By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Ask Vincentian Father Martin McGeough what he enjoyed most about ministering in the Trenton Diocese and without missing a beat he says “going to jail.”
Father McGeough, who willingly and joyfully served as diocesan coordinator of Jail and Prison Ministry in the Department of Pastoral Care for the past five-and-a-half years, began a new chapter in his priestly ministry Oct. 1 when he became pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Emmitsburg, Md.
A few days before leaving Trenton, Father McGeough sat in his office in the Diocesan Chancery in Lawrenceville and told of how his prison ministry work was an appointment that took him by surprise. Before his then 36 years of ministry had included serving as pastor of two parishes, one in Alabama and one in Baltimore.
“It’s difficult to leave the Diocese,” Father McGeough admitted, acknowledging a host of people who made it possible for him to serve in the Trenton Diocese to the best of his ability. Topping the list was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, because he was the Pope who appointed “my Vincentian conferer, Father David M. O’Connell, C.M., to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.
“Otherwise, if there had not been a Vincentian Bishop in Trenton, it’s highly likely I would not have been named to the Diocese,” said Father McGeough.
Father McGeough said he was also inspired by the example of Pope Francis’ outreach to inmates, noting how the Holy Father has visited prisons especially on Holy Thursday when he celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and washes the feet of the inmates.
“Pope Francis reaches out to the marginalized and abandoned,” he said.
Father McGeough said he appreciated the occasions when Bishop O’Connell celebrated Mass and offered encouragement for inmates. One of Father McGeough’s most memorable movements was when the Bishop visited Fort Dix in 2016 during the Year of Mercy and prayed with the inmates and their families.
Father McGeough said he enjoyed being part of the Department of Pastoral Care staff and considered himself blessed to have had two directors, John Kalinowski, former director, and Deanna Sass, current director, “who allowed me to not only learn and do my job, but to give me the freedom to make the job my own.”
He said he was also grateful to oversee a training program for men and women interested in being prison ministry volunteers. Two religious sisters Father McGeough acknowledged, who are active in prison ministry work in the Diocese and from whom he learned a great deal were Dominican Sister Elizabeth Gnam and Mercy Sister Karina Haywood.
In the Chancery, Father McGeough enjoyed collaborating with colleagues from other diocesan offices on various projects, celebrating morning Mass in the chapel and sharing pleasant conversation and hearty laughs over lunch in the cafeteria.
“Here in the Chancery, there are people on these three floors who are so dedicated to the Church,” he said. “They do wonderful things to make the Church’s mission here in Central New Jersey come alive and be fruitful.”
Father McGeough’s new home, St. Joseph Parish, was founded in 1850 and is staffed by Vincentian priests. There are several hundred families, and the parish’s parochial vicar, Vincentian Father Charles Krieg, is a regular visitor to the Trenton Diocese, where he celebrates Mass once a month in St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction.
“Through Father Charlie, I’ll still have an indirect connection to Trenton,” Father McGeough said, adding that St. Joseph Parish is situated near Mount St. Mary Seminary, where a number of seminarians from the Trenton Diocese are preparing for the priesthood.
Reflecting on his time in the Diocese, Father McGeough said prison ministry turned into something more than he could have ever imagined.
“I came to see myself as a pastor with the prisons being my parishes and the inmates my parishioners,” he said. “They were given to me and I did my best to take care of them.”
As he prepares to shepherd the people of St. Joseph Parish, Father McGeough reiterated, “They were given to me, and I will do my best to take care of them.”