Photos and Story By Caroline Pierce
As worshippers entered the modest Prince of Peace Chapel through the swirling snow, warmth and light radiatied from the sanctuary.
Here, at the home of the William Paterson Campus Catholic Ministry, they were greeted with smiles and handshakes from the Rev. Philip-Michael Tangorra, who goes by Father Phil.
It was the last Mass before the university’s winter break and the third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice,” and the Mass is one of only two Sundays in Advent when priests wear pink or rose-colored vestments instead of the traditional violet color.
“We rejoice in the Lord,” said Tangorra, the university chaplain. “We rejoice in the fact that He is coming, that He was born to bring us salvation, to bring us peace, to bring us meaning, direction and purpose in our lives. So this is why we are rejoicing.”
Gaudete Sunday is both “fun” and “a time to rejoice,” Tangorra said. During the Mass, he followed a tradition introduced by Pope Paul VI called “The Blessing of the Bambini,” blessing the baby Jesus figurines from parishioners’ Nativity sets.
Tangorra, who hails from Sparta, New Jersey, prides himself on not fitting the stereotypical image of a dull priest. Inside his office at Prince of Peace, which is located at 219 Pompton Road in Haledon, are walls covered with band posters and a desk with his “treasured” elder wand from the “Harry Potter” series.
“I think a lot of students don’t expect what they then experience from me,” Tangorra said with a chuckle. “Most students don’t walk into a priest’s office and expect to see a Dave Matthews Band poster or Led Zeppelin poster.”
Underneath one of the band posters is a picture of the “Star Wars” character Yoda. “In fact, I was watching the ‘Star Wars’ marathon on TNT yesterday,” Tangorra said. “It’ll make its way into the homily.”
Although it’s December, Tangorra stressed that Christmas had not arrived yet. “I know the commercialism says it is but it’s not,” he said. “The day after Christmas, everyone wants to get rid of their tree. Meanwhile, that’s actually the Christmas season for 12 days.”
A few minutes before Mass, Tangorra started putting on his rose-colored vestments. As he got ready, he said the ministry does more than “Bible-thumping.”
“Students should know they can come here, have a cup of coffee or tea and play video games,” he said. “If people have had negative experiences with church, there is a little bit of a stumbling block to overcome. This place exists to overcome the stumbling blocks.”
Krystal Davis, a freshman at WPU, has been attending Mass at Prince of Peace since November. “I feel like I’m at home and have a new sense of hope,” she said, adding that she likes to call the community at Prince of Peace her “walking angels.”
That includes Tangorra. “He’s helped me so much,” she said. “I would be lost without him.”
Masses will resume at Prince of Peace on Jan. 22, the first Sunday of the spring semester. For more information, visit http://www.princeofpeacewpu.org.