Toms River schools celebrate first week of Advent, pastor’s anniversary in prayer

Father Scott Shaffer and Leam Smith, an eighth-grader in St. Joseph School, Toms River, light one candle for the first week of Advent during a Dec. 3 prayer service in St. Joseph Church. The prayer service also included a tribute to Father Shaffer marking his 30th anniversary of priestly ordination. Jeff Bruno photos


By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

For Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, the afternoon of Dec. 3 turned into a pleasant surprise.

While Father Shaffer knew he would be presiding over an Advent prayer service for the students, faculties and staffs of Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph Grammar Schools, he did not know that the afternoon would also include a celebration of his 30th anniversary of priestly ordination.

“Although our schools have two different names, we are one campus and Father Scott actively participates in the activities of both schools. It was only natural that the young people from both schools gather together to celebrate Father Scott’s anniversary,” said MaryBeth DeBlasio, campus minister in Donovan Catholic.

DeBlasio said the service combined Scripture, song and prayer that reflected Father Scott’s joyful presence.

“His good heart and fun loving nature inspire all those who work with him. He has the ability to pull out the best of people,” she said. She added that the students “know they are important to him and he makes every effort to be an encouraging presence in their lives.

“In any age where many young people shy away from commitment, it is good to celebrate people like Father Scott, who live their commitment joyfully even after 30 years,” she said.

With nearly 1,400 students and staffs from both school communities as well as the staff and priests from St. Joseph Parish filling the nave of St. Joseph Church and its balconies, the prayer service began with 30 members of Donovan Catholic’s choir placing votive candles in front of the altar table. Each candle represented a year of Father Shaffer’s priesthood.

After Father Shaffer blessed the Advent wreath, the first purple candle was lit by eighth-grader Leam Smith. A Reading from Isaiah 61: 1-3d was proclaimed by Donovan Catholic senior MacKenzie O’Connor, and then the service continued with a narrated skit about Father Shaffer’s vocation story.

“All vocations begin with a love story,” said DeBlasio, and as she narrated, faculty portrayed his parents, George and Joan Shaffer, and grade school students portrayed the young Scott and his three siblings.  As the narration continued, the elder Scott, portrayed by senior Jacob Maroukis, showed Father Shaffer’s many talents including his love for music, playing the saxophone, dancing, being a basketball coach and cooking, then culminated with his inspiration to become a priest, enter the seminary and ordination as a priest.

The goal of the skit was to show how priests “are regular people who bring all their talents and experiences with them to the seminary and that God is capable of using our unique gifts to help build the Kingdom,” DeBlasio said. “We also hoped the skit planted a seed in some young people’s hearts to consider the priesthood. We wanted to remind them that one can live a rich full life as a priest.”

The prayer service concluded with a focus on pearls, the gem that marks the 30th anniversary. One student from each grade in St. Joseph School shared “pearls of wisdom,” whether they were lessons they had learned from Father Shaffer or advice they wanted to offer him.

Seventh-grader Sheryll-Leilany Tamakloe commented on learning about forgiveness from Father Shaffer. Second-grader James Bruno noted that the class wanted to remind Father Shaffer how important it is to stay close to the Blessed Mother.

As he looked out at the standing-room-only congregation following the prayer service, Father Shaffer became emotional as he reflected on Dec. 2, 1989, when he and Father Daniel Gowen, current pastor of Jesus, the Good Shepherd parish, Beverly, were ordained priests on a sunny, yet very cold and windy day in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop John C. Reiss.

“Today has been a wonderful surprise,” Father Shaffer said, acknowledging how happy he was to celebrate his milestone anniversary with the Toms River community. “It’s important for all of us to create our own stories by the lives we lead. When we let Jesus do the leading, good things happen,” he said. “And all of you are good things. Thank you.”

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