Story by Rose O’Connor, Correspondent
Father Felix Venza was a youngster when he discovered his vocation to the priesthood.
“I was always around the altar, serving several Masses a day in St. Joachim Church. I was in the boys’ choir and spent all of my childhood in that church,” he said of St. Joachim, now part of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton. “The priests told my mother they thought I had a vocation, and turns out they were right,” he said with a laugh.
Father Venza’s penchant for lighthearted conversation, jokes and storytelling is something parishioners of St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, will certainly miss as Father Venza entered retirement July 1.
Father Venza had been serving as senior priest in residence in St. Mary Parish following his departure as pastor of St. Clare Parish, Florence, in 2008. At the time, St. Clare was merged with neighboring Holy Assumption Parish, Roebling, and became the new Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, Florence Township.
He fondly recalls his 20 years as pastor in St. Clare Parish. As the sole priest assigned in the parish, Father Venza had to provide for the pastoral needs of all his parishioners, giving him an opportunity to develop close relationships with many families. At the same time, he was engaged with the ecumenical community, forging bonds with other congregations that both enriched his life and expanded his ministerial experience.
“I’ve made so many friends,” he said, and is thankful that he will be able to retire near the Northern Burlington County area.
Father Venza was born in 1946 in Trenton, where he attended St. Joachim School. For high school, he went to Mother of the Savior Seminary, Blackwood, which is now the current site of Camden County Community College.
His preparation for the priesthood began with attending St. Charles College Seminary, Catonsville, Md., for two years, then continuing his college work at St. Mary’s Seminary (Paca St.), Baltimore. His theology studies were completed in St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
Father Venza smiles when he recalls May 20, 1972, the day he was ordained a priest by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. He noted that it had been raining terribly that morning, but when it was time for the ordination, it turned into “a beautiful sunny day,” he said.
The newly ordained Father Venza’s first assignment was as parochial vicar of Christ the King Parish, Manville, which is now part of the Metuchen Diocese. Subsequent parochial vicar assignments were spent in St. Agnes Parish (now part of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish), Atlantic Highlands, for 12 years, then St. Catherine Parish, Middletown, for one year.
Father Venza was named pastor of St. Clare Parish April 29, 1988, where he remained until his retirement in 2008. He also served as spiritual director of the Holy Name Society in Burlington County.
Father Venza admitted that in retirement, he will miss serving and living in a parish setting. “Being able to celebrate the Eucharist with the community is something I am really going to miss,” he said.
While he is not sure what lies ahead, he said he hopes he will be asked to assist local parishes with Mass and other sacramental celebrations.
“God has a plan, and everything is falling into place,” he said.