Story by Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
For Father Jeffrey E. Lee, pursuing a religious vocation means getting up every day and wanting to be a member of the clergy, a religious or a married person. It is about being in touch with what God wants for our lives, and accepting that call.
But the fulfillment of a vocation and the ministerial life that priests, deacons, and religious men and women lead often requires the nurturing and support of the community, as well. And in this respect, Father Lee considers himself particularly blessed.
Looking back on the 25 years since his May 16, 1992, ordination day, he speaks fondly of people and life experiences that inspired his vocation. He credits his parents, who were diligent in maintaining a Catholic household and instilling the faith in their three children. There was Msgr. Emilio A. Cardelia, the beloved longtime pastor of Father Lee’s native St. Joachim Parish, Trenton, who was relentless in fostering the spiritual, liturgical and communal life of the parish; his Catholic schooling and seminary formation, and the “hundreds of lay faithful, priests, religious and deacons who have enriched me as a priest.”
His vocation, he shared, “ has been through the grace of God and the goodness of so many people who sustained me and enabled me to be the best possible shepherd,” said Father Lee.
Deep Roots in the Diocese
Born in March 1964 in Trenton, Father Lee is the son of Lorraine Morgante Lee and the late John L. Lee. He has a brother and sister and their spouses, six nieces and nephews and five grandnieces and grandnephews.
Growing up, he attended St. Joachim School and McCorristin Catholic High School, Hamilton, then prepared for the priesthood in St. Meinrad College of Liberal Arts, St. Meinrad, Ind., earning a bachelor of arts degree in history with a concentration in American diplomatic history in 1987. He holds a master of divinity degree and a master of arts degree in Catholic thought and life (philosophy and theology) from St. Meinrad School of Theology, and a master’s degree in history/ecumenics and missiology from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Following his priestly ordination by Bishop John C. Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Father Lee served as parochial vicar in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, and St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson.
While it’s not typical for a priest to be assigned to his home parish, Father Lee was named pastor of St. Joachim Parish in 1999. The faith community of St. Joachim Parish located in the city’s Chambersburg section, was founded in 1901 as a personal parish to serve the growing Italian immigrant population. In 2005, he shepherded a transition in the life and ministry of St. Joachim Parish when it was merged with Immaculate Conception Parish, also in Chambersburg, and became the new Our Lady of the Angels Parish with Father Lee named founding pastor. The merger resulted from shifts in the city’s demographics, which experienced an increase in the Latino population as well as a decline in the number of parishioners in both parishes.
The leadership that Father Lee demonstrated during the merger process was recognized on a diocesan level when he was named director of the Office of Research and Planning and chairman of the Commission for Expansion and Restructuring. In those roles, he oversaw parish studies in various parts of the Diocese.
He also served as director of the Office of Family Life/Respect Life; director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; episcopal vicar of Mercer County to which he was named by Bishop O’Connell in 2011; member of the Diocesan Presbyteral Council and many other committees, commissions and task forces.
In 2013, Father Lee was named pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, a community with some 1,750 households, 750 children in grades 1-8 enrolled in the religious education program and scores of ministries available for all ages and interests. He also serves on the episcopal council and as diocesan director of pilgrimages, in which he oversees coordination of events such as the biannual diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. He also noted that at the behest of Bishop O’Connell, he is planning a pilgrimage for priests of the Diocese to the Holy Land in January.
A Blessing To Many
Surrounded by family, friends, brother priests and parishioners, Father Lee commemorated his silver jubilee with a May 16 Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Mary Church, and another Mass the following day in St. Joachim Church. Among those offering their prayerful best wishes was Grace DelAversano of Our Lady of the Angels who has known Father Lee since he was a young boy.
“I watched him grow and become a good man and a good priest,” she said.
While St. Mary parishioner Annette Raynor finds Father Lee to be an inspiration and a pastor who is “very dedicated and focused,” fellow parishioner and parish council member Kenneth Camarco, remarked on the great experience it has been to have Father Lee as a pastor.
“It’s great to be able to commemorate his 25th anniversary with him,” Camarco said. “It’s my wish that he has many more years here at St. Mary’s.”
All Kelly Reardon said about Father Lee, who is family, is that he is a “loving person and a great priest and I’m so grateful that he’s my uncle.”