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.
Fr. Juan Carlos Velasquez-Ducayín
I am originally from Venezuela. I was always involved in the Church, as a Sunday Catholic but I never imagined that God would call me to be a priest. I was going to school and looking for my path in this world. After getting involved with the Neocatechumenal Way, a way of Christian Initiation, I began to understand my faith in a deeper way, and to change my life little by little into a more Christian way of living. My plan was always to get married and to become an engineer, but when I was invited by my pastor to a national youth conference, something changed. I felt that God was calling me to something greater than what I had planned for myself, for the first time I thought about the priesthood. I was initially scared, I didn’t know what to do, who to turn to, or even if this was really the Lord calling. But with the help of a youth discernment group at my parish I was able to understand that God was calling me.
I was invited to attend to the seminary in Venezuela for a year to see if it was something that I liked and to further discern. After a couple of semesters, I felt that God was definitely calling me, but calling me to be a missionary priest. I attended a vocation retreat in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, where about 300 young men just like me were to be sent out to missionary seminaries throughout the world. This was a very scary process because we were sent by lottery. Everyone who wanted to go to a missionary seminary placed their name on a piece of paper in a big basket. The retreat leader would name a seminary and a country and then pick out a name and asked if we accepted. I could have been sent to India or Africa or Europe but God sent me to the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.
I attended the Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary here in Kearny, New Jersey and I graduated from Seton Hall in 2018. I was ordained a Priest for the Archdiocese of Newark. I am very happy to serve this diocese and even happier to have been assigned to Kearny, which has been my home for these past few years.
Fr. Richard J. Mroz
Retired Priest in Residence
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.
After some seminary study in Michigan, in 1985 he moved to New Jersey to join the Community of God’s Love in Rutherford, a Catholic Charismatic Community. While there 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. His last assignment was as a Hospital Chaplain at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey.
Since retiring from his ministry as a Hospital Chaplain in 2016, Fr. Dick has been involved in the pastoral ministry of St. Cecilia and Our Lady of Sorrows parishes.