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Joy, gratitude mark milestone

July 13, 2017

METUCHEN — At a Mass intended to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Bishop James F. Checchio, the diocese's fifth shepherd, turned the focus on his brother priests and to those who have helped make him feel "abundantly blessed” in his life and ministry.

Bishop Checchio, who was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Camden, June 20, 1992, presided and gave the homily at the Mass, which was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi June 23, the feast of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Concelebrants included Bishop Emeritus Paul G. Bootkoski and Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden, coconsecrators at Bishop Checchio’s Mass of ordination and installation May 3, 2016; and Archbishop John J. Myers of the Archdiocese of Newark, who served as principal consecrator.

Other concelebrants were Bishop Robert C. Evans of the Diocese of Providence, R.I., who worked on the faculty at the Pontifical North American College in Rome with Bishop Checchio; and Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, who was at the college doing graduate studies when Bishop Checchio was its rector.

Bishop Checchio served as rector of the Pontifical North American College from January 2006 to January 2016, after serving as vice rector there for two and a half years.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., and first bishop of the diocese, joined Bishop Checchio at a dinner after the Mass.

In addition to the bishop’s family, friends and diocesan staff, the pews were filled with priests, deacons, seminarians, religious brothers and sisters and many parish representatives along with local members of the Knights of Columbus, the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Sovereign Order of Malta.

In his greeting, Bishop Checchio reminded the faithful that the priests are the ones who provide the Eucharist and expressed his gratitude for the gift of the priesthood and his brother priests “who labor here in the diocese and other places.”

In his homily the bishop, recalling that many people and things influenced his ministry, "I am grateful that so many of those people are here with us today and I certainly am indebted to you. From my family life and early years Collingswood and at St. John Paul VI High School, to my seminary experiences in Scranton [Pa.] and in Rome and the friends I made during those years, to the pastoral and administrative experiences in the Diocese of Camden, to my years to helping to form 490 priests who were ordained during my time as rector at the North American College. And now, in the past year, as I have served as pastor of the local Church of Metuchen. I have been so abundantly blessed.”

In the day’s Gospel (Matthew 11:2530), Jesus teaches: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavyladen, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Referring to the Gospel the bishop noted: "Celebrating 25 years in the priesthood reminds me of the importance of always being yoked to the Lord and to one another in ministry. It is by deepening my relationship with the Lord in prayer and through the sacraments, and also through the encounters with others in discipleship, that I always see my service as a participation in God’s work and not simply my own.”

The bishop said when the faithful take on the yoke of Jesus, “we are not just following his teaching, but we are entering into a personal relationship, of openness, of dependence, of surrender to the Lord. We are actually asking Jesus to give our lives direction and to correct our faults and our weaknesses. We are opening all aspects of our life to him and to his direction. We are asking him to guide our efforts, our ministries and our lives so that together we can all work for greater effectiveness as disciples under his care, guidance and love. The Lord wants us to have that relationship with him.”

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, he added, “is a powerful reminder to us to be very conscious that we must rest in the heart of the Son, united to the Father to fruitfully share in the very mission of the Church. It is only by knowing the mercy of his heart deeply that we are able to become instruments of that mercy for others in need of it. That is what holy orders does as St. Thomas Aquinas tells is the sacrament which empowers the receiver to confer sacraments on others. The sacrament [holy orders] which enables us to serve in the name of Christ and it is rightfully referred to as the sacrament of service.”

Show of Support

At a reception in the cathedral’s CYO building, Msgr. John B. Gordon, pastor, Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Perth Amboy, described the bishop as someone who “shares from his heart” and is sincere about relying on God's grace to inspire others.

"He remembers everybody and is open to inviting the promptings of the Spirit for what we need right now," Msgr. Gordon said. "He is very, very thoughtful and compassionate as well. He really inspires the priests.”

In addition to visiting all 90 parishes in the diocese since his ordination, Msgr. Gordon said the bishop adds a personal touch to his ministry through letters and birthday cards and communications.

Michael Miciak, a member of Our Lady of Victories Parish, Baptistown, said he came to the Mass to show his support for the bishop.

“Just like an anniversary for anyone important in your life, whether it is your parent's wedding anniversary or your grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary, it is a major milestone for somebody that I care about. He is like part of my family," Miciak said.

Last year, Miciak and his wife sent Bishop Checchio a card for his 24th anniversary and the bishop responded with a thank you note.

Sister Dorothy Aloisio, a member of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, traveled to the cathedral from Glassboro. Sister Dorothy, who has known Bishop Checchio’s family for "a very long time," met him when he served as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

“I used to work in vocations in the Diocese of Camden and every now and then we visited,” she said.

Sister Dortohy described Bishop Checchio as “a truly pastoral person and very humble.


By Chris Donahue, Associate Editor at The Catholic Spirit

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