When Father C. John McCloskey looks at Father Jay Toborowsky, he sees the future of the Catholic Church in the United States.
“He is a wonderful example of what I refer to as ‘Pope John Paul II's priests,'” says Father McCloskey, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. “These are young priests who are zealous for the new evangelization, fiercely faithful to the teaching authority of the Church and, at the same time, putting the sacraments and preaching at the center of their pastoral ministry.”
Together, he adds, they comprise a sort of “holy army” that will “transform the face of the Catholic Church in the United States over the next few decades.”
Father McCloskey ought to know. He has known Father Toborowsky, parochial vicar at St. James Parish in Basking Ridge, N.J., since the latter was student president at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
He had his work cut out for him then — and he still does. St. James is spiritual home to 3,300 families. Most are affluent, many struggle to live their Catholic faith in a culture that denigrates it and all must cope with the loss of 11 fellow parishioners who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Talking to Father Toborowsky, it becomes evident that his present assignment in leafy suburbia has made him sensitive to the spiritual challenges faced by the wealthy. “Many are used to dealing with contemporaries in upper management, giving orders and getting what they want,” he says. That may sound like a good problem to have — but a problem it can be, spiritually speaking. Yet, despite their privileged position in the upper echelons of modern American culture, the parishioners of St. James, says Father Toborowski, are “very generous” toward the Church.
What's the biggest trap the successful need to guard against? “Cafeteria Catholicism,” says Father Toborowsky. “Saturated in a secular, worldly culture, the narrow path of Gospel truth can become obscured by the normal highways traveled by the majority. As a result, many look for the paths of least resistance. In terms of doctrine, that means settling for partial truth or less than all that the Church teaches.”
“To some,” adds Father Toborowsky, “if the Catholic faith doesn't make you feel good or give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, you either stop coming to Mass or you go somewhere else where you can hear what you want to hear from a pulpit.”
Sometimes, he says, the best way to witness the faith to such souls is to “love them enough to let them go.” The parable of the prodigal son, anyone?
But the most important thing is “living what I preach,” he says. “And the only way I can achieve that is by doing all that I can, including making sacrifices, so that I will grow in holiness.”
From Politics to Priesthood
Father Toborowsky, a Garden State native, is an only child. His mother is a Christian; his late father was Jewish, a retired police officer who bought a tavern and operated it until his death. They divorced when he was 5. He attended a Jewish elementary school through the fifth grade and completed his secondary education in public schools. At 13, he celebrated his bar mitzvah. “I jumped through the hoops by doing what I was supposed to do,” he says, recalling his lack of focus despite the religious significance of the event.
After graduating from high school, he briefly enrolled at St. John's University. He intended to study art, but soon became disinterested in college life and dropped out. Always interested in politics, he met Joseph DeMarino, a candidate for reelection as mayor of Woodbridge, N.J. He went to work on the politician's campaign, started attending Mass and, at DeMartino's urging, enrolled in a nearby community college.
DeMarino won reelection and young Jay Toborowsky spent four years working for him. To this day, the two men share a bond. “He was always mature beyond his years,” says the former mayor. “He was extremely bright, dedicated, sincere and loyal. He could do anything. Believe me, he became one of my top staffers and I relied on him totally almost 70% of the time or more.”
Today DeMarino feels fortunate to have met his former protégé. “Father Toborowsky, just because of the person he is, inspires me to try and be a better Catholic,” says DeMarino. “We as a church are lucky to have him.”
Father Toborowsky recalls that he was as good as hooked on the faith as soon as he began attending Mass. “I felt my only option was to become a Catholic.” Soon after receiving the sacraments, he was invited by his pastor to become both a lector and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.
As his faith grew, Jay Toborowsky decided to test a calling he had experienced to the priesthood. He completed his seminary college studies at Seton Hall University and his theology studies at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., by Bishop Vincent Breen on May 7, 1998.
In May, Deacon Jim Bell will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate. Both he and his wife, Kathryn, who have been married for 52 years, have known Father Toborowsky since he first arrived at St. James more than four years ago. They couple praises him with one voice for his leadership and inspiration. “He is wonderful,” says Kathryn. “He is a priest of great courage. He is a true role model and we are blessed to have him.”
Adds Deacon Jim: “He is a joy to know and work with. Father Toborowsky is tremendously loyal to the true teachings of the Church and he goes out of his way to make himself available to everybody.”
Small wonder that Father McCloskey, one of the most influential priests in the United States, sees a bright future when he looks at Father Toborowsky. “From the ranks of young priests [like him] will come our bishops for the next 50 years,” he says. “And, because of their example, there will be an explosion of vocations to the diocesan priesthood. As a result, an inspired laity will receive the help needed to transform our culture.”
A higher compliment could hardly be paid a priest of any age.
Wally Carew, author of Men of
Spirit, Men of Sports, writes from Medford,
Massachusetts.------- EXCERPT: Priest Profile