Although newly-retired, Father Phillip C. Pfleger, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, and of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, emphasizes it’s not a retirement from the priesthood.
PHOTO GALLERY: Father Pfleger Retirement Mass
“I tell people it’s only retirement from administration, not from ministry,” he said. “Now I can be the priest I want to be. Any place in our Diocese that I’m needed, I’ll be there.”
Responding to the Call
Father Pfleger gives a homily during Mass in St. Isaac Jogues Church, of which he was founding pastor.
The Jersey City native was born in 1953 to parents Joseph and Lucille, and had one older brother, Joseph; the family were members of the city’s St. Ann Parish. Father Pfleger attended Immaculate Conception Grammar School, Secaucus, and St. Mary High School, Rutherford.
“I gave myself one month between college and seminary,” he said, although his decision to pursue the priesthood began much earlier in observing both his parents. “My mother was a convert, and my father had this really deep faith,” he recalled. “He never pressured my mother, but she saw something in him – and I did too.”
When it came to answering that prompting of the Holy Spirit, Father Pfleger said he responded with “I’ll try. … I guess I’m still trying!” he said ruefully.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Jersey City State College in 1975 before seminarian studies in Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington. He began his service to the Diocese of Trenton as a transitional deacon in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, and was ordained by Bishop George W. Ahr May 19, 1979, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
He has served as parochial vicar in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville. He has also spent time as chaplain at Rider University, Lawrenceville, and Mercer County Community College, West Windsor. Additional assignments have included diocesan director of vocations; temporary administrator of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro; pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Seaside Heights (now part of St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park); and episcopal vicar of Burlington County. Father Pfleger was assigned in 1996 to serve as founding pastor of the newly-formed St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton. In 2014, he was also named administrator of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, then in 2017 was appointed pastor.
His service to the Diocese has included time on the priest personnel board; the council of priests; the building commission; the Episcopal council; the college of consultors, and the committee of Expansion and Restructuring. He also served as master of ceremonies for Auxiliary Bishop Edward U. Kmiec.
Building Community, Connection
The most fulfilling part of his vocation, Father Pfleger said, “is probably the pastoral part of it. The other night I was sitting in St. Isaac Jogues Church by myself, just looking at the aisle, seeing all the Communions, all the Confirmations, all the funerals … and looking out on the weekend at all the people, realizing how I became a part of their lives, and they became a part of mine.”
His goal was “to do whatever I was asked to do, and to do it to the best of my ability… It was good; people had problems, especially here in [Burlington] county, and I would really try to be there – not just to help the clergy, but also the people.”
He had what he considers “a very interesting priesthood,” having ministered in so many varied capacities. “You name [the assignment], and I was on it at one time or another … The beauty of that was that now I can go anywhere and hear ‘Hey, Father, how are you?’”
Father Pfleger said one of his vocational challenges is that the Church today “is not the Church I was ordained to – I think with the change of society, and then COVID-19 changed so much. People are much more vocal … which is good, but … there’s less understanding of the faith than a couple of generations ago, and getting parents involved is challenging.”
The people have taught him much along the way, too. “[Being a priest] makes you more human,” he said, “and it always goes back to the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
For those on the journey to priesthood, he offered, “Let your people get to know you first. Once you build that relationship, you can work together to do anything … that’s the way the Lord is trying to teach us, too.”