Newly Ordained Priest Reflects on St. John’s Experience
Catholic educated most of his life, Rev. Joseph Catafago ’16C attended St. John’s University because he wanted to continue that experience at the college level. He is a member of the first cohort of the University’s Catholic Scholars program, and his father, Marcel ’80CBA, is an alumnus of St. John’s. The idea of continuing his legacy was very meaningful to Fr. Catafago. “That was a great source of pride for me,” he stressed.
The Hicksville, NY, native was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, on June 19 at the Cathedral of St. Agnes and celebrated his first mass the following day at his boyhood parish of Holy Family Church in Hicksville.
Fr. Catafago discerned his vocation to the priesthood while still a student at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School. “Our vocation director told me that the majority of seminarians from the Diocese of Rockville Centre attended St. John’s—and I was very happy about that,” he noted.
At St. John’s, Fr. Catafago, a double major in Theology and Philosophy, embraced the Vincentian charism and mission of service. “St. Vincent de Paul was first and foremost a priest and saw himself as a formator,” he explained, adding that being welcomed by the Vincentian community was an essential part of his formation as a priest. “Much of what drew me to St. John’s was that Vincentian identity and the beauty of combining prayer with service.”
His participation in the Catholic Scholars program was a transformative experience that only amplified his desire to become a priest. “I really felt like a part of the Catholic community on campus, attending various events and lectures that were sponsored by Campus Ministry,” he said. “It helped cement my relationship with St. John’s, and I formed some lasting friendships.”
As a seminarian, Fr. Catafago was heavily involved in street and prison ministries, and hopes he can continue his involvement with both after receiving his parish assignment at St. Anthony of Padua Church, East Northport, NY. He brought food and clothing to the homeless who congregated at train stations in Center Moriches and Shirley, two eastern Long Island communities. In the prisons, he discussed the Gospel with inmates, many of whom, he found, yearned for some form of spirituality.
“One of the things that St. John’s taught me was the notion that while these people were hungry or cold or incarcerated, they were also spiritually starved. The Vincentians taught that you have to feed the whole person—both body and spirit. I would often think of how St. Vincent would minister to people on the street and in prison. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy were definitely fostered while I was at St. John’s.”
Upon graduation from the University, Fr. Catafago attended St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, NY, where he received a master’s degree in divinity, a pontifical bachelor’s degree in sacred theology, and a master's degree in art.
“I think what sets St. John’s apart is that people are being spiritually fed and are learning their faith beyond an eighth-grade, Confirmation-level, knowledge of the Gospel,” he said.
“They’re being formed intellectually and spiritually in an interpersonal way. St. John’s does this by presenting the Gospel question in a way that’s lived out—and not just an academic understanding of God. It is something that informs the entire person.”
Fr. Catafago noted that one of the beautiful aspects of St. John’s is how its student population mirrors the global community. “It helps reflect the catholicity of the Church and captures, through the Vincentian mission, a global perspective.”