As pastor of the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, NJ, Father Stagg, 69, runs a lively parish community of more than 4,000 families, a couple of dozen staff members, and 100 ministries.
Father Stagg, who has been ordained for 43 years and given retreats for priests around the country, has taken on a new role as the chaplain of Legatus’ Newark Chapter, which just chartered on October 24. Father Stagg recently spoke with Legatus magazine.
How did you become the first chaplain of the Newark Legatus Chapter?
We’re about one year into the chapter at this point. In the past year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, asked me if I would get involved with it, so I did.
What have been some of your initial impressions of Legatus?
The people I’m meeting with monthly are delightful. They’re good folks, good Catholics, good family people, good parishioners. They’re interesting, well-read and well-traveled. It’s a good group.
When did you first believe you were called to the priesthood?
It was when I was at a boys’ Catholic prep school. I had terrific priests in my parish when I was a kid, I had been active in a couple of youth groups, and I came from a strong-faith-filled family. When I started to look at the big picture, what I wanted to do with my life, the priesthood was a strong contender.
Did you ever doubt your vocation?
It was an easy call. I have to admit, though, that I thought about if it was right for me forever. I think I had a headache from six years of the seminary. But I was ordained and I’ve been fine ever since. It’s been a good fit for me. I’ve enjoyed my years of ministry enormously.
What is your current assignment?
I’m in my 12th year as pastor of Presentation, one of New Jersey’s largest parishes, near the New York State border. We have about 4,700 families, and I’ve got a magnificent staff of about 26.
How active is the parish?
We probably have about 100 ministries, as well as a large parish garden and three soup kitchens we assist weekly. We do composting, even have beekeeping on the property with many beehives. So we’re a very green parish. The parish also runs a Haiti clinic, which operates five days weekly, with a staff of 15 including physicians, nurses, lab tech people, maintenance people. That’s a big ministry for our parish, and a big responsibility to keep it going.
In what other kinds of ministries have you been involved?
I was a college campus minister for 13 years. Nationally, I was part of the Center for Human Development, which was very involved for years in giving priest retreats around the country. I was very active in that and would often do six to seven retreats a year.
I sit on a bunch of boards, and one of them is Covenant House, which takes care of the homeless population ages 17 to 22.
What do you for fun in your down time?
I like to cook. I love to ski, golf, and hit the beach. It keeps me moving.
Do you have spiritual role models?
Certainly, John Vianney. I love being a parish priest and he was a great one. I was a huge fan
of John XXIII, who inspired me when he became pope in the 1960s.