St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church recently welcomed Father Gerard Ringenback, who hopes to be more affectionately known by his new congregation as "Father Jerry," as its new pastor. Although he realizes that the transition will take time, Father Ringenback looks forward to learning about the residents of the community as their pastor and, even more so, to being their parish priest.
Father Gerard Ringenback, new parish priest of St. Bernard's. - Photo by Paul F. Bopp
Throughout his grade school years, Fr. Ringenback attended St. Anne's School, which was conducted by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. He said that the influence of these sisters and his home environment made the notion of becoming a priest appealing.
"I was always a good kid - so much that my father once in a moment of frustration blurted out that I should do something bad for a change - like break a window," Fr. Ringenback said.
Fr.Ringenback chose to attend St. Pius X Prep. Seminary High School in Uniondale, and credits the priests who served there with providing positive role models for him and reinforcing his vocation. He was ordained in 1972 and, in addition to seminary training, did graduate work at Fordham University.
Fr.Ringeback's first parish assignment was to St. Vincent de Paul in Elmont, which he said proved to be an excellent place to start ministry.
"In my first assignment, it was a parish that had a very welcoming and warm congregation and they were excited about having a newly ordained priest coming there," Fr. Ringenback said. "It was a good combination."
After serving at St. Vincent de Paul for three years, he was asked to serve as a spiritual director at his old high school. Later in his career, he worked in several areas, including Valley Stream and Islip Terrace, where he recently completed his second term. On the diocesan level, Fr. Ringenback has served on the Priests' Senate and the Priest's Personnel Assignment Board.
Always being attracted to things that are spiritual, Fr. Ringenback said that he felt he wanted to become a priest at an early age. "I had priests in my life who were heroes to me," he said, "in my childhood." In addition to going to Catholic school and having a religious mother, he said that the congregation itself is what makes priesthood most appealing.
"This is a vocation that can have a profound influence on hundreds or thousands of people. What I say can have a profound impact on them - for good. A priest, in many ways, is a bridge between God and God's people," he said. "It's not only what I offer to people but what they offer to me; their courage, their commitment to the church and church life is remarkable to me. I often feel that these are the holy people, not me. These everyday people; that's where you find God."
Fr.Ringenback added that he enjoys the many "hats" he has to wear as a priest and said that each day is filled with a new experience.
"No two days are alike and that's the challenging and also the engaging part of ministry," he said. "That is a challenge but it also makes my life satisfying and enriching."
Having completed his second term at St. Peter's, Fr. Ringenback felt that it was the right time in his life to begin a new ministry in a new parish. He heard that Monsignor Graham, his predecessor, was retiring, and felt that St. Bernard's was a place he wanted to come to for a variety of reasons.
"I felt this time in my life was the right time to make a move," he said. "I also felt that people in Levittown were the kind of people that I always minister to, who I work with - people of the earth who struggle to make ends meet, raise a family. I sensed that I would be comfortable working in that kind of setting."
Fr.Ringenback added that he felt coming to Levittown would provide him with an opportunity to both share his gifts and talents with a different community and in turn learn from community members.
Since his transition to St. Bernard's approximately one month ago, Fr. Ringenback said that he feels he has been very warmly welcomed by the church and its parishioners.
"The people of the parish have been very welcoming, very positive," he said. "They also show an enthusiasm about the future and they express great hope that it will be a very fruitful ministry for me and for them. Monsignor Graham has been very gracious and welcoming as well. I feel optimistic about the future and the blessings that await the parish community."
Fr.Ringenback looks forward to meeting even more members of the community, although he realizes that it will be difficult to get to know everybody on a personal basis. "I see here tremendous potential," he said, adding that he hopes to be able to get to know as many people as possible in a short time.
Reflecting on the many items written of St. Bernard, for whom the church was named, Fr. Ringenback said that his [St. Bernard's] ability to be in touch with common human experiences enabled him to preach the word of God to the community very effectively.
"That ability to be in touch with the common human experience," Fr. Ringenback said, in regard to preaching to parishioners by relating the word of God to their everyday lives, "is certainly an approach that I hope to be able to imitate."