Written by Pete Sanchez
Earlier this summer, Bishop Dennis Sullivan announced that Berlin’s Saint Simon Stock Parish would be under the pastoral care of the Alagad Ni Maria (Disciples of Mary) religious community, with three of its priests transferring from other parts of the Diocese of Camden to begin their ministry there.
Father Michael A. de Leon, A.M., previously parochial vicar at Saint Andrew the Apostle in Gibbsboro, will be installed as pastor at the 11:30 Mass this Sunday, Aug. 4.
“I am ecstatic to be to be here,” Father de Leon wrote in a message to his new parishioners. “I am happy to be with my fellow brother priests from my religious community to serve you.”
Established in 1990 with six young men, the Alagad Ni Maria community is characterized by its strong Marian devotion and its dedication to working with youth.
The community website states that the changing economic, political, social and technological landscape of the Philippines toward the end of the 20th century challenged the traditional values and spirituality of the predominantly Catholic nation, and had a great effect on the country’s youth.
The “noble cause” of the community’s original members was to counter the “negative effects on their fellow youth by providing an alternative lifestyle through organizations that propagate the Marian devotion.”
The community has since grown, and members now minister in New York and California, as well as the Philippines and New Jersey. Its vision: “We envision a world redeemed where the youth stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, the model-disciple and a valiant woman of the contemporary times.”
Father de Leon’s two brother priests in Berlin will both spend part of their time working with young people.
Father J. Philip Ramos, A.M., is part-time parochial vicar and part-time Director of Catholic Identity at Gloucester Catholic High School, and Father Raymond F. Vijandre, A.M., is part-time parochial vicar and part-time campus ministry at Stockton University.
With their work at the parish and school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Regional School, as well as Gloucester Catholic and Stockton University, “we will pass on our joy, energy, faith, to energize the community through worship, prayer, reconciliation and the Eucharist (and) bring the fire and love of Jesus and Mary to the people of Saint Simon Stock Parish,” said Father de Leon in a recent interview.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Father de Leon was introduced to the community while in junior high school, and entered the Disciples of Mary Seminary at 16 years old. After his ordination in 2003, he served in the Philippines for several years before coming to the United States to serve as parochial vicar and director of religious education at a parish in Scarsdale, N.Y.
In 2014, he came to the Diocese of Camden and served at Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro.
Saint Simon Stock Parish was formed a decade ago from the merger of Saint Edward, Pine Hill, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Berlin. The parish’s patron, Saint Simon Stock, is associated with the Blessed Mother. Not much is known about the 13th century English saint, but tradition holds he received the brown scapular from Mary.
After the 8 a.m. daily Mass at the parish, the rosary and/or chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed.
Father de Leon is confident that he and his brother priests will plant good seeds in Berlin’s vineyard.
“With God’s grace, we, the Saint Simon Stock parish community, can reach new heights,” he said.
In his message to parishioners, Father De Leon stressed his desire for community. “Let’s work together,” he wrote. “Let’s pray for one another. Let’s nourish one another with prayers, compassion and love.”