Parents who wonder about the influence they have over their children’s faith should consider the family life of Msgr. Ralph W. Stansley, who celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination this year.
In the Stansleys’ home in Manville, young Ralph’s mother and father always showed concern for family members and others, helping out whenever they could. Their parish life “was part of our family life,” he said, noting that his mother was a Rosarian, and his father was an usher. His parents’ example of being attuned to others’ needs, and their desire to do what they could to help, instilled in Ralph the sensitivity and empathy toward others, which became central to his future priesthood.
Reflecting on his 50 years as a priest, Msgr. Stansley said: “I found joy in being able to help people, whatever their problems might be. It was certainly one of the biggest things for me.”
Inspired by his parents’ model of giving to others and encouraged by priests they knew, he decided to dedicate his life to God. Although he began his journey as a Jesuit novitiate, he realized he’d rather live locally and serve the people of the community where he grew up.
Following his May 19, 1973, ordination by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, his first assignment was as a parochial vicar in Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton, where parishioners found in the priest attentive and attuned, someone who sought to understand and be there for them. It was in this counseling role that he also found his biggest challenges as a priest.
“People came in with problems that I just couldn’t deal with,” he said, noting that, frequently, people’s problems were familial — dealing with elderly parents or siblings.
This challenge of giving sound advice was a prime motivator for him to get
his master’s degree in counseling from Iona College, (now Iona University), New Rochelle, N.Y.
“A number of the guys from the Diocese went to Iona as well … We thought it would be beneficial to us helping others.” However, he was surprised to find that his studies “helped me to understand myself better.”
“That really helped us. It’s where I learned how to be a better listener,” he said.
Msgr. Stansley feels that “listening” is a prime factor in truly being able to help someone. “When you see someone in counseling you realize that everyone is so different. Their reasons for coming are so different. You can’t put one thing on it,” he said, noting that even if their problems were similar, they as people were different, making each circumstance unique.
“There is no one that has it all. The important part is being able to listen and, when you have a question, ask it. You really need to get that person talking so that you hear what they are looking for,” he said.
Although Msgr. Stansley did not expect to be appointed director of the diocesan Office of Permanent Deacons in 1995, a role he held for 16 years, he said being a counselor proved fruitful in helping him guide diaconate candidates through their formation.
Other assignments Msgr. Stansley has held include serving as parochial vicar in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, and St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, where he would later serve as pastor, and administrator of St. Pius X Parish, Forked River. As pastor he also served in Our Lady of Sorrows (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony) Parish, Hamilton; St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton.