By Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB
(New Rochelle, NY – September 27, 2020) – The province of St. Philip the Apostle celebrated the profession and ordination anniversaries of 20 jubilarians on Saturday, September 26, at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, NY. The jubilarians included 14 confreres observing 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 65th, and even 70th anniversaries of their first religious profession in 2020; 3 observing 25th or 40th anniversaries of priestly ordination; and 3 observing both priestly and religious anniversaries.
Distance, health, or COVID-19 restrictions prevented 15 of the jubilarians from being physically present at the Shrine for the celebration. In fact, New York state’s coronavirus policy kept half of the province’s leadership (council, directors, and sector leaders) from taking part in person in the leadership meeting of the preceding two days (September 24-25) at the Don Bosco Retreat Center.
The jubilees Mass began shortly after 10:00 a.m. and lasted almost 90 minutes. Taking part, in addition to Fr. Tim Zak and 5 jubilarians were another 26 priests, 17 brothers, 3 prenovices, 3 candidates, and almost 30 family members, Cooperators, and other friends of the jubilarians. The Mass was live-streamed, giving confreres and friends throughout the province the opportunity to take part in the rites, which included the renewal of priestly commitment by the men celebrating their presbyteral jubilee, and the renewal of Salesian religious profession by those celebrating that anniversary.
Fr. Tim called the jubilarians “living witnesses to what the provincial council and province leadership studied” during the preceding meeting days. He stated that GC28, which met earlier this year, calls Salesians to return to Jesus Christ, the center of religious life. The jubilarians have presented Jesus to their confreres in multiple ways: as an apostle, a high priest, Son of God in human form, carpenter’s son, meek and humble, welcoming the poor, zealous preacher and healer, teacher, good shepherd, unifier in brotherhood, a living rule.
Fr. Tim continued: All “the jubilarians have found in Christ the happiness for which we were created. . . . They’re living memorials of our Lord.” With the prophet Isaiah (first reading, Is 44:1-5), they’ve responded to the Lord’s invitation by saying, “I am the Lord’s.” Their fidelity has brought us the fruit of the Lord’s blessings and reminds all of us that we’re chosen by the Lord. Therefore we all join the jubilarians in thanking God “for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (second reading, Phil 3:8-14).
2020’s “double jubilarian” is Fr. Jim Cerbone (40 years ordained and 50 professed).
The longest-serving confreres are Fr. Jan Bernas, professed 70 years; and with 65 years professed, Bro. Gerard Richard and Frs. John Blanco, Bob Falk, and George Hanna.
Fr. Jan Bernas, a former missionary in Zambia (1984-1994), is now semi-retired at age 90, after 23 years as chaplain at St. Joseph’s Terrace, a Polish nursing home in Woodbridge, NJ, where he still resides. He was born at Oswiecim, Poland, where one of the main Salesian works of his native land is located. He made his first profession at Kopiec, Poland, on August 16, 1950, and was ordained in 1958 in Krakow.
Bro. Gerard Richard, 97, is the oldest confrere in the province. Born at St. Louis de Kent, NB, in 1923, he professed at St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton, NJ, on September 8, 1955, and has spent most of his life in the Salesian works of Canada: Boucherville, QC, Jacquet River, NB, and especially Seminaire Salesien in Sherbrooke, for over 40 years. He served as a general fix-it man, doing electricity, plumbing, carpentry, and locks, and was a skilled craftsman in wood. Before joining the Salesians, he worked to pay for the studies of his youngest brother, Arsene, who became a priest and, eventually, bishop of Bathurst, NB. Bishop Arsene died of cancer in 1989 at age 53; Bro. Gerard spent 6 months caring for him until he passed away. Bro. Gerard belongs still to the Sherbrooke community. His greatest joy was to participate in Arsene’s episcopal ordination, for which he crafted the episcopal crosier, and he presented it to him the day of his ordination!
Fr. John Blanco, 90, has been serving at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, home of the Ironmen, for the last 3 years. He has proven to be an ironman his whole life, still working at odd jobs around the house rather than “retire.” The New Rochelle native, a member of the city’s Hall of Fame, first professed at Newton on September 8, 1955. He has been a house treasurer for much of his Salesian life in Ramsey, Columbus, New Rochelle, East Boston, and Paterson-DBT (24 years total) as well as director in Marrero for 6 years and a parish priest in Port Chester-Corpus Christi and Manhattan-Mary Help of Christians for 13 years. As a Salesian, he has found his greatest satisfaction in celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and preaching.
Fr. Bob Falk, 88, has been a missionary in Korea for his entire Salesian life. He hails originally from Green Bay, WI, and he also made his first profession at Newton on September 8, 1955. He was ordained in Turin in 1963. In Korea, he has been director, master of novices, and delegate to the Cooperators and the Don Bosco Volunteers, besides teaching and preaching retreats.
Fr. George Hanna, 86, is assistant pastor at St. Rosalie and St. John Bosco parishes in Harvey and a member of the community of Marrero. He was born in Pawtucket, RI, and made his first profession at Newton on September 8, 1955. He was ordained in Rome in 1966 and has been a parish priest for most of the years since, in Paterson, Port Chester-Holy Rosary, Elizabeth, Harlem, Orange, Washington, and Marrero (47 years in all). He was director of the communities of Port Chester, Harlem, the provincial house, and Washington (22 years), and part of the province’s vocation team for 4 years early in his priesthood. Fr. George states: “I have great joy and satisfaction from my Salesian family and from the parishioners, young and old in various parishes who have touched my heart, to have journeyed with these people and to have had the privilege to love them and be loved by them. More now than ever I have come to understand that we are deeply loved by God. What greater joy can there be!”
Jubilarians celebrating 60 years of religious profession, from September 8, 1960, when they completed their novitiate at Newton, include:
Br. Mike Brinkman, 88, has been retired at the St. Philip Residence in Tampa since 2012. His hometown is Dayton, OH. He taught electronics at Don Bosco Tech in Rosemead, Don Bosco Tech in Boston, and St. Thomas the Apostle in Harlem (16 years total). He also taught at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, was principal at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, and was on staff the of Don Bosco Multimedia in New Rochelle, the province development office at the provincial house, and for 10 years at Salesian Boys & Girls Club in Columbus.
Fr. John Grinsell, 78, was ordained in 1971 in Columbus. He was director of the communities of New Rochelle-Salesian, Ramsey, and St. Petersburg for 6 years each and master of novices in Newton (1986-1989), and he did a lot of teaching and/or guidance work at Cedar Lake, Paterson-DBT, and South Orange-formation house. He served in parishes for 16 years in Port Chester (Holy Rosary and St. John Bosco), Miami, and Orange. He has been the coordinator of the Don Bosco Community Center in Port Chester since 2015.
Bro. Jerry Meegan, 78, was born in Teaneck, NJ. He taught in the junior seminaries at Haverstraw and Goshen and served as principal in Boston-DBT, New Rochelle, and St. Petersburg (13 years total). He was a provincial councilor and superintendent of province schools for 12 years at the provincial house. He has also served as coordinator of the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw (2 years) and director of youth ministry for the diocese of St. Petersburg (9 years). From 2010 to 2020 he was CYM in Marrero. He is beginning a new assignment at Cristo Rey Tampa High School. Bro. Jerry states: “My greatest satisfaction as a Salesian brother has been working with young men and women as a high school principal and a campus minister. These opportunities gave me a chance to get closer to young adults and help them along their journeys.”
Fr. Frank Twardzik, 80, is a golden jubilarian of ordination. He was born in Springfield, MA, and was ordained at St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth on March 21, 1970. He has been a member of the community of the Salesian formation house in Orange since 2017. He made his first profession in Newton in 1959 and has spent most of his priestly life in parishes of Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic: assistant pastor in Minersville (1973-1976), past in Dunellen, NJ (1978-1989), and Scranton, PA (1989-2017). He had brief stints as a teacher in Tampa and Marrero and one year at St. Rosalie in Harvey. Since the pandemic outbreak, he has resided in Haledon as a chaplain for the Salesian sisters.
Fr. Jim Cerbone, 71, completed 50 years of religious profession this year and 40 years of ordination. He professed at Newton on September 1, 1970, and was ordained in East Orange, NJ, on October 4, 1980. He was born in Newark, NJ, in 1949. During his Salesian life he spent 7 years at the provincial house as assistant province treasurer and another 9 years in residence while serving as campus minister at Manhattan College. He taught at Ramsey and New Rochelle for a total of 10 years and has also done parish ministry in Manhattan and Poughkeepsie. He has been part of the Ramsey community for the last 11 years and is now in a nursing home in Paramus.
Three confreres who came to our province from elsewhere have observed their 40th anniversary of profession: Fr. Rufo “Junji” Zarate, Fr. Sagayaraj Devadoss, and Fr. John Louis Mariapragasam.
Fr. Sagayaraj Joseph Devadoss was born in 1960 in Tamil Nadu state, India, and made his first profession on May 24, 1980, in the province of Madras (Chennai). He was ordained in 1991 in Madras. The most interesting periods of his priestly life came in houses of formation—a diocesan major seminary and a Salesian student of philosophy. Since 2018 he has been pastor of St. Dominic Savio Parish in Edmonton, after two years as pastor of St. Thomas More Church in the same city. He states: “Ministering for the holistic growth of those in their post novitiate formation was a more enriching experience (not without challenges, of course) both for the candidates and for me.”
Fr. John Louis Mariapragasam, 60, is from Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu State, India, and made his first profession on May 24, 1980, in the province of Madras (Chennai). After ministry in many of that province’s schools and parishes as a teacher, director, and parish priest, he came to Edmonton in 2013, where he was director of the community and pastor of St. Matthew Church. In March 2020 he was transferred to Etobicoke, ON, as director of the community of St. Benedict Parish.
Fr. Rufo Zarate, 59, is from Binan (Laguna), Philippines, made his first profession on April 1, 1980, and was ordained in 1990. After ordination, he served as a campus minister in several schools, as a parish priest, administrator of the province retreat center, and administrator of one of the most important schools in the province, Don Bosco Makati (2008-2014). He came to Canada in 2014 to minister to the Filipino members of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey, which he continues. In addition, he’s the local delegate for the Salesian Cooperators. In 2019 he transferred from the North Philippines Province to that of New Rochelle. He has found his greatest joy as a Salesian priest in his strong faith in the real presence of the Lord especially during the Eucharistic celebration, inculcated by Don Bosco through his admirable mentors in formation.
Fr. Dominic Tran, 51, is the only silver jubilarian of religious profession. A native of Dalat, Vietnam, he came to America as a young boy and was professed on August 15, 1995, in Bellflower. He was ordained in 2003 at Orange. Since 2016 he has been province director of vocations, based at the provincial house. After 6 years teaching at Paterson and New Rochelle, he was assigned to formation ministry in Orange (2007-2016), including 3 years as director.
Celebrating jubilees of priestly ordination are Frs. Dennis Hartigan, Jim McKenna, Gus Baek, and Rich Rosin.
Fr. Dennis Hartigan, 69, ordained for 40 years, comes from Kearny, N.J., and was ordained for the diocese of Toledo, Ohio, on June 7, 1980. He had entered the Salesians and professed in 1971 but withdrew when his vows expired in 1977. After many years of both high school and parish ministry in the diocese, earning a doctorate in educational leadership, and teaching at the University of Dayton, he returned to the Salesians and professed again in 2014. He is teaching now at Cristo Rey Tampa High School. Previously he served in Ramsey, Orange, and Takoma Park.
Fr. Jim McKenna, 69, was ordained on May 24, 1980, in Columbus. He made his first profession at Newton in 1971. Since 2009 he has been director of the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point. He comes from Jersey City and is an alumnus of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey. He was province treasurer (1991-1994) and treasurer of the communities in Newton and Tampa, director in Marrero, and pastor in Port Chester-Corpus Christi. He taught briefly in Tampa and Ramsey and was an assistant pastor in Manhattan and Belle Glade. He has found that the years went fast, and “being a Salesian priest has been a great fit for me vocationally. The many places being of service have given me a wider view of how God in this world is present in His church and sacraments.”
Fr. Gus Baek, 62, was ordained on May 28, 1995, in Columbus. He is currently director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, having taken on that responsibility a year ago. He was born in Kwangju, Korea, in 1958 and was influenced by Fr. Henry Bonetti to join the Salesians, which he did at Newton in 1985 as a Son of Mary; he professed in 1987. He has taught in Marrero and East Boston, done Boys & Girls Club ministry in East Boston and parish ministry in Port Chester-Corpus Christi and Orange and taught theology at Caldwell College in New Jersey. For 15 years he coordinated Korean youth ministry from the Reborn Young Christ Center in Stony Point, N.Y. (2004-2019), and that ministry, chiefly conducting retreats for the high school students, has been his greatest joy as a Salesian priest. He feels blessed to be a Salesian priest for 25 years, working for the young and the poor. “I am very grateful to God,” he adds, “for the many blessings that have been given me. I would like to ask the Lord His wisdom, courage, and strength to continue working for the poorest children and families of the world.”
Fr. Rich Rosin, 58, was ordained on May 28, 1995, at Columbus. He comes from Astoria, Queens, and was professed at Newton in 1988. He served mainly in schools: Marrero, New Rochelle, Ramsey, and St. Petersburg, including stints as principal in Marrero and New Rochelle and director in St. Pete. He has also been a parish priest in Etobicoke and Chicago.