Full Steam Ahead -- Father Daniel F. Swift 'sets the tone' for the next 25 years
By Christina Leslie | Staff Writer
As Father Daniel Swift, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, will be the first to tell you, his journey in ministry has been filled with blessings. Whether in his role as a parish priest, a diocesan vicar and council member, or even time spent as a hospital chaplain in Virginia, he has rejoiced in his initial answer of ‘yes’ to that life-changing call to the priesthood for over 25 years.
The priest known to all as “Father Dan” was born in Camden in 1961 and graduated from St. Joan of Arc School and Cherokee High School, both in Marlton. He remembered hearing a call to the priesthood between his junior and senior years of college; though he had been dating a girl seriously for three years, the young man often pictured himself as a priest.
“The thoughts were daily,” he said, explaining his family was active in St. Joan of Arc Parish and the Church was very much a part of their daily lives. “I knew there was something to it.” His pastor at the time, Msgr. Armand Pedata, advised him to pray over the vocation, and Father Dan took steps toward uttering that momentous ‘yes’ to the priesthood.
Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree in business marketing at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Father Dan entered Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned a master of divinity degree and a master degree in moral
theology. He was ordained May 20, 1989 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop
John C. Reiss.
Father Dan served as parochial vicar first in St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, then in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, in 1995. In May, 1997, sensing the need for a period of discernment about his priestly service, he requested and received permission from Bishop Reiss for what became a four-and-a-half year leave of absence from active ministry. Father Dan moved to Roanoke, Va., to work in the private and not-for-profit sectors, including as a hospital chaplain in Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
Though immersed in his work and active in his parish, St. Andrew, Roanoke, Father Dan remained unsettled. “While I was on leave, two Gospel passages haunted me: the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the one where the rich young man wanted to follow Jesus and was told to sell all you have and follow me (Matthew 19:16-23),” he admitted. Deeper self-examination led him to return to the priesthood.
“The Lord called me back to ministry,” he said. “Bishop Smith was very welcoming. I came back a much [spiritually] richer priest.” Upon his return to the Diocese of Trenton, Father Dan was appointed temporary administrator in Holy Trinity Parish, Long Branch, in 2002 and was named its pastor the following year. In October, 2005, he began his current pastorate in St. Benedict Parish.
Over his quarter century of service to the Diocese, in addition to his parish assignments, Father Dan has served as the diocesan director of Vocation Recruitment, a member of the Pastor’s Advisory Committee for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal (now known as the Annual Catholic Appeal), a Project Rachel chaplain and an Education Advisory Committee member for the Office of Catholic Schools. Currently, he is Vicar Forane of the Bayshore Deanery, and serves on the Expansion and Restructuring Council and Episcopal Council.
Now in St. Benedict for nine years, his longest assignment to date, Father Dan’s philosophy is “full steam ahead” in the Holmdel parish whose membership includes 3,287 families. “I like it because I know everybody here. I can look at someone and right away know if they are visitors. It’s always been important for me to know people’s names,” the pastor said. “We are a growing parish, new families are registering all the time.”
St. Benedict Parish recently received the “Top 100 parishes in the U.S.” designation by Parish Catalyst for its vibrancy, growth and ministry. “Later we were told we made the top 12, like the 12 apostles,” Father Dan joked. The organization sponsors representatives from each of the dozen finalist parishes at workshops held four times over a two-year period to compare best practices.
Father Dan’s goal for his flock is to create as many small-group ministries in the parish as possible. Currently, St. Benedict lists 92 separate ways for parishioners of all ages to serve, from the littlest Church Mice (four- to six-year-old children tasked to ‘keep God’s house neat’) to those involved in various senior care missions such as transportation, nutrition assistance and companionship visitations.
“It’s a privilege to put St. Benedict in a position to receive this recognition from Parish Catalyst,” Father Dan said. “Though the pastor sets the tone, it’s the flock who is engaged and spirit-filled.” The priest who said ‘yes’ twice to God had straightforward advice for a man considering the priesthood: “If you follow God’s will, you will be one happy man.”[[In-content Ad]]