As Father Robert F. Kaeding reflected on the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination, he cited two blessings that have given him the greatest joy — serving the people in the parishes where he was assigned and building, from scratch, a viable ministry for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“It’s so important that I thank the people who joined me along the way and nourished me,” said Father Kaeding. “They are the ones who made my 50 years of priesthood possible for me.”
Father Kaeding admitted the path he’s traveled since his May 26, 1973, ordination in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, has been quite different from what he envisioned when he began his service as a priest.
Path of Service
Born in 1944 in North Plainfield to William and Elizabeth Kaeding, Father Kaeding attended Seton Hall University, South Orange, and Assumption University, Worcester, Massachusetts, earning both a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and a graduate degree in French literature.
Commenting on how “God speaks to us in strange ways,” Father Kaeding said while he had fleeting thoughts about being a priest, the thought became more persistent during a visit to New York City and when he met an acquaintance from college who had become a seminarian.
“This time around, the thoughts weren’t fleeting,” he said. “I thought the idea of being a priest would go away, but it didn’t.”
When Father Kaeding began his formation, he considered the Paulist community, but instead chose to remain at home and serve his own Diocese. He began studies in St. Francis Seminary, Loretto, Pa.
After his ordination, he served as chaplain of St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, and as parochial vicar of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, and St. Veronica Parish, Howell. He was then named to his first pastorate in St. Anselm Parish, Wayside, during which he was also the chaplain for the Monmouth County Detention Center. For three years he was also director of the new diocesan Office of Parish Life.
During his 20 years in St. Anselm, Father Kaeding saw the parish grow to more than 2,000 families and expand the number of ministries, especially in community outreach efforts.
Accepting the Challenge
In the early 1990s, Father Kaeding was approached by friends who worked in the AIDS clinic in Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune; they asked if the parish could assist with the growing number of people with HIV. Father Kaeding responded by saying the parish would host an information session, in which about 60 people expressed interest in wanting to help. In 1992, Father Kaeding and volunteers established The Center in Asbury Park to serve people living with HIV/AIDS in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Father Kaeding was executive director of the agency, eventually located on Third Avenue with expanded services that included 25 housing units for formerly homeless people and those with HIV/AIDS.
In order to direct full attention to The Center’s operation, Father Kaeding was permitted to resign as pastor of St. Anselm Parish in 2004. Seven years later, he returned to parish life, when he was named pastor of Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, in addition to his duties at The Center.
Father Kaeding witnessed growth in Precious Blood Parish, which reported having 1,182 families and about 400 students in religious education in 2016, the year the parish observed its 125th anniversary. He said he was pleased at how the parishioners willingly became involved in social outreach.
Father Kaeding visits with Bishop O’Connell after Mass June 25 in St. Anselm Church. Vic Mistretta photo
Four years ago, Father Kaeding retired as pastor of Precious Blood Parish but continued to work at The Center until January of this year, when he retired as executive director. Though he still has an office at The Center and he works on occasion, he is more than pleased to let the “great staff and volunteers do their thing.”
In retirement, Father Kaeding celebrates Mass for the Catholic residents of Seabrook, a senior community in Tinton Falls, and is getting ready to move from his Asbury Park apartment to Villa St. Denis, the Diocese’s newest residence for retired priests in Manasquan.
Reflecting on the challenges he’s encountered in his 50 years, Father Kaeding smiled when he said that the seminary does not provide training on handling the administrative and financial aspects of a parish. And for any men who are considering a vocation, he strongly encourages them to take the time to find out what it all entails.