Rev. John E. Wassell
HOW GOD CALLED ME TO THE PRIESTHOOD
I will begin the most significant part of my spiritual testimony with my going away to Cornell University in 1968 to study engineering. A timid small town boy from Pennsylvania, I was thrown into a world class university in the mist of the 60’s unrest. I had short hair, was in AFROTC and carried around a slide-rule. I was bombarded with anti-war messages in the Cornell Daily Sun (the university’s daily newspaper) and in homilies at Sunday mass. My sophomore year on a Saturday night in early December I was watching an old movie about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. John Brown used the bible to justify killing. This got me thinking about my ROTC involvement. I said to myself “You can’t use the bible to justify killing.” I was getting ready to sign on with the Air Force for 5 years after graduation and they would pay my last 2 years of college. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to ever be put into the position of having to kill someone. I loved this country and already my two best friends were in the Air Force. If I wasn’t going to serve my country in the military, then how else could I serve my country? The only thought that came to me was that of being a priest.
This blew me away. I never ever considered that possibility, was never an altar boy, didn’t go to catholic school, no one ever suggested that to me, but once the idea was there I couldn’t shake it. (I had had a miraculous answer to prayer when I was 15 when for the first time prayed for 3 months about a relationship with a girl….. and God answered my prayer. Because of that I loved God and always went to mass.) I told my dad at Christmas break and he agreed to pay for the last 2 years at Cornell. He encouraged me to get my degree first and then if I still wanted to go into the seminary he would support me. I was relieved because I didn’t want to go into the seminary since I always planned to be married.
My senior year I got more involved with the Catholic chaplains because I knew that I was going to have to face this decision after graduation. The first Saturday of February in 1972 there was a “day of renewal” on campus and I attended. This was very “Pentecostal”, very much influenced by the “Love Inn” – a Jesus freak commune that was about 20 minutes from campus. The catholic chaplains allowed this but had no clue what it was and they didn’t attend. I argued with their fundamentalist teachings all day but when it came to the prayer meeting at the end I was extremely uncomfortable but at the same time attracted. I lasted 5 minutes and left. I went home to my apartment and looking at myself in the bathroom mirror – eye to eye, I said to God, “I want what they have!” I was lonely and depressed after 2½ years of fighting God over the priesthood and they were joyful and had a personal relationship with Jesus. I surrendered to Him and made Him Lord of my life (which meant being open to the possibility of priesthood.) I entered the seminary in September after graduation.
Rev. Danny Santos Rodrigues
From very early on, I sensed God was calling me to the priesthood. As a child, I would pretend I was a priest celebrating Mass and would build altars in the basement of our family home in Hillside, NJ. Many people over the years asked me if I wanted to be a priest and encouraged me to think about the priesthood. As I grew older, although the Church and my faith was always an important part of my life, I began to question if, in fact, God was calling me. After high school I went on to Kean University, first as a psychology major and then ultimately as a business management major. Throughout this time I worked and dated, but I also continued being very active at my home parish, Our Lady of Fatima in Elizabeth, NJ. There I was involved in music ministry for over 13 years. Ultimately I became one of the leaders of the music ministry, as well as the Knights of Columbus and altar serving. Throughout these years I continued to sense God calling me, but I also felt a strong pull to married life. After I graduated college I continued to work at the bank where I was already working. In the meantime, an old friend and mentor, Fr. Antonio I. Bico, who had always believed I had a vocation to the priesthood, began to press the question if I had seriously considered this vocation. After many failed attempts on his part to convince me, in the winter of 2009, I decided to seriously discern whether or not I had a vocation. I ended a wonderful relationship and began to pray about being called to the priesthood. It was also around this same time that I began to attend daily Mass regularly as well as the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After much discernment and help from Fr. Bico and other priest friends, I contacted the Archdiocesan Vocations Office in January of 2010 and entered the seminary in August of that same year.
Although the discernment and ultimate decision must come from the individual, it is God who calls a person to a vocation. I am not sure if I would have ultimately decided to seriously consider whether or not I had a vocation without the encouragement and example of all the people and priests, especially Fr. Bico.
I encourage everyone, if you think someone may have a vocation to priesthood or religious life, do not be afraid to invite them to think and pray about it. Sometimes all it takes is one person to ask.
Father Danny was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 2016.
Fr. Dick Mroz
As of July 1st Fr. Dick Mroz will be living at St. Cecilia Rectory. I, Fr. John, have invited him to help out with the pastoral ministry of the two parishes. When he turned 70 over a year ago he retired from his ministry as a Hospital Chaplain at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and now has the freedom to choose where he would like to serve. Fr. Dick is originally from Wisconsin. He served for 4 years in the USAF as a mechanic/crew chief on the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft in Tucson, AZ, Vietnam and Thailand. After military service he worked at Ford Motor Company for 5 years as a draftsman/designer in Dearborn, MI. I met him in 1985 when he joined the Community of God’s Love in Rutherford, the charismatic community that developed the Mexican mission where I served. In New Jersey He worked for 2 years at Mid-town Drugs in Kearny stocking shelves, delivering prescription drugs to residents in the area and serving as an all around “go-for”. He entered Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University, completed his theological studies and received a Master of Divinity degree. He was then ordained a priest for the Archdioceses of Newark by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick in 1992. Fr. Dick has served in St. Aedan’s in Jersey City, St. Philip the Apostle in Saddle Brook, St. Joseph’s in Oradell, St. Leo’s in Irvington as well as for two years as a pastor in Wisconsin and for three years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before his five years as a Hospital Chaplain in Englewood. I’m sure that he will be a great blessing to both St. Cecilia and Our Lady of Sorrows parishes. Please welcome him with the same warmth and love that you welcomed me.