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Two men answer God’s call to serve as priests in Diocese of Metuchen

June 07, 2018

METUCHEN – After years of discernment and formation, two men with different journeys to the priesthood – one a former New York City police officer and funeral director and the other a native of Khumiasii Village, Nagaland in India – will begin a new journey when they answer God’s call to serve in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Deacon Robert Pinnisi and Deacon Tholitho will be ordained to the priesthood on June 9, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Bishop James F. Checchio will be the principal celebrant at an 11 a.m. Mass of the Rite of Ordination at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, 548 Main St., Metuchen.

All are welcome to attend the Ordination and pray for the vocations of Deacon Pinnisi and Deacon Tholitho. For those unable to be present in person, the Ordination will also be livestreamed at http://www.stfranciscathedral.org.

The evening before, June 8 at 6 p.m., the faithful are also invited to participate in a Eucharistic Holy Hour for Vocations to be held at St. John Neumann Pastoral Center, 146 Metlars Ln., Piscataway.

The men are among 430 potential ordinands to enter the priesthood in dioceses throughout the United States this spring, according to a report released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington. 

“I always tell people today that God’s not calling any less people to the priesthood than he did years ago,” said Deacon Pinnisi. “The world is a noisier place now than it used to be and so to hear God’s call, we have to assist young people to hear it; encouraging them is one of the great ways of doing that.”

Leading to his own decision to enter the seminary in high school, Deacon Pinnisi, now 54, said he was always around the Church and began thinking about the priesthood early in life, with the encouragement of his parish priest, but was ultimately lead down a different path in his discernment.

According to the USCCB report on the ordinand class of 2018, 86 percent of men were encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life.

After 10 years of seminary in the Diocese of Brooklyn – four years of preparatory seminary, four years of college seminary and two years of major seminary – Deacon Pinnisi requested a leave of absence.

He returned to his family home in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and began working at a funeral home, where he later became a licensed funeral director. In 1990, he was hired by the mayor of New York City to serve on the police force.

“And so, for the next 20 years, I would really have two full-time careers: a funeral director by day and a policeman by night,” said Deacon Pinnisi.

Eventually, he again felt God calling him to the priesthood. The 20-year police veteran recalls he discussed the idea with several longtime priest friends and, after much discernment and prayer, decided to re-enter the seminary.

“God’s call was clear as a bell,” Deacon Pinnisi said, “because it was through the inspiration of good and holy priests.”

He recalls observing two priests who, by their examples, inspired his vocation to the priesthood: Msgr. Dominic Sclafani, pastor of his childhood parish, Our Lady of Grace in Gravesend, Brooklyn; and Msgr. Ronald Marino, pastor of the Basilica of Regina Pacis in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who will vest Deacon Pinnisi for ordination and serve as the homilist at a Mass of Thanksgiving to be held at the Basilica June 10, the day following his ordination to the priesthood.

In the Diocese of Metuchen, Deacon Pinnisi will celebrate Mass at 5:30 p.m. June 16 at St. James Parish, Woodbridge, where he served as a deacon during his final year of seminary, and at noon June 24 at St. Ann Parish, Raritan.

“I want to be a priest because I want to go to heaven and help other people go, too,” said Deacon Pinnisi. “The most exciting prospect was that even after all these years,” he continued, “God’s still calling me and is hopefully going to use me as an instrument by which he is going to save his people. And so, if somebody gets to go to heaven because of something I said or did, or an example I set, that is the reason I’m becoming a priest.”

Both Deacon Pinnisi and Deacon Tholitho, who together attended Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall, South Orange, and were each conferred with a Master of Divinity degree in May 2018, felt called to the priesthood during their childhood years.

“From an early age,” Deacon Tholitho said, “I was so much drawn to life in the priesthood.”

It was in the seventh grade when he truly came to hear God’s call. “Back in my country, we have a thing called ‘Vocation Camps,’ or ‘Come and See’ weekends. I began going to some of these in seventh grade, both at the parish and diocesan level.”

Close to half of ordinands, 46 percent, reported participating in a “Come and See” weekend – an opportunity for those discerning a vocation to experience religious life – at a seminary or religious institute/society, according to the USCCB report. 

This year, the Diocese of Metuchen’s Office of Vocations will sponsor Quo Vadis Days, similar to a “Come and See” weekend. The three-day event, to be held June 25-27, seeks to bring together young men between the ages of 14 and 17, who are serious about their Catholic faith, and empower them to live as intentional disciples and support their ongoing vocational discernment. Thirty teens of the diocese already have registered to participate in the June Quo Vadis Days.

Three years after attending the “Come and See” weekend, Deacon Tholitho entered the seminary. But, as he continued in seminary, he wondered: “What does God want of me?”

“After some years, I felt that I needed to take some additional time only so that I could make a firmer and matured decision, with more knowledge of life outside the seminary,” said Deacon Tholitho.

But, like Deacon Pinnisi, he heard God’s call a second time and so, with renewed fervor and a missionary spirit, he re-entered the seminary, this time in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Looking back, Deacon Tholitho said, he believes God was continually preparing him to be a priest where he is right now, far from home. 

“We had missionaries, priests and nuns who had come from distant places, whose lives and examples of service had a strong impact on my initial discernment to the priesthood,” he said. “Maybe that is the reason why I’m happy to be a missionary myself.”

The same day he is ordained, Deacon Tholitho will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at 4 p.m. at St. James the Less Parish, Jamesburg, where he served as a deacon during his final year of seminary.

At the very symbolic age of 33 – the age of Jesus when he died on the cross – Deacon Tholitho said he is excited to make the lifelong commitment to the priesthood on his ordination day.

“At ordination, I will be configured to the person of Jesus Christ and take on His mission; that’s huge,” said Deacon Tholitho. “I just wish and desire that I’m worthy enough to offer this same sacrifice as a priest.”

To learn more about vocations or Quo Vadis Days in the Diocese of Metuchen, visit diometuchen.org/vocations, call (732) 562-2457 or email vocations@diometuchen.org.

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