When Monsignor Joseph Chapel ’72 was named the new pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Park Ridge, his appointment marked the most recent stop on an amazing, diverse journey that began thirty years earlier in Park Ridge, and now has come full circle.
Father Joe attended St. Andrew’s School in Westwood where one of the teachers was a young Mr. Richard Shust. Chapel followed in the footsteps of his brothers, Tom ’69 and Bob '70 in coming to St. Joe's.
At first a reluctant freshman, he soon found value and fulfillment in his SJR experience, which ignited in him a passion for language. He went on to attend Rutgers University, where he majored in Spanish, studying abroad in Mexico as a sophomore.
During college, Chapel worked for the telecom manufacturer, Timeplex, where he built transformers, leading him to form his own company and pay for his college education. With this experience, after earning his BA, Chapel went to work for an international company specializing in precision electronic components. Over the next ten years, except for a brief interlude in Italy and Washington, D.C. to earn an MA in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, Chapel’s work had him travelling constantly, particularly to Mexico City and Sao Paulo.
During those years, Chapel bought a house on Fremont Avenue in Park Ridge, just a couple of blocks away from Our Lady of Mercy. He was slowly drawn into the activities of the parish, ultimately assisting with the RCIA team for then-pastor Father Ken Herbster.
Chapel was drawn to the church, but also unsure of a possible vocation.
“It was a slow sell,” he recalled. “I saw other people that I respected and admired leaving religious life, and that gave me second thoughts. But eventually I felt a restlessness with what I was doing, and a desire for something more in my life.” He entered the seminary at age 33, was ordained five years later, and celebrated his first mass at Our Lady of Mercy.
From there, Father Joe served the parish of St. John’s in Bergenfield (1993-95), earned his doctorate in moral theology in Rome (1995-98) and ministered at the seminary of Seton Hall University (1998-17).
During these years, Father Joe served as Professor, Academic Dean, Mentor, Spiritual Director, Co-Director of the Institute for Christian Spirituality and Director of the Center for Diaconal Formation.
In the spring of 2009, he was named Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of Monsignor.
As an extension of his work at Seton Hall, Father Joe accepted an appointment as Spiritual Director of the Casa Santa Maria in Rome in 2014 and continued in that role until he current appointment at Our Lady of Mercy, succeeding Father Charles Grandstrand, who was pastor for 28 years.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me,” said Father Joe.
“The parish is very active in its mission work with Haiti and has a growing Spanish-speaking population. Speaking Spanish, having worked in El Salvador extensively, and, of course, having, in many ways, started my ministry here at OLM, it seems like a natural fit.”
Monsignor Joe’s interest in world languages was inspired, at least in part, by two SJR teachers, Mr. Alex Senes (Spanish 2) and Mrs. Eleanor Cummings (Spanish 3-4).
“Aside from the quality of his teaching, Mr. Senes had an interest in guitar and music that I could relate to,” said Fr. Joe. “I remember more than anything else that he was always encouraging. He provided me with honest, but positive responses and always treated his students with respect.”
Other faculty members who made a distinct impression were Mr. Jim Franchina, Mr. Ed Alger and Brother William Cushing.
“Mr. Franchina was very patient and accepting of my very limited artistic skills,” Father Joe recalled with a chuckle. “He was trying to get us to create realistic art, but my best efforts tended to be impressionistic, or, more often, abstract."
He also recounted a sophomore year experience with Brother William in which his class sat in a circle, and Brother read essays aloud from selected individuals.
“Brother had an intimidating way of letting you know if your paper didn’t measure up, so when he read my paper, I was cringing. But at the end of it, he said ‘Now gentlemen, that is what a five paragraph essay is supposed to be like’. Given the source, that was high praise indeed!”
“I had a very positive experience with the Xaverian Brothers,” Father Joe said.
“In all of my interactions, the Brothers were true gentlemen, yet serious and disciplined. They had a real dedication to their mission, and a great respect for the teenage boys who were their students. In retrospect, it always seemed as if they had a real confidence that we would grow into the men they hoped we would be.”
Certainly, that confidence was well-founded in the case of Father Joe, who, after traveling the world, now finds himself back in Bergen County where he grew up. Welcome home!