News of appointment is greeted with joy

Pope Francis talks with Bishop-designate James F. Checchio in May when he was rector of the Pontifical North American College. It was the first papal visit to the U.S. seminary since 1980. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis talks with Bishop-designate James F. Checchio in May when he was rector of the Pontifical North American College. It was the first papal visit to the U.S. seminary since 1980.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As news of Pope Francis’ appointment of Msgr. James Checchio as bishop of Metuchen broke Tuesday morning, friends and past colleagues of his expressed their joy and appreciation for the South Jersey native, as he prepares for the next step in a life of devoted service to the Catholic Church.

“He has been and continues to be an outstanding priest and dedicated servant of God’s people,” said retired Bishop Joseph Galante. “His appointment as bishop of Metuchen is a great opportunity for him to bring his gifts and love of the church to the people of the Diocese of Metuchen. I have been blessed to see firsthand those gifts and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the church in all the time that I have known him.

“My prayers are with him as he begins his new time of service to the church which he loves and has served so well. May God give him many years of grace,” he added.

“I always knew he was going to be a bishop,” Father Thomas Barcellona said. The current pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish in Atco has been friends with Msgr. Checchio since their days as students together at Saint Pius X Seminary, University of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“He’s a good friend and great priest. He’s a great administrator, a people’s person. Metuchen is very blessed to have him as their fifth bishop. With his know-how, he will continue to spread the message of Pope Francis,” he continued.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn recalled the “spiritual man” who served as Moderator of the Curia, when Bishop DiMarzio was bishop of Camden, and called the appointment “good news.”

“I’m very happy for him. He deserves it. He will do a great job as bishop of Metuchen,” he said.

Andrew Walton, former spokesman for the Diocese of Camden, headed the communications office of the diocese from 1999-2010, and worked under Msgr. Checchio before the latter’s assignment to Rome’s Pontifical North American College, as its Vice-Rector, and eventually its Rector.

The two “worked together during a time of intense media interest and great challenge for the church, which demanded transparency and fairness, along with new measures of accountability, outreach and prevention,” he said.

“Msgr. Checchio helped guide the diocese at that time with energetic leadership, pastoral sensitivity, and an obvious love for the church and the Catholic people of South Jersey.

“Even with his extensive experience in virtually every area of church life, his great intelligence and well-known accomplishments, all of which have prepared him well to lead the Metuchen Diocese, I recall even more his kindness and supportiveness, his sense of humor, and groundedness, and wish him congratulations on this appointment.”

The school community of Paul VI High School in Haddon Township was “ecstatic” at the great news for their 1984 graduate, said Sister Marianne McCann, MPF, principal at the school, and freshman English teacher to Msgr. Checchio.

“He was a good student, and always very pleasant and good-natured,” she remembered. “We share in the joy” of his appointment, Sister Marianne said, with “real pride. He’s one of ours.”

She expressed appreciation for this news coming, as the school currently celebrates its 50th year.

“It’s a special grace this year, to have one our alums become a bishop.”

Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General of the Diocese of Camden, was first introduced to Msgr. Checchio by Sister Marianne McCann when the two future priests were students at Paul VI, Father Hughes a senior and Msgr. Checchio a freshman, on a school Easter trip to Europe.

During the trip, the two young men realized they had the same birthday (April 21), which was celebrated in Switzerland by the group.

“We’ve been friends ever since,” Father Hughes said, adding that the two spent two years studying in Rome at the same time.

Father Hughes was “not surprised” to hear of the new assignment for his “down-to-earth, faithful” friend with the “infectious laugh.”

Msgr. Checchio’s experience working under two bishops in Camden, and spending 12 years at Rome’s Pontifical North American College, will serve him well in his new ministry to the estimated 640,000 Catholics under his leadership, Father Hughes said.

“He has talents and skills that will be of good service to the Diocese of Metuchen. We’re very proud of him, and wish him all the best. It’s good to have him in New Jersey.”

Bishop-designate Checchio, who grew up in Collingswood, is the fourth priest with strong ties to South Jersey to be named a bishop of the Catholic Church. James L. Schad, who served as auxiliary bishop of the diocese for many years, was born in Philadelphia but came to Vineland with his family at the age of 4.

Michael P. Mundo was ordained in Camden and served in Haddon Heights before going to the Camden Diocese’s mission in Brazil, and later being named an auxiliary bishop and then bishop of Jatai. George V. Murry was born in Camden and graduated from Camden Catholic High School before becoming a Jesuit priest. He is bishop of Youngstown, Ohio.


Bishop-designate Checchio on his family and the Camden Diocese

Following is an excerpt from Bishop-designate Checchio’s remarks at the March 8 press conference announcing his appointment as bishop of Metuchen:

I love being a priest, and I’m so grateful to God for His love and for His calling me to be with Him and follow Him in the priesthood.

I’m also grateful to God for the grace He has given me over these 23 years which has sustained me in being faithful to my priestly promises. I’m grateful to my mom and dad for the gift of life and for teaching their children what love looks like in daily life. I am thankful as well to my two sisters and my brother and their spouses, as well as my six nieces and nephews: I count it a blessing to be in a family of love, encouragement and patience. Extended family and friends so often take on this role for us too, and I’ve been blessed with an abundance of these. I’m grateful as well to the church which has nurtured me in the faith over the years. Except for my years in seminary, both in formation and on the faculty, I’ve lived in the Diocese of Camden all my life. There, I was blessed with a great home parish — St. John’s in Collingswood.

I attended the parish grammar school and then was educated at a nearby Catholic high school, Paul VI. In all of those years of Catholic education, I had priests, sisters and teachers who encouraged and nourished me. As a matter of fact, at St. John’s I often heard our good and generous Mercy Sisters speak lovingly of their community and motherhouse here in Watchung, here in this diocese. I’m grateful to that local religious community and to all who worked to pass on the faith to me.

I’ve also been blessed with good priest mentors, especially from the presbyterate in Camden and from the faculty, past and present, of the North American College: exceptional men of God, who helped teach me how to be a pastor and shepherd. We’ve had great bishops in Camden and I consider it a real privilege to have had the opportunity to work closely with a few of them, seeing firsthand the necessity that the bishop be a man of prayer and communion, in close friendship with the Lord, especially given the challenges involved in shepherding a diocese.