Story by Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
For Father Michael P. Lang, the best part of his 25 years of priesthood is sharing in the lives of the families that have made up the parish communities where he has served.
While each assignment has been very different, the one constant has been “that the people who form the communities have always been very welcoming and supportive as we seek the ways to serve God as a community of faith,” he said.
Now in his 13th year as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Millstone Township, Father Lang said what he finds most rewarding about being a priest is sharing in the sacramental life of the parish.
The seven Sacraments reflect the cycle of life, “and I’ve had the opportunity to witness many,” he said. “They are signs of God’s love that are meant to nourish us and be constant reminders of God’s desire to be actively involved in our lives. The Sacraments tell us that God is with us.”
Father Lang smiles when he speaks of the privilege it is to celebrate the Sacraments, especially when he thinks back to his teenage and early young adult years when he thought that being a priest “was the last thing I would ever do.”
Father Lang was was born in Philadelphia in 1957 to Bernadette and Maxwell Lang, now deceased. He said it wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he started getting more active in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, the community he joined upon moving to New Jersey. At the time, he had just graduated from Temple University, Philadelphia, with a bachelor’s degree in business management and computer science in 1984, was dating and happily working as a manager of computer operations for Fidelity Bank in Philadelphia.
Yet, as he became more involved in Our Lady of Perpetual Help, serving as a catechist and with the young adult ministry, he began having fleeting thoughts of the priesthood, which at first, he dismissed. “I remember thinking that if God was calling me to be a priest, he had the wrong number,” he said.
Father Lang’s curiosity was piqued, however, when he learned about the monthly vocation discernment group that the diocesan Vocations Office sponsored for men considering the priesthood. He decided to attend one meeting “so I could be told that I was not meant to be a priest,” Father Lang said. A year later, in 1986, he entered St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
“I couldn’t believe it nor did many of the people who knew me,” he said, noting that friends kept his personal belongings and assured him they would be returned if the seminary did not work out, and his employer all but promised that his job would be waiting.
Much to Father Lang’s surprise, however, he loved the seminary.
“There was a different kind of content that I was feeling I was at peace. I knew that if I felt this happy, it was because of God,” he said.
At St. Mary Seminary, he pursued a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree in sacred theology.
As a seminarian, he served in Epiphany Parish, Brick, and Holy Name Parish (now part of Resurrection Parish), Delran, then was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Air Force and spent two summers as an Air Force chaplain candidate in Tuscon, Ariz., and Las Vegas. As a transitional deacon, he was assigned to St. John Parish, Lakehurst, and was ordained a priest May 16, 1992, by Bishop John C. Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. His parochial vicar appointments were to St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, and then he was assigned to three part-time jobs as parochial vicar of St. Raphael Parish (now part of St. Raphael-Holy Angels), Hamilton, chaplain in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and master of ceremonies to Bishop Reiss. He also served a number of terms on the diocesan Council of Priests and a term as chair of the council.
Father Lang speaks warmly of his three pastorate assignments, saying he thoroughly enjoyed his time in Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, and now in St. Joseph Parish, a community with 1,800 families and 780 children in religious education. Of the community, Father Lang said it is mainly composed of younger families and that the various ministries are tailored to all age groups.
One lesson Father Lang said he has learned is to make parish activities available according to people’s interests because that way “they are more inclined to get involved. They’ll take ownership.”
Mentioning how thankful he is for the many lasting friendships he has made during his various assignments and how pleased he was to see former parishioners at his 25th anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving on May 21, Father Lang said he feels blessed by all he’s experienced as a priest and pastor. It is his hope and prayer to continue to be with people and help them to understand “what the Church is all about and be with them in the ordinary journey of everyday life.”
“It’s about taking it one step at a time,” he said, “and doing all we do with a peace that can only come from God. If we’re responding to God, we’re going to find peace.”