As part of the Diocese of Metuchen’s 30th Anniversary celebration, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski conferred pontifical honors upon nine diocesan priests, including Sacred Heart Church pastor Joseph J. Kerrigan, on Jan. 29 during an evening prayer service held in the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Metuchen.
The bishop petitioned His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to bestow papal honors upon the priests in recognition of their outstanding service and significant contributions to the people of the diocese.
In his Honors Petition letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski wrote of Msgr. Kerrigan, “I have often referred to [him] as ‘my John the Baptist’ for his prophetic voice on behalf of the Church and society’s most vulnerable members.”
Though the Biblical prophet might have been found in the desert eating locusts and wild honey, his modern-day Metuchen Diocese counterpart is more at home enjoying Mexican pastries and hot cocoa in his New Brunswick church’s parish hall. Msgr. Joseph J. Kerrigan, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, New Brunswick, since 2005, reflected on his priesthood, his new title and his vision for his parish.
“I think [being elevated to the rank of monsignor] is really an honor to the parish more than anything,” he said. “Some parishioners have reacted as they have personally been honored themselves… and they have.”
Msgr. Kerrigan, an avid fan of the Washington Capitals hockey team, continued, “In sports, no one gets honored as a coach unless there is a good team behind them. Urban parish pastoring is very much a team sport, and I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful team here.”
Msgr. Kerrigan was born in Plainfield, one of six children of Joseph and Cecilia Kerrigan. He attended St. Cecelia School, Iselin and St. Joseph High School, Metuchen. Upon his graduation from Fordham University, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree in quantitative methods, Msgr. Kerrigan completed his formation training at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., with a Master of Divinity degree. He was ordained in St. Paul the Apostle Church, New York, by Franciscan Bishop Roberto Gonzalez on May 12, 1990.
Before coming to the Diocese of Metuchen, Msgr. Kerrigan served as parochial vicar in five parishes in Memphis, Tenn. He named Msgr. John Batson, former director of that area’s Catholic Charities, as a mentor and role model for his priestly duties. “I'd like to think that people who knew me 20 years ago… would recognize a lot of his leadership style in me,” Msgr. Kerrigan stated. “[Msgr. Batson brought] a lot of applied Catholic social teaching to parish life, I think quite gracefully. I often wear white clerical shirts – as he always did – in his memory.”
In addition to his pastorate at Sacred Heart, Msgr. Kerrigan serves as diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and is on the board of Catholic Charities. The multi-faceted priest believes in “being faithfully flexible to the moment. I try not to get too ahead of myself….I'm trying to be faithful to the daily needs here, and to the degree it connects with some aspirations I had as a youngster, so be it.”
Msgr. Kerrigan admitted his new appellation won’t work miracles in the Hub City parish he shepherds. “It's still another day in the 'hood. The monsignor cassock is not made of Kevlar, it's not going to stop bullets,” he said frankly. “People are not going to be less inclined to buy drugs or join gangs or end poverty. These are the daily realities we are absorbed with, and the relational power we build is still the means to overturn neighborhood adversity. It's especially important for me here to promote the dignity of the poor and the role of women against countervailing attitudes.”
Sacred Heart Church is one of seven parishes in the city under the umbrella of the “Renewing the Church in New Brunswick” diocesan initiative, but Msgr. Kerrigan eagerly anticipates the upcoming changes. He noted, “It's very exciting to be at Sacred Heart and in New Brunswick on the cusp of what I believe to be a powerful springtime for Catholicism – Mexican-style – here. To be here when the bishop is preparing to restructure the Church's presence in the city to address the current reality is doubly exciting.”
-Diocese of Metuchen