PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Msgr. James Checchio, who recently stepped down as rector of the North American College, on Tuesday was appointed bishop of Metuchen, a diocese in north-central New Jersey.
“Touched by a bit of holy fear, I am certainly humbled to become the shepherd of this wonderful diocese, and I look forward to striving to fulfill the demanding task of ensuring that the pastoral charity of Jesus Christ continues to be abundant here in Metuchen,” Msgr. Checchio said at a March 8 press conference announcing his appointment.
“I promise you my prayers and my commitment to serve to the best of my abilities.”
Msgr. Checchio was born in Camden, N.J., in 1966 and was a seminarian at the North American College. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Camden in 1992 and served in the diocese as a parochial vicar and as secretary to the bishop, vice chancellor, communications director and moderator of the Curia. He holds a doctorate in canon law from the Angelicum and served on the diocesan tribunal.
He was vice rector of the North American College from 2003 to 2006, when he was made its rector. He served as rector until this past January, when he stepped down to take a sabbatical.
“I had hoped during my sabbatical to spend time with some family and friends, go on retreat, then do some writing on seminary formation, and finally study Spanish in preparation for becoming a pastor in my home diocese,” he said at his introduction to the Metuchen Diocese. “As of last Monday, those plans have changed!”
He recounted that he was then in Minnesota with friends, where cellphone reception was poor. When he checked his voicemail, he realized he had missed a call from the apostolic nuncio, who informs priests when they have been appointed bishops.
“When we arrived at the rectory where I was staying, I slipped into my bedroom and called the archbishop back, while my friends were waiting for me in the living room to go ice fishing.”
“After we hung up, I knelt down next to the bed and before a crucifix and said a prayer to Our Lady for the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Metuchen and to ask for her protection and assistance for me. I then got up, joined my friends, and off we went ice fishing. I pray that I will be more successful as a bishop than I was at ice fishing.”
He noted that his primary work for more than 12 years has been “in forming seminarians so that they can serve as effective parish priests here in our beloved homeland” and that role “has deepened my love for the priesthood and the Church and enriched my own priestly life and ministry.”
Msgr. Checchio reflected, “I learned after my ordination to the priesthood that, although ordination brought many, many graces with it, it didn’t infuse the perfection of the virtues, and I imagine ordination to the episcopacy will be the same … so I am very much aware of my own deficiencies, but at the same time encouraged to be taking on this office during this great Jubilee of Mercy.”
Bishop Paul Bootkoski, 75, who retired as bishop of Metuchen at the bishop-elect’s appointment, commended Msgr. Checchio for his work helping to form priests, who will be “shepherds who smell like their sheep,” as Pope Francis has asked.
The bishop of Camden, Dennis Sullivan, stated that the Pope “has chosen one of the finest priests I know to serve as the new bishop of Metuchen. His appointment is truly a blessing for the good people in that community of faith and for the priests of the diocese.”
He said Msgr. Checchio's “love of God, the priesthood and of the people he serves will sustain him as chief shepherd for the people of the Diocese of Metuchen.”
Msgr. Checchio will be consecrated a bishop and installed at a Mass on May 3.
The Diocese of Metuchen serves more than 644,000 Catholics out of a total population of more than 1.4 million in north-central New Jersey. As its bishop, Msgr. Checcio will oversee 236 priests and 168 deacons.