Story by Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
The word “fear” typically conjures up thoughts of being afraid, scared.
For Msgr. Ronald J. Bacovin, however, “fear” triggers a memory from his high school days when he learned a different meaning – about what it means to have “fear in the Lord.”
“It’s not about being afraid of the Lord,” he said. Fear of the Lord means to stand in awe of the Lord – to be amazed by his unconditional love for us.
One of the hallmarks of Msgr. Bacovin’s 50 years of priesthood has been teaching and preaching about God’s unconditional love. He’s shared that message with the people he has served in his various parish assignments, diocesan appointments and even now in retirement, during which he has enjoyed the company and energy of the young people of Holy Cross Academy, Delran, as their chaplain, and in parishes where he assists with Masses.
“I’ve had my grand moments and times of excitement,” Msgr. Bacovin said, looking back to when he was ordained a priest May 28, 1966, by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Encountering Many Good People
For this native son of Trenton, who was born in May, 1940, to John and Helen Bacovin, thoughts of the priesthood surfaced as an eighth-grader in Sacred Heart School, Trenton. It was an environment where there were “very good priests,” he said, mentioning two in particular, Father John C. Reiss, who went on to become the eighth bishop of Trenton, and Father Edward Dougherty. After his graduation from Trenton Catholic High School for Boys however, Msgr. Bacovin went in another direction and began liberal arts studies in Villanova University. By the end of his sophomore year, he was thinking about the priesthood again. He withdrew from Villanova and enrolled in St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
Following his ordination, Msgr. Bacovin served in Christ the King Parish, Manville, where he “met the first of thousands of good people who would come in and out of my life.” In Manville, he was also moderator of the Somerset County Catholic Young Adult Club and the Somerset County Catholic Youth Organization. In 1970, he was appointed a member of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission and named associate pastor of St. James Parish, Jamesburg. On Sept. 8, 1972, he was assigned to St. John Vianney Parish, Colonia, where he remained for six years, before returning to his home parish, Sacred Heart, Trenton, as parochial vicar in 1978. In 1980, he took a sabbatical year to study in the Institute for Spirituality and Worship in the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkley, Calif. Upon returning to the Diocese, he served in what he called “super years” in three parishes as pastor – eight years in St. Joseph, Keyport; 10 years in St. John, Lakehurst, and 13 years in St. James, Pennington.
It was in the parishes where Msgr. Bacovin developed a greater appreciation for the laity and the contributions they offered to their faith communities. In St. Joseph Parish, he enjoyed involvement with the school, providing direction that ensured the children would receive a well-rounded, faith- based education. It was there where he helped to develop a children’s liturgy, working with a committee of people who “taught me a lot” on how to convey the faith to children. A high point in Lakehurst, a community with a significant senior population, was “taking on a building project” with the construction of a parish center. The parishioners appreciated the need for the parish center in order to hold more events activities so much that they showed their support as volunteers as well as financially he said, noting that the building was paid off in four years.
In St. James Parish, where he was appointed pastor in 1999, Msgr. Bacovin focused on furthering the parish’s long-standing tradition of social concerns efforts and outreach. He encouraged the development of a number of ministries that would “help others,” such as support groups for the separated and divorced and for people with addictions. In St. James, Msgr. Bacovin oversaw another, the construction of a facility to house religious education classes and parish meeting rooms.
Along with his pastor assignments, Msgr. Bacovin held diocesan duties including as director of the Office of Priest Personnel, the Diocesan Incardination Board, the Committee on Ministry in Non-Correctional and Health Care Institutions and vice chairman of the priest council. In June, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed papal honors on then-Father Bacovin, naming him a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor.
Wonderful and Challenging Experiences
Of his 50 years as a priest, Msgr. Bacovin is pragmatic when he says he has witnessed both “the best of times and the worst of times” in the life of the Church. The best was witnessing the changes that came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council, he said, citing the various changes the council implemented.
“I was wonderfully positioned because I knew the classical Catholic Church in which I was raised. I knew where we were, where we were going and why we were going there. It was never changed for the sake of change.” The difficult time that left him shaken was when the clergy abuse scandal “hit the papers.”
“It was tough to wear the Roman Collar at times, but I wore it nonetheless,” he said, adding that he was “glad that this news, as bad as it was, came out. Had it not come out, I feared it would have continued, and who knows how many others would be hurt.”
Since retiring in 2012, Msgr. Bacovin has resided in Villa Vianney, the diocesan retirement facility for priests. He’s enjoyed time in Burlington County, serving for four years as chaplain in Holy Cross Academy, Delran, and helping with weekday Masses in Corpus Christi, Willingboro, and Jesus the Good Shepherd, Riverside. On weekends, he can be found in St. James Parish and in St. David the King Parish, West Windsor. Of any of his assignments, especially in parishes, Msgr. Bacovin said that it has been his prayer that “I was as good to the people as they were to me.”