By Susan Loyer
Photo by Augusto F. Menezes
It started as a whisper, but grew louder and louder, until it couldn't be ignored.
That's when Jack O'Kane took the leap.
At age 34, he entered Immaculate Conception Seminary of Seton Hall University and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on May 24 at St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Church in Metuchen. O'Kane was the only priest scheduled for ordination in the Diocese of Metuchen this year.
""Since I was a child, I always thought about becoming a priest,'' said the newest addition to Our Lady of Victories parish in Sayreville.
""Then one day, while on a retreat with the St. Bartholomew's Men's Group of East Brunswick, the first conference priest gave a talk on "The Call.' I'm listening to the
words, and it's pounding at my heart. Here I am thinking that I've been given the call, and I'm saying "No' or at least keeping it at arm's distance.''
After the conference, O'Kane approached the speaker, the Rev. Joseph Kerrigan Jr., who is now pastor of Sacred Heart Church, New Brunswick.
""I asked him what seminary was like,'' O'Kane said. ""He said it was good I was asking because I would be there for five years. He told me priesthood just doesn't happen overnight. That was news to me. I was 33 and thought, "That's a long time,'
but I wasn't discouraged.
""I thought, "If that's what it takes, I'm going to go for it,' and I did. From the day I moved into the seminary until the day I left, it was a really, really happy time. It gave me great joy being there because it really pointed to the priesthood and ordination. The day of my ordination was the greatest day of my life.''
O'Kane, whose hobbies include pool, basketball and golf, was brought up in East Brunswick, with four siblings.
His parents, Barbara and John O'Kane, are devout Catholics, he said.
""They're living saints,'' he said. ""They believe in prayer and encouraged us and taught us to pray. They lived the life of faith. They raised us by example, as well as by words.''
O'Kane attended St. Bartholomew School in East Brunswick, St. Joseph
High School in Metuchen and Rutgers University.
During his college years, the funloving, burly Irishman worked as a waiter and bartender at the Metuchen Country Club. After college, he took a job as the club's assistant golf professional.
After four years, he joined two of his sisters, Katie and Maggie, and went to work for a company selling computers. His brother, Tom, later joined the firm.
O'Kane finally realized something was missing from his life after a discussion with his sister Barbara, who has since gone on to pursue her calling as a nun.
""I started to ask myself, "Why I am still thinking about becoming a priest?'‚'' he said. ""I've got a good job. I've got a lot of friends. Life was pretty good, so why was I still thinking about it?''
O'Kane said he prayed for guidance, and his prayers were soon answered.
""The day I started telling people, I was completely at peace,'' he said.
""It was wonderful for me. I finally had admitted it.''
During his seminary years, O'Kane served in various parishes including St. Matthew's in Edison, St. Thomas the Apostle in Old Bridge and St. Joseph, Holy Family and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, all in Carteret.
As a deacon, he served at Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex Borough.
O'Kane joins the Rev. Michael Krull, pastor of the Main Street parish, and the Rev. Jack Grimes. He is looking forward to his time at Our Ladies of Victories parish.
""Right now I want to focus on being a good priest,'' he said. ""The seminary has prepared me well, but there is still so much more to learn on the job. I look forward to helping people grow in faith and help foster more vocations. I think some day I'll
be ready for my own parish.''
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