When Rev. Msgr. Joseph R. Reilly received a letter from the Vatican in December that he had been selected as a "missionary of mercy," he was "surprised, grateful and humbled" by the appointment. As rector and dean of Immaculate Conception Seminary, he became aware of his nomination for the special role last fall during a meeting with Archbishop John J. Myers. "I still don't know who submitted my name to him for the appointment," Msgr. Reilly recalled. During the Holy Year of Mercy, the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization sought priests who were living signs "of the Father's welcome to all those in search of His forgiveness." Every missionary needed a letter of recommendation from his local bishop before being selected. Those nominated, according to the council, must be "inspiring preachers of mercy; heralds of the joy of forgiveness; and welcoming, loving, and compassionate confessors."
Msgr. Reilly is the only priest from the Archdiocese of Newark to be appointed a missionary of mercy. All were commissioned formally by Pope Francis at Saint Peter's Basilica on Ash Wednesday. They also had a private audience with the pope. "Archbishop Hebda asked me a few days ago if I was getting excited and truthfully, I am," Msgr. Reilly said before leaving for Rome.
He is now tasked with administering the sacrament of reconciliation during special Jubilee Year of Mercy events. Pope Francis granted missionaries of mercy special authority or faculties "to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See." According to Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, reserved sins are actions that can bring with them automatic excommunication. If the person is repentant, he said, the missionaries will be able to remove the excommunication and grant absolution in those cases, which normally require the intervention or permission of the local bishop or the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court.
"I'm delighted to be chosen as a minister of mercy," Msgr. Reilly explained. "As rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary, much of my time is spent doing administrative tasks. Canon law also prohibits me from hearing confessions at the Seminary. I'm blessed for the opportunity the Lord has given me. This is the heart of being a priest."
A Mountainside native, Msgr. Reilly was ordained in 1991. In 1994, he served as priest-secretary to then Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and in 1995 joined the staff of Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, where he served as a faculty member and chaplain. In 2002, he was named rector of Saint Andrew's Hall, Seton Hall's college seminary, and then was appointed rector/dean of Immaculate Conception Seminary in 2012. As a young man in the seminary, Msgr. Reilly initially wanted to become a missionary in Africa or South America. "I quickly realized that I didn't have the temperament to be a missionary," he reflected. "It's quite a demanding life and I wouldn't be able to walk away from everything that I know." Today, as a missionary of mercy, he gets to realize his dream. "My prayers have been answered, in a way. I don't have to leave everything behind but I still get to fulfill my heart's desire to be a missionary," Msgr. Reilly said.
This story originally appeared in the February 10, 2016 issue of the Catholic Advocate.
Categories: Faith and Service