New leader at Holy Cross/St. Anthony’s

HARRISON

The Archdiocese of Newark has assigned an administrator to take charge of the combined parish of Holy Cross in Harrison and St. Anthony’s in East Newark.

He is the Rev. John Carlos DeSousa, a native of Portugal whose most recent clerical assignment was as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Fatima Church (formerly Sacred Heart) in Elizabeth where he spent two years and eight months.

DeSousa, 44, began his new duties on Feb. 15, celebrating his first Sunday Mass at Holy Cross on Feb. 28. He stands in as a replacement for the Rev. Joseph Girone, who served six years as pastor until his recent transfer to St. Rocco’s Church in Union City.

How long he will be staying in Harrison is unclear, DeSousa said, because an administrator’s term is indefinite.

“This is my return of sorts to West Hudson,” DeSousa told The Observer, “since my deacon year, I was at St. Cecilia’s in Kearny while continuing my studies at the seminary.”

He was ordained a priest on May 28, 2011, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Newark, and was thereafter assigned as parochial vicar at St. Francis de Sales parish in Lodi before moving to his next parish in Elizabeth.

The path to his calling, DeSousa said, took him on a few twists and turns before embracing fully his true vocation.

His odyssey began quite early in life: “I like to say that when I was 3, I convinced my parents to immigrate to the United States,” DeSousa said with a chuckle.

The family made their new home, initially, in Perth Amboy, where as an adolescent, DeSousa became active in youth group and choir at Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, many of those parishioners are Portuguese.

Eventually, the young man was admitted to the University of Scranton, Pa., as a pre-med major, but along the way, he switched to Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he completed his undergraduate degree in biology.

“Medicine as a possible career had lost its lure,” he said, and, in the time between moving from Scranton to Rutgers, he entered a program at Mercer County Community College leading to certification in funeral services.

While working for a funeral home chain, he kept his hand in the spiritual world, teaching religious education as part of a lay ministry at St. Rose of Lima Church, Short Hills.

DeSousa said that while he felt the draw of entering the religious life full-time, “one obstacle that I had to confront was the idea of having a family – I saw myself having a life with children – and it was not until my first nephew was born that I realized that my goal could be fulfilled through my love for him. That desire – to be an extended ‘father’ – gave me the courage to recognize my vocation.”

So in August 2006, DeSousa started his new journey by entering seminary. “After my first year, I realized that ‘Father’ is not just a word we use for someone who is a priest, that truly, you do become a spiritual Father to everyone.”

Today, still learning about his new surroundings, DeSousa has made time to meet with the finance committees of both Holy Cross and St. Anthony and, last week, he sat with the Holy Cross Parish Council.

His mission, as he sees it, is “living out what we say at the Mass: ‘Through His Spirit, become one body and one spirit in Christ.’ I want to create unity among disparate elements. I’m here for the parish family of Holy Cross and St. Anthony and from my meetings with my parishioners, I hope to discover how I can best serve their needs.”

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.