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New pastor encourages parishioners to evangelize, serve community

October 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK — “This is the people that I believe with,” declared Msgr. Joseph G. Celano as he pointed to the hundreds of faithful seated in St. Peter the Apostle Church Sept. 23 to witness his Mass of Installation as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish. “It is good to be back in the City of New Brunswick again… This parish always felt like home to me.”


Bishop James F. Checchio presided at the Mass, which also served as a joyous return for Msgr. Celano. He served as chaplain at The Catholic Center at Rutgers University from 1993-1999. Following a procession led by the Knights of Columbus, the monsignor, and parochial vicars Father Jason Pavich and Father James De Fillipps, the bishop stood beneath the brilliantly white high altar in the sanctuary of the newly renovated church, the oldest in the diocese.


In his homily, Bishop Checchio quoted a speech by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about the priesthood, noting the first task of a priest is to be a believer, and to become one ever new and evermore.


“The gift of the priesthood is to give everyone someone to believe with,” the bishop began, “even when it seems like the whole world is against you and no one believes. Without a doubt, I believe, and I happily entrust you to another believer, Msgr. Celano.” Their new pastor will believe as he administers sacraments and celebrates Mass, “but don’t mistakenly believe in him,” Bishop Checchio warned, “believe with him. It is Jesus Christ who is our savior. Believe in him.”


During the Rite of Installation, which was repeatedly punctuated by applause from the joy-filled congregation, the bishop formally introduced the parish staff, clergy, pastoral council, finance committee and trustees to their new pastor. Each group rose to signal its assent to Msgr. Celano’s leadership, while he, in turn, pledged his support and acceptance of their counsel by reciting the Oath of Fidelity.


Members of the congregation and parish staff later expressed their joy at the installation of their newest pastor. Jesus Our Hope Sister Lorraine Doiron, who had served with Msgr. Celano at his previous pastorate in Bridgewater, now works beside him at the Catholic Center.


“He is an awesome priest, a holy man,” Sister Lorraine said. “His gifts are what’s needed here.”


Parishioner Katie Cerni remarked, “He’s been incredibly gracious as he arrived here this summer to learn about the different ministries. I am very hopeful about the future of this parish.”


Jose Lim was one of three seminarians seated in the sanctuary during the Mass. The second-year pre-theology


student later reflected, "St. Peter 's is my home parish, and I experienced my conversion here. The Holy Spirit is moving and wants to do great things here.”


In his closing remarks, Msgr. Celano issued a challenge to his congregation: to pray for the intercession of Mother Mary and her spouse, Joseph, and join with other New Brunswick parishes to become a beacon of evangelization and service in the city.


“We are told that St. Philip Neri would conclude his prayers with saying, ‘Lord, today let us begin,’” Msgr. Celano said. “With hearts full of gratitude for all that has been, and hearts filled with hope and trust in God for all that is yet to be, let us echo the words of St. Philip Neri: ‘Lord, today, let us begin.’” The new pastor will continue in his roles as of Episcopal Vicar for Admin-istration and Secretary to the College of Consultors to which Bishop Checchio appointed him in 2017.


Msgr. Celano was born in 1959 in Newark to the late Mary L. Kennedy and Marino J. Celano. He attended St. Matthias School, Somerset, and the nowclosed St. Pius X High School, Piscataway. He earned an associate’s degree in social-behavioral science from Somerset County College, Somerset, and a bachelor’s degree in human resources from the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pa.


In 1983, Msgr. Celano enrolled in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts degree in biblical studies. He was ordained as a priest for the diocese by Bishop Edward T. Hughes at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Metuchen, May 30, 1987.


He recently completed a master’s degree in ecclesial administration and management at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.


Since his ordination, Msgr. Celano has served as parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish, South Amboy; St. Cecelia Parish, Iselin; St. Francis Cabrini Parish, Piscataway, and Blessed Sacrament Parish, Martinsville. In 1993, he became chaplain to the Catholic Center, and lived in the St. Peter the Apostle Parish rectory during the six years of his service.


Msgr. Celano has served in other diocesan positions over the course of his ministry to the Church, including director, Department of Pastoral Life; director, Office of Vocations; program host of Proclaim the Good News, the former diocesan radio talk show, and episcopal vicar of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties.


Msgr. Celano was appointed pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish, Bridgewater, in 1999 and served there until last year. He was inducted into the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in 2005 and elevated to Knight Commander in 2010. He was named a Chaplain to His Holiness in 2011 and given the title Monsignor. In


2015, Msgr. Celano was named a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis.


St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish was founded in 1829; its church rectory and convent were placed on both the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 2005. The parish counts 36 students in religious education classes and 515 registered families, with a diverse congregation drawing from both long-established area families and the constantly-changing student population of Rutgers.



By Christina Leslie, Correspondent

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