorry to see my active ministry come to an end, but I know God will open the doors to something else that I might be able to serve in,” he said.
Now living in the Asbury Park area, his early plans for retirement involve rest and relaxation. “I am looking forward to a quiet and restful summer,” he said. “For me, that means going to the beach and enjoying the ocean, and just enjoying the beautiful weather and the beautiful place that is the Jersey Shore.” He has future plans for travel as well, particularly around the United States.
Reflecting on his vocation, Father Nolan shared some insights for men finding themselves discerning their vocation and who might be considering the priesthood.
“I feel as though many young men are missing a great opportunity for happiness in their life,” he said. “If they have any inkling of a religious vocation, they should pursue it and see whether or not it really is for them.”
He added, “I’ve had a wonderful life, and I am looking forward to a new chapter and to see what is in store for me.”