And the band played on -- Father Scott Shaffer keeps the beat going for 25 years
By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
There’s something about an old melody that can linger in one’s memory despite distraction or misdirection or cacophony. Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, has kept the melody of his priestly service on key for a quarter century of service to the Diocese of Trenton by never taking his eyes off the Supreme Conductor.
Father Shaffer was born in 1957 in Mount Holly, one of four children of Joan and the late George Shaffer. A member of the town’s Sacred Heart Parish, he attended its school where he first heard the call to the priesthood. He confided his plans to assume the mantle of priest to a friend after graduation from Rancocas Valley Regional High School, Mount Holly, but went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music education from West Chester State College, West Chester, Pa., in 1979.
Father Shaffer, who is proficient on the saxophone and keyboard, taught music in his grammar school alma mater and in Westampton Township schools for a period of time while indulging his passion for performance as a member of his own swing-and-standards wedding band, the Ray Scott Band, for about 12 years. Five years after his college graduation, after an injury during a job on a construction site, he decided to answer the long-submerged call to the priesthood.
After his graduation from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., with a master’s degree in divinity, he was ordained Dec. 2, 1989, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop John C. Reiss. Upon ordination he was assigned as parochial vicar first in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, then Lawrenceville’s St. Ann Parish.
The priest, affectionately known as “Father Scott” to his flock, assumed his first pastorate position in Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, in 1997, then became pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, in 2000. Just over one year later, he simultaneously assumed the pastor position in nearby St. Monica Parish. “It was an exciting time in ministry,” he recalled. “So many people were moving to town from up north and New York. We experienced exponential growth in Jackson; we started with about 2,000 families, and when I left it was over 6,000 families.”
Due to the size of the fast growing parish, Father Scott built a new, modern style church building. “The biggest compliment was when people would tell me, ‘I feel welcome here, I can really pray here’,” Father Scott said. Not surprisingly, both parishes’ music ministries flourished under his leadership.
July, 2012 brought a joyful new assignment: Father Scott’s return to St. Joseph Parish, Toms River. “I started [there] as a ‘baby priest,’ I was returning home,” the now seasoned cleric remembered thinking. “It had been 18 years since I was here. I loved my time at my other parishes, but I had always kept up with what was going on here.”
The huge complex, which encompasses not only the church but St. Joseph Grade School and Monsignor Donovan High School, attracts hundreds of families to Masses and school events. “We support a child’s relationship with the Lord from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Father Scott explained. “[It] has always been a huge parish; it was not unusual to celebrate Mass with 1,000 people in the church. I’m starting to see this again.”
During his quarter century of priestly service, Father Scott also has been chaplain to the Mercer County Holy Name Federation, a member of the diocesan Priest Personnel Board, and Dean of the North Ocean County Deanery. He served as chaplain of Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, from 1994 to 1997.
Reflecting upon both his 25-year journey as a priest, and what may lie on the road ahead, Father Scott notes his love of Pope Francis’ reflections on the sacred ministry. He said, “More and more I realize that God didn’t call me to be someone else. He called me, Scott Shaffer, to serve as a priest with all my faults and failures. Christ will direct me where I need to go.” He continued, “We yield to the One who knows. The times when I find myself in the most trouble is when I try to lead without listening to Jesus.”
The lifelong musician quoted lyrics from a song popularized by the 1960s band “American Breed” as his philosophy of what his priesthood should be. “Bend me, shape me, any way you want me,” Father Scott chuckled. “Or, remember that old song, ‘You are the potter, I am the clay.”
He recalled the words of a speech delivered by a friend at his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary to explain his goals as a priest. “I played at many, many weddings and watched people dance,” Father Scott said. “One of my great joys is watching people my parents’ age dance. [His friend] said ‘his mother and father found their way as they danced through life.’ We should let Jesus lead in the dance.”