Heralds of The Word
Five men who have been called by the Lord to follow in his footsteps were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, June 4, 2011. The new priests are Rev. H. Todd Carter, Rev. Carlos A. Florez, Rev. Kevin J. Kimtis, Rev. Fernando Lopez, Rev. Christopher P. Picollo and Rev. John J. Testa.
Rev. H. Todd Carter
By Lois Rogers | Features Editor | TrentonMonitor.com
The road to the priesthood began for H. Todd Carter with a call to conversion to Catholicism in the middle of his undergraduate studies at The College of New Jersey, Ewing.
As he recalled it during a recent interview, the call unfolded during a period of real introspection with the help and “good witness” of Catholic friends who walked with him on his journey of faith.
There he discovered “the beauty of Church history and doctrine and came to the conclusion that “the Catholic Church is true and (is) what Christ intended for those who follow him.” From the time he entered the Church, Rev. Mr. Carter, who graduated from Freehold Township High School in 2001, became very involved in campus ministry.
He described how during this time, he “grew deeper in prayer and felt God may be calling me,” which led him to enter the diocesan program of priestly formation upon graduating college in 2005.
Rev. Mr. Carter was born March 1, 1982 in Freehold, and he is the son of Harry and Jacalyn Carter, who now reside in Middletown. He embarked on his priestly studies in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., where, between 2005 and 2011, he completed a master of divinity degree and a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in sacred scripture.
The Rev. Mr. Carter’s summer parish assignments have been in St. Catherine, Middletown; Holy Eucharist, Tabernacle; Holy Innocents, Neptune, and St. Joan of Arc, Marlton.
Ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop John M. Smith May 15 in Mary, Mother of God Church, Middletown, the Rev. Mr. Carter described this past year as the most important part of his ongoing journey of faith.
“It was good just preaching and doing parish work at St. Joan of Arc,” he said.
“It was wonderful to be a part of parish life,” said Rev. Mr. Carter, who spoke of the joy he felt about administering the sacraments of matrimony and Baptism. “I baptized 20 kids over the past year,” he said.
Bringing the comfort of the faith to wake services, making hospital visits and assisting at children’s liturgies were all part of a dynamic year that included studies and being sidelined by illness for a time.
“It was a lot like learning how to juggle a bunch of balls at the same time, bouncing between the parish and the seminary and meeting all the obligations,” said Rev. Mr. Carter.
Through it all, he enjoyed support from his family and friends, all of whom are looking forward to his ordination. He is looking forward to having Father Daniel Hesko, pastor of his home parish, St. Catherine in Middletown, who encouraged him throughout his formation, as his vesting priest.
“Father Dan is a very good example of the priesthood and he works extremely hard and cares deeply about his parishioners,” Rev. Mr. Carter said. “He was a main influence on (my) vocation.”
Looking on during that moment of his ordination will be his family, who are active members of the Reform Church of Colts Neck. They have been preparing for this moment since last year, Rev. Mr. Carter said, along with their fellow church members.
“My mom went to the priests’ ordination last year in preparation for this year,” he said. “My parents and sisters (Ellen and Kathleen Anne) have been looking forward to the ordination and the First Mass. They are proud of me. ..The members of the church have been supportive of me and praying for me.”
Those prayers will no doubt continue as he begins his priesthood, serving in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton. “I’m very much looking forward to living in the parish and doing good ministry in the school and church,” he said.
Rev. Carlos A. Florez
By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent | TrentonMonitor.com
“When I was 19, I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood,” recalled Rev. Mr. Carlos A. Florez. “So I asked a priest friend what it takes.
“He asked me, ‘Carlos, do you love people? If you are able to love people, you will make a good priest.’
“So here I am,” said Rev. Mr. Florez, as he now prepares for the day of his ordination.
That friend was one of two major influences on Rev. Mr. Florez, who was born in Barrancabermeja, Colombia July 1, 1980 to Luis Octavio and Maria Eloissa Florez. When both of them died in a car accident six months later, he was taken in and raised by Ana Belen, his maternal grandmother, who grounded him in the faith, reading the Bible every evening and teaching him how to pray. “In her way of understanding God,” Rev. Mr. Florez said, “she taught me to praise and love him. She taught me well.”
In 2000, Rev. Mr. Florez entered Seminario Mayor Maria Inmaculada and majored in philosophy. After his graduation in 2004, he traveled to the United States to continue his studies in St. Vincent Archabbey College and Seminary, Latrobe, Pa.
Through a friend he learned of the Diocese of Trenton and, with the assistance of Father Javier Diaz, director of the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate and pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Trenton, and Msgr. Gregory D. Vaughan, diocesan vicar for vocations, moderator of the curia and director of seminarians, Rev. Mr. Florez was accepted as a seminarian for the diocese. He received his master of divinity degree and bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
In the summer of 2009, Rev. Mr. Florez was assigned to serve the parish of St. Charles Borromeo in Cinnaminson, where Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor, helped him hone his style of preaching and introduced him to parish life.
He was then assigned to Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Trenton as a transitional deacon in 2010. There, Rev. Mr. Florez became more familiar with the American people he was undertaking to serve as a priest.
Under the supervision of Father Jeffrey Lee, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Rev. Mr. Florez gained greater understanding of parish administration as well as sensitivity to “the challenge of integrating people from different cultures and traditions into one community.” His native language served him well in the multicultural parish, where Masses and sacraments are celebrated in English, Spanish and Italian.
When asked why he chose to enter the priesthood, he answered, “I wanted to be part of something greater than me.”
Like the priest friend who nurtured his fledgling vocation in Colombia, Rev. Mr. Florez sees his priesthood as “a life of prayer dedicated to the people.”
“It is important to be present to people, because humans need to be in relationship,” he said.
“When I visit people who are sick, I can tell the presence of the priest means so much to them. Each opportunity I have to work with the homebound and the sick, I hold their hands and tell them that God is there in their suffering.”
His lessons from life experience nourish his vocation and his belief. “I think I have faith because God helped me overcome my own difficulties. When you transcend your own pain to become compassionate, that’s the Holy Spirit working in you,” he said.
While Rev. Mr. Florez resolves to “project God’s love to the people,” he recognized that the people project it back to him.
“My vocation has a lot to do with others’ prayer and support. That’s how vocations grow.”
Following ordination, Rev. Mr. Florez will begin his assignment as parochial vicar in St. Mary Parish, Middletown. His purpose will be to learn as much as he can from his pastor, Msgr. Michael Walsh. His greatest hope, he said, is “to be a good priest, a man capable of showing God under any circumstance.”
Rev. Kevin J. Kimtis
By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor | TrentonMonitor.com
Ever since he was a “little kid,” Rev. Mr. Kevin J. Kimtis has wanted to be a priest.
And, whenever he waivered and thought about being something else, a “but…” usually got in the way.
Being an architect might sound intriguing, “but I’m really, really awful at math, so that wouldn’t be a good idea,” he said, with a smile. Or a marine biologist, “but I don’t like swimming.”
“I always had the priesthood in the back of my mind,” said Rev. Mr. Kimtis.
“There were no buts about it.”
Rev. Mr. Kimtis, who was born May 6, 1985, in Niskayuna, N.Y., and is the son of Edward J. and Amelia C. Kimtis, said that there were various ways in which his decision to become a priest was fostered. Along with being a “cradle Catholic” and growing up in a devout Catholic home, he credits the fine examples set by the priests in St. Paul Parish, Princeton; the sisters who staffed the parish school, plus his experiences at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
“There was no summit moment,” leading up to his decision to become a priest, he said. “It was at CUA when I really began to focus on the priesthood and started to take concrete steps in deciding as to whether or not this was what God wanted me to do with my life.”
At CUA, Rev. Mr. Kimtis enjoyed his involvement with the campus Knights of Columbus Council. He became a Grand Knight and liked to participate in the council’s various service projects, both on and off campus.
Of his experience at Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange, Rev. Mr. Kimtis said he enjoyed having the chance to apply the knowledge and skills he acquired in class in real-world settings and felt that it had prepared him well, “as best as it can, for the priesthood.”
“I look forward to working in a parish as a priest,” he said. What’s especially important to remember is that “most people’s experience of the Church is at Mass on Sundays, and if a priest can make it a real encounter with God, a real encounter with Christ, then he has succeeded.”
One of the biggest lessons Rev. Mr. Kimtis said he learned from his journey to the priesthood is being “able to evaluate my own strengths and weaknesses.”
“I ask Christ to build up those strengths and put them to use in serving his people, and I ask him to help build up those weaknesses and make them into strengths,” he said. “I pray that Christ will make me into a better person and a better servant of him.”
Rev. Mr. Kimtis noted a bit of trivia regarding his upcoming ordination day: he’s the only transitional deacon who can say that he will be ordained by his former college university president.
Four years ago when he graduated from CUA, his diploma was signed by Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell. And now, he will receive an ordination certificate signed by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Rev. Fernando A. Lopez
By Mary Morrell | Correspondent | TrentonMonitor.com
Rev. Mr. Fernando A. Lopez was born June 19, 1975, in Medellin, Colombia, a country rich in Catholic devotion.
One of four children of Rosmira Monsalve De Lopez and the late Luis Arturo Lopez, Rev. Mr. Lopez experienced from an early age the beautiful rituals of the Mass, daily recitation of the Rosary, led by his grandparents, and a powerful Colombian devotion for the Exaltation of the Cross in which the family would kneel and recite the name of Jesus 1,000 times.
While attending high school at Colegrio Fray Rafa de la Serna, Rev. Mr. Lopez came under the influence of the Franciscans and it was here that he first began to discern a call to the priesthood.
“I saw the priests giving compassion and companionship,” he recalled, especially in their mission with the poor. “I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that.’”
Following high school, Rev. Mr. Lopez entered the Pontifical University Bolivariana/ Mayor Seminary where he continued the discernment process before changing his field of study and earning a degree in criminal justice, pursuing an interest in serving as a police officer.
Then, while Rev. Mr. Lopez was working for a time as a parish secretary, a former vocation director from the Archdiocese of Chicago came to visit the pastor of his parish. During his stay, the priest invited Rev. Mr. Lopez to come to the United States, learn English and continue to discern his vocation to the priesthood. After seeking the counsel of his pastor, Rev. Mr. Lopez agreed.
While in Chicago, Rev. Mr. Lopez received an invitation to the Diocese of Trenton for the ordination of his good friend Father Rene Pulgarin, who is to serve as vesting priest at Rev. Mr. Lopez’s ordination. It was here that Rev. Mr. Lopez met Bishop John M. Smith, who invited him to consider his vocation as a priest for the Diocese of Trenton.
Rev. Mr. Lopez, agreed, but looked forward to becoming part of a parish community before entering the seminary. He was assigned to St. Barnabas, Bayville.
“I wanted people to get to know me. It was not a Spanish community. I was scared. But it was a wonderful experience!” he shared, adding, “I love people, love to be among people, and I learned that people love their priests, no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from.”
Rev. Mr. Lopez completed his seminary training in Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange. During those years, he served in the parishes of Holy Trinity, Long Branch; Our Lady of Good Counsel, West Trenton, and St. Aloysius, Jackson.
He recalled having many extraordinary and affirming experiences during this time, but the opportunity to preach while serving as a transitional deacon in St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette, has been among the most memorable.
“I love preaching,” he said, recalling the first time he preached to the congregation. “I stopped for a moment and looked out at all the people. It was scary and heartwarming. I realized they are looking and waiting for something from you, to hear what you are going to say. You have the power to give people what they want and need, to touch people’s lives by bringing the Gospel to them.”
Upon ordination, Rev. Mr. Lopez will serve as parochial vicar in St. Aloysius Parish.
Reflecting on his future, Rev. Mr. Lopez expressed his desire to be “a negotiator with people.”
“I don’t care who you are or what your situation is. I want to know how you and I can work together to bring you closer to God,” he said. “I hope and pray God allows me to do that for the people of St. Aloysius.”
Rev. Christopher P. Picollo
By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor | TrentonMonitor.com
There are conversion experiences – like the one St. Paul had – in which someone can seemingly have a 180-degree turnabout and a dramatic change on Christianity in a rapid amount of time.
And then there are conversion experiences like the one Rev. Mr. Christopher P. Picollo had about his decision to become a priest.
“I wasn’t St. Paul,” said Rev. Mr. Picollo, who hails from Marlton, where he is a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish. He was born Sept. 16, 1975, and is the son of Robert and Dolores Picollo.
For Rev. Mr. Picollo, the first thoughts he had of a priestly vocation occurred when he was a student at La Salle University, Philadelphia. But the idea was put on the back burner after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and accounting. He instead entered the workforce and took a job as a mutual fund accountant in Delaware. He then worked as a program auditor with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
All in all, it took him seven years after his graduation from La Salle to enter the seminary.
“It took me a while to finally make the move I was thinking about since college,” he said. But the idea of the priesthood “kept gnawing at me. It (was an idea that) never went away.”
Rev. Mr. Picollo entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., in 2005, where he pursued a master of divinity degree and master of arts degree in systematic theology.
Given his public school education – attending Robert B. Jaggard Elementary School, Marlton Middle School and Cherokee High School – and being accustomed to working in the public sector, Rev. Mr. Picollo admitted that when he finally decided to begin studies for the priesthood, life in the seminary took some getting used to.
But overall, he found the seminary to be a good experience. He appreciated the challenging academics, learning about the Catholic faith and the wide range of topics including liturgy, Church history and Scripture. He enjoyed his pastoral experiences serving summer assignments in St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville; Holy Innocents, Neptune; St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette; his transitional diaconate year assignment in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, and another assignment in Holy Innocents Parish, Philadelphia.
“They have been all great assignments,” he said. The ministry that he developed a particular fondness for was visiting and bringing Holy Communion to the homebound and nursing home residents. “The people are great. They have been so supportive,
they want to see us succeed.”
As his ordination day draws near, Rev. Mr. Picollo said he looks forward to serving his first parish assignment as a newly ordained priest in St. James Parish, Red Bank, where he believes there will be many opportunities to interact with people of all ages and to get involved in the parish, as well as in St. James School and Red Bank Catholic High School, and ministering in a local hospital.
“As a priest, I look forward to being able to celebrate the Sacraments for the people,” said Rev. Mr. Picollo. “Hopefully I can be there for the people in the good times as well as the tough times. Hopefully I can convey the importance of faith, hope and love that we are taught by Jesus and the Church.”
Rev. John J. Testa
By Christina Leslie | Correspondent | TrentonMonitor.com
“I guess you can take the man away from the vocation, but not the vocation away from the man,” reflected the Rev. Mr. John J. Testa about his deferred call to the priesthood. Rev. Mr. Testa, 46, is living proof that God’s call, though delayed for decades, cannot be denied.
Five months after John Testa’s July 1, 1964, birth in New Brunswick, his father, Francis, died, leaving the only child to be raised by his mother, Josephine. Young John completed grammar school in St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Highland Park, then he and his mother relocated to Ocean County, where he graduated from Toms River High School East in 1982.
Though Rev. Mr. Testa first considered a priestly life while still in high school, he was not yet ready to make such a life-changing commitment. He entered the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University), earning a degree in marketing in 1986. The sports lover served as the basketball team’s student manager and was the only non-athlete to ever win the school’s athletic director award for dedication in service.
After his college graduation, Rev. Mr. Testa worked in the business
world for six years, but God’s call to the priesthood resurged. He enrolled in Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange, in 1993, but left after two years to work with a major company for six years and then the Township of Toms River for four years. Ten years into Rev. Mr. Testa’s career, God’s call once again grew louder and more insistent.
“I had a good job with the parking authority, but I guess the hounds of heaven were tugging at my heartstrings,” Rev. Mr. Testa laughingly remembered.
During dinner with good friend Father Gerard McCarron, the two discussed the feasibility of Rev. Mr. Testa once again pursuing the priestly vocation. The then-43-year-old admitted the possibility had weighed on his mind, but wondered if his age would be an impediment.
At Father McCarron’s urging, Rev. Mr. Testa approached his pastor, Conventual Franciscan Father Richard Rossell, for a letter of recommendation, then relayed it to Msgr. Gregory D. Vaughan, diocesan vicar general, moderator of the curia and director of seminarians. Rev. Mr. Testa re-entered Immaculate Conception Seminary in 2008 and recently completed his studies after the initial 13-year hiatus.
“I’m glad I waited,” Rev. Mr. Testa asserted during a recent interview with The Monitor. “I had more life experiences, I was more mature, I knew who I was and (knew) my skills and limitations.”
His transitional diaconate assignments were in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, and his home parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Seaside Heights, where he preached homilies, made wake and cemetery visits with grieving families, and presided at Baptisms and funerals.
“My mother loved watching me as a deacon,” Rev. Mr. Testa said, stating the now-90-year-old Josephine is eagerly anticipating his ordination.
Rev. Mr. Testa’s ordination will mark the end of a 30-year journey of discernment and study and will begin the next phase of his life. The future parochial vicar in Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, looks forward to serving the Diocese of Trenton as a parish priest.
“The joy of the priesthood will be being with people; that’s what it’s all about,” Rev. Mr. Testa asserted.
As for his advice to a man considering a late vocation to the priesthood, “With modern technology, it’s easy,” Rev. Mr. Testa said, showing a hint of his marketing background. “Go to the diocesan website, www.dioceseoftrenton.org; or to www.godiscallingyou.com. Those are good starting points. Pick up the phone and call Msgr. Vaughan. He’s very receptive.”