This is the 12th in a series of profiles about HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2010. The last issue of HNP Today featured Bishop Capistran Heim, OFM.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Not many priests can say they were a parish pastor to their own family and friends. But in 1982, when Joseph Hertel, OFM, was assigned to St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, N.J., where he grew up, he was comfortably home.
“I was pastor to my parents,” he laughed. “I was ‘Joey’ to a lot of the older parishioners.” Since he attended both grammar school and high school here, he was also the pastor to classmates. “It was great,” he recalled.
Professed in 1960 in Lafayette, N.J., and ordained in 1966, Joseph marked his golden jubilee in June. His ministry has been diverse — at home and abroad, urban and suburban, English and Hispanic, at churches large and small. Through most of his ministry, he has maintained a gift for fund-raising, directing St. Anthony’s Guild, Holy Name’s fund-raising partner where he works currently, at two separate times.
“My ministry has taken many shapes over the years, and I’ve enjoyed doing them all.”
A graduate of St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., the Paterson native studied philosophy at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H., then proceeded to Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., for theological studies.
Directing St. Anthony’s Guild
Today, Joseph oversees the Province’s main fundraising efforts. He took over the guild for the second time in 2009 when director John Piccione, OFM, died. Joseph was a likely replacement since from 1985 to 1990 he had served with HNP’s Franciscan Missionary Union — Holy Name’s contemporary fund-raising organization for mission work — and could step right in. “All told, I’ve been doing development work for 25 years,” he said.
Although Joseph’s ministry now is mostly administrative, a role he said he enjoys, it wasn’t always so. As a newly-ordained priest in 1966, he requested to go to Puerto Rico … and stayed for seven years. “It was just an incredible experience — a delight,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute.”
In the mid-1960s, Hispanic ministry was getting off the ground, and Joseph wanted to be involved. “I loved the idea of Puerto Rico. I wasn’t drawn to Bolivia or Brazil, but there was an opportunity in Puerto Rico and I took it.” There, he ministered at three parishes, hospitals and mission chapels, and lived with 15 American, Spanish and Basque friars.
In 1973, he needed to turn over administration of three missions to the local diocese, and after that work was finished, he returned home. A few years later, in 1976, he was appointed pastor at Holy Cross Parish in a Hispanic neighborhood of the Bronx. “I was back in Spanish ministry,” said Joseph. “Good thing I learned the language.” At the time, the parish was changing, and the Hispanic parishioners took a strong leadership role. “It was wonderful to participate in that.”
When his hometown parish, St. Bonaventure in Paterson, needed a pastor in 1982, Joseph was more than ready to return to home. While being the priest to family, friends and classmates might have been awkward, he and the St. Bonaventure parishioners made sure it wasn’t.
“The parishioners made it just wonderfully easy,” Joe said. “My contemporaries called me by my first name. It was a unique experience.” He stayed at St. Bonaventure until 1985.
The Province was ready to launch an office of the FMU for New England and sent Joseph to Boston to open an office at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. “It was the fund-raising arm of the Province for missions,” he said, and he was charged with establishing a database of donors, especially in the Boston area. In 1990, the office was merged with the New York office, and Joe relocated.
Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, NYC
When the office was up and running, he was assigned to the rural suburbs of New Jersey in 1990, becoming pastor and guardian of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Greenwood Lake. He stayed 18 months until 1992 when he was assigned to be pastor of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street in Manhattan and guardian of the friary.
This was an especially exciting assignment for Joseph. Not only was it a large and active church in the heart of Manhattan, it also had a well-established daily breadline, where he could use his fund-raising know-how. “Development never left me,” he recalled. “I tried to establish an endowment for the breadline.”
In 1996, Joseph was named director of St. Anthony’s Guild. In 2005, when he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in E. Rutherford, N.J., the Guild moved its office to New Jersey with John Piccone as director. When John died in 2009, Joseph was asked to return.
“The Guild is like home to the many donors,” he said. “We’ve created a sense of family with donors. You become their spiritual director and friend, and they wait to hear from you,” he said.
He often gets phone calls from people looking for their appeal letter. “This is one of the great joys of doing fund-raising at the Guild — donors understand that they are members of the Guild family. We have people who’ve been with us 50 years and more. We are exceptionally blessed by that. It’s a testament to the friars who have gone before us.”
Joseph has chaired the board of the National Catholic Development Conference, which he called a great experience, and has seen development work evolve over the years.
“I’ve seen it change radically in the past three years. The emphasis has changed, and we’re working with a new, younger generation now; a generation that doesn’t have an affinity to the chartable organizations that their parents had.” The bad economy also continues to make fundraising challenging.
Joseph takes a multigenerational and multifaceted approach, reaching senior citizens by letters and using electronic communications and social media for younger folks.
To balance out his current administrative role, he keeps his hand in preaching by helping with Sunday Masses at Holy Child Church in Staten Island, N.Y., a church he’s helped at for 10 years.
“I love preaching. I try to keep sermons down to earth and positive,” Joe said, referring to his use of examples from pop culture and everyday life.
When he’s not preaching or fund-raising, he finds time for Leo, a black lab who he recently adopted. He also tends a garden, enjoys the beach, and is an avid reader. He used to enjoy winter skiing. “But I’m too old for that now,” he laughs.
What is he most proud of with the Province? “I’m blessed to be a member. I’m proud of everything the Province does. I’m grateful it’s been my vocation.”
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor of HNP Today. Future newsletter issues will include profiles of jubilarians Richard Husted, OFM, and John Kull, OFM.