Father Pierre-Michel Alabré initially quips that his arrival to the United States from his native Haiti came by way of a vacation, “and I never left.”
Then, with sincerity and gratitude, he speaks about all he’s learned in his almost 25 years of priesthood, the greater part of which has been spent serving in the Diocese of Trenton and among the Haitian Catholic community in Mercer County.
PHOTO GALLERY: Father Alabré-25th Anniversary
“I want to thank the Diocese of Trenton for allowing me to work as a priest here,” he said, extending appreciation to Bishops John M. Smith and David M. O’Connell, C.M., for their leadership and support of his ministry.
Father Alabré, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, said that, over the years, “I’ve learned many good things. Most important, I learned that the Church is of Jesus Christ” and that the Church addresses many needs as it strives to bring the Gospel into the world.
“It’s not easy today to be a priest and do pastoral work,” he said, “but it’s very good work.”
Recently incardinated into the Diocese of Trenton and celebrating 25 years as a priest, Father Alabré greets parishioners following Mass in St. Anthony Church. Hal Brown photo
Father Alabré was born in September 1965 in Les Irois, Haiti, and was the oldest of five children. He attributes his decision to become a priest to his upbringing in a devout Catholic home in the Diocese of Jérémie, his Catholic schooling and having a family that was close to the church and active in many ministries. He recalled being an altar server for an Easter Vigil and how inspired he was watching his the pastor preside over “the most beautiful ceremony.”
“It was then that I knew that was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a priest,” he said, then admitted that the differing reactions of his parents came as a surprise. While his mother wanted him to be a doctor, his father was encouraging and said that Pierre should do whatever he wanted.
Father Alabré attended a minor seminary for high school, but when his mother died, he was advised by many people to return home to help his father care for his siblings. After several years, his father insisted that he could manage the household on his own and encouraged his son to return to his studies for priesthood.
“My father had always supported me 100%,” he said.
In 1989, at age 24, he joined the Voluntas Dei Institute, District of Haiti. The organization was founded in 1958 in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, by Father Louis-Marie Parent. From there he went to Notre Dame Seminary of Haiti and was ordained a priest Nov. 21, 1998, by Bishop Joseph Willy Romelus.
Following his ordination, the new priest was assigned to head the house of formation for the District of Haiti followed by three years serving in the Diocese of Jacmel. While in Jacmel, he went on vacation to visit a priest-friend in New York who was familiar with the Diocese of Trenton and its Haitian populations.
Upon receiving approval from his home diocese to relocate to the Trenton Diocese, Father Alabré was assigned as parochial vicar to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in inner-city Trenton where, for 11 years, he served with Msgr. John K. Dermond, the parish’s longtime pastor, “who taught me well” as he adapted to a new culture and to learning English. After St. Francis closed, Father Alabré was named parochial vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, which became the Haitian community’s new spiritual home.
In 2014, Father Alabré was appointed parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, during which time he attended the graduate school of religion and religious education at Fordham University, New York. The following year, he was transferred to the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., serving Haitian communities for five years in two parishes before returning to the Trenton Diocese and resuming his ministry in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish.
His Silver Jubilee
“As a priest, I’ve experienced different challenges everywhere I’ve been, but that’s a part of life,” he said. A personal challenge included dealing with the loss of his youngest brother, sister-in-law and nephew, who died in the magnitude-7 earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. His three remaining siblings and their families have since relocated to Massachusetts.
“The time has gone by so fast,” he said of the past 25 years of priesthood. Along with his silver jubilee he said another highpoint this year was his incardination as a priest of the Diocese of Trenton.
Extending appreciation to a host of people “who helped and prayed for me” – priests including Msgr. Dermond and Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish; the Institute Voluntas Dei; his siblings and the faithful he has encountered, Father Alabre said, “I’m sure they’ll continue to pray for me so that I can fulfill my mission with love and zeal.
‘I want to do whatever God wants,” he said of his vocation.
“Being a priest is a good thing,” he added. “It’s beautiful to serve the Church and to serve God’s people.”