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NOTE: The following letter was published in the July 12, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
This past week I was able to attend the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ordination of one of my priest friends, Father Austin Vetter. It was also a good time to catch up with some of our “old” friends from seminary days, while thanking God for the gift of life, faith, priesthood, family and friends. My friend has had a wonderful life of prayer and service, and it was a joy to celebrate with him and his large family.
Father Vetter is the youngest of 12 children and grew up on a large North Dakota farm. His anniversary celebration was at the prairie church where he grew up. The church was completely full for his Mass. His brother and nephew currently run the family farm and attend Mass at this church each weekend. Their love of the priesthood was clear to all. Father has 46 nieces and nephews, and more than 30 great nephews and nieces. Two of his nephews are in the seminary now, one studying in Rome and one in Denver, while some of his nieces are considering a religious vocation.
Before heading to North Dakota, I was happy to take part in our first diocesan “Quo vadis” retreat for young men of high school age. We were blessed with 29 in attendance, while others expressed interest but were not free for the three days because of other obligations they had already committed to. It was an uplifting experience for me, and the young men, as well as our seminarians and some of our priests in attendance, seemed to enjoy it, too.
The retreat was based on the story told about St. Peter, who was fleeing from Rome during Nero’s great persecution of the early Christians there. As St. Peter was running away out to the coast on the old Appian Way, he passed by our Lord who was heading into Rome. He asked Jesus, “Domine, quo vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” Christ responded, “I’m going back into Rome to suffer and die with my people.” St. Peter knew he had to go back to the city, too, and he did. He was arrested, suffered death on a hill near the Tiber River, and was buried on the same hill, where St. Peter’s Basilica was built.
While these young men on our “quo vadis” retreat were not sure what God asks of them at this point in their lives, it was evident that they have generous hearts, and like St. Peter, want to be with the Lord while serving His people. It is my hope that during their few days with us, they learned how to pray more deeply, developing their friendship with the Lord. It is from their communing with the Lord that they will learn what God’s plan is for them, and by following God’s plan, they will find true, lasting happiness, even amidst the struggles or difficulties that all our lives entail at times. I am grateful to our seminarians and priests for spending these days with them in prayer, sports and fraternity.
I ask you to continue to pray for our priests. We are so blessed by their commitment and service. Amidst other aspects on the happenings of our diocese in this edition of “The Catholic Spirit,” you will see articles about Father Jay Toborowsky’s installation as pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Annandale, as well as coverage on our farewell to Msgr. John Syzmanski, whose priestly life and ministry effected our local Church in so many ways, and finally a substantial thank you to Msgr. Michael Corona, administrator of St. Luke Parish in North Plainfield, who recently finished many years of exemplary service in our Catholic Schools office for the diocese. We are blessed by the generous service of our priests and by their dedication to grow in the likeness of our Good Shepherd. Pray, too, that the Lord may provide even more future shepherds for our local Church. He always listens to our prayers, we know that, so no doubt our storming heaven with this prayer and asking young men that we think would be good priests to consider it, will help the Holy Spirit to raise up enough shepherds for our parishes.
Please pray for me, too. I am not only grateful for your prayers but depend upon them. You can be assured that I always keep you in my prayers. God bless.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen