Joseph F. Berenato
For Rivera, all roads lead to Hammonton
Rev. David Rivera assumed duties as pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish
On Wednesday, July 15, the Rev. David Rivera assumed duties as pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish.
Rivera, originally a native of Camden, N.J. and whose parents hailed from Cidra, Puerto Rico, recently spoke with The Gazette regarding his background and his hopes for the future of the parish.
“I’m the youngest of four. My brother’s the oldest, then two girls; I’m the youngest. We all went to Catholic school—St. Anthony of Padua, great school, then Camden Catholic. I graduated in 1999. Right around junior or senior year, we moved to Blackwood, so my parents lived there. After graduating college, I worked for my brother for a year, then worked close to the college I was going to go to: Rutgers,” Rivera said.
After attending that university for approximately a year-and-a-half, Rivera entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He spent three years there as well as an additional year at Mary Immaculate Center, a retreat in Northampton, Pa. as part of the seminary’s Spirituality Program.
According to the seminary’s website, “In the Spiritual Year, which ordinarily follows the seminarian’s college graduation, the seminarian is offered the gift of time, space and direction to develop a rich, interior prayer life. In the process, the seminarian can achieve a deep solitude, solidifying his self-knowledge and vocational calling. This spiritual year strives for a life-experience which will allow the seminarian to ‘find God in all things’ such that the stillness of the year—freed from academic grades—will foster a solitude in the heart to remain with the candidate through ordination and priestly life.”
Following the retreat year, Rivera studied in Rome for two years before he returned to the U.S. for Pastoral year—”which is kind of like a year for practice,” Rivera said—and it was then that he made his first Hammonton connections.
“That’s when I met Father Joe Capella. I lived with him for a year, actually. That was at Saint Luke Parish in Stratford. That was my first entry into Hammonton. I did come here for the Feast once, previously; I don’t remember whether Father Carmel Polidano was stationed here at that time, because I remember him being here but I don’t remember the exact dates,” Rivera said.
Following his time there, Rivera returned to Rome where he finished his degree in Moral Theology.
He was ordained in 2010.
Rivera said that his connections to Hammonton continued shortly thereafter.
“After I was ordained, I was stationed here for the summer. I lived with Father Tom Donio over at St. Anthony of Padua. That was the summer of 2010. It’s interesting that I went to St. Anthony of Padua Church and grade school growing up, so my first assignment was at St. Anthony’s. My parents’ own parish in Puerto Rico, where I said my first Mass in Spanish, is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It all kind of goes together. Maybe it was meant to be,” Rivera said.
When Rivera was first assigned to the parish two years ago, it was as an associate. In his second year, he was named administrator.
“According to Canon Law, an administrator really is only supposed to be assigned temporarily until a pastor is named or found. In more recent history, bishops have been using the administrator designation as giving a younger guy a chance to wet his feet in being in charge without a commitment to the diocese and without requiring him to be stuck, either. It’s like training wheels. So I had all the obligations, but what I didn’t have were the rights. Pastors have a right to be in a term for at least six years, and there are other things that go with that,” Rivera said.
As pastor, Rivera said that he plans to continue with the mission he has been given, knowing how easily things change.
“I think what the last three or four months has taught us is, as one wise priest I know says, ‘If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.’ My plans are just to keep doing what I plan in the circumstances that we are to continue building up the faith of the people here in any way that I can do that. At this point, it’s called rolling with the punches and seeing what God has in store there,” he said.
One of the ways that Rivera has been working to build up the faith of his parishioners is through the use of social media, which was instituted during the stay-at-home order in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“I wanted parishioners to know that the parish was still trying to meet spiritual needs, and also it gave me an opportunity to expose the parish to more of the richness of the church’s prayer life. Most people’s experience is solely the Mass, and if that’s all you’re experiencing, you’re really only seeing a very narrow part of the church’s prayer life. The Mass itself doesn’t mean as much when that’s what you’re only doing. If you see the bigger picture, then it becomes even more important; you’re seeing how it fits into the rest of the life of prayer of the church. Hopefully, this reinvigorates people’s love for the Mass by seeing the other ways to pray, too,” Rivera said.
The institution of virtual prayers, like the nightly compline, has created a new community among the parishioners.
“What I’ve noticed is a little prayer community that’s formed, and people really look forward to it. When I don’t livestream, I get little notes: ‘Father, what happened? Where are you?’ I’m trying to encourage them to friend the other members on their own, too, but it’s nice, because they look forward to it and they share,” Rivera said.
Rivera said that the use of livestreaming has helped to reach the parishioners in new ways.
“It’s given me a lot of flexibility and an amenity I can add for people, and they’re really appreciative. It’s still the Mass—it’s still the ritual; I’m not playing games with that—but I’m using technology in an appropriate manner to bring it out to more people and make it accessible ... This is not a replacement. In-person is in-person. It is only an aid, not a replacement,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s goal for the parish, he said, is the goal set for every priest.
“It’s to nourish the people with the sacraments, to teach the faith, to fill the pews again as much as possible and to bring our parish into a good place. In six or 12 years, if I get moved or leave for another parish, I want to make sure it’s in a better place than I found it, and to build upon all the good traditions of the past, and maybe start some new ones along the way,” he said.