With extreme gratitude to Bishop Sullivan, I begin my new assignment as the pastor of St. Damien Parish. As I wrote to my family and friends when I shared with them my new appointment, I am filled with feelings of profound excitement for this new adventure.
I come to this position after being the pastor of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill for eleven years and, prior to a merger, the pastor of St. Peter Celestine in Cherry Hill for almost six years. I have a Master of Divinity degree from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, New York and a Master of Public Administration degree from Rutgers University in Camden. I was previously the Vicar for Human Services of the Diocese of Camden.
In addition to my primary assignment as pastor of St. Damien, I currently serve the Diocese of Camden as Advocate for Priests’ Health and Wellness, a member of the College of Consultors, a member of the Presbyteral Council, a member of the Priest Personnel Board, the president of the Catholic Charities Board of Trustees, a member of the Housing Services Board of Trustees, a member of the Archbishop Damiano School Board of trustees, a member of the Diocesan Finance Council’s committee for Compensation and Benefits, and the facilitator of the new priests’ peer group.
I consider myself a strong, hands-on leader who has a lot of opinions, ideas, and plans to meet the challenges that the Church faces and the challenges that St. Damien Parish faces. But I also consider myself a collaborative person who likes to work closely with others in ministry that I admire and trust, and who are talented, dedicated, energized and share my vision and are willing to look to the future with hope and new ideas. My door is always open and I am willing to listen to anyone who comes to me.
To be honest, I am not the type of person who will just sit back for a year to observe everything and only then make some changes. I will not hesitate to make the changes that I believe are necessary for the good of the parish at the appropriate time.
Ricardo Lozano, a young man from Colombia, is a seminarian for the diocese of Camden entering First Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. When Ricardo came to the United States over two years ago, Bishop Sullivan asked me to take Ricardo in at Christ Our Light to provide a home for him in the diocese. I have agreed to Bishop Sullivan’s request that Ricardo come with me to St. Damien and that our parish now becomes his new home in the United States. I ask you all to welcome Ricardo warmly.
For your information, Father Allen Lovell is now on sick leave and will not be returning to St. Damien. I ask that you continue to pray for Father Allen and for his recovery. Father Alvaro Diaz’s residence as a retired priest has changed and he will no longer be living at St. Damien. This decision was made by the diocese in conformity with the priest personnel policy which mandates that when a pastor leaves a parish any retired priest living in that parish is also required to leave. Due to the tremendous shortage of priests in the diocese, no other priest will be assigned to
St. Damien at this time. I am grateful that Father Alvaro and Father Steve Curry, O.S.A. will continue to celebrate the Spanish Mass on Sunday evenings. Some of the priests who have served the parish in the past as Mass presiders will continue to serve. In addition, I have invited other priests to help to serve our community. I am grateful to all who have served in the past, continue to serve, and will serve in the future.
I want to offer a profound word of gratitude to Father Michael Rush, my friend and brother, and your pastor for the past eighteen years. I have known Father Michael for over forty-five years since his brother, Father Jim, served in my home parish, Corpus Christi in Carney’s Point, when I was in elementary school. Father Michael has served our parish with love and care and I am grateful for the legacy he leaves.
What I ask of each of you is open and honest communication between us. I promise to be open and honest and I ask the same from you.
I am available to each of you, our year round residents and our summer parishioners, whenever you may need me. My office email is email@example.com and my office phone number is 609-399-0648 extension 105. I look forward to meeting you, getting to know you, and celebrating with you.
The work of the Church is to welcome all people – all people – without exception – young and old, rich and poor, all races, ethnicities, and genders. I pledge to you that I will work hard to celebrate the Mass with respect and enthusiasm, celebrate the other sacraments with a spirit of welcome and care, and bury the dead with dignity. I so much look forward to doing this work of the Church with you.
I am very excited to begin my ministry at St. Damien. Together, building on your rich history and looking to the future with new vigor, we will work to make St. Damien Parish a vital, alive and thriving community.
Fr. Tom Newton