Students in graduation


Nov. 21, 2020

Br. Asiel Maria Rodriguez, O.S.B. will have his life-long ambition come to fruition on Tuesday, Nov. 24 when he is ordained into the priesthood. A mass for his ordination will take place at 5 p.m. at Newark Abbey’s St. Mary’s Church.

  Br. Asiel in St. Mary's Church

A native of Cuba, Br. Asiel’s ascent to the Catholic priesthood was not an easy one. He knew at an early age he wanted to follow a life of Religious. But living in a Communist country, this wasn’t always a popular decision.

He started as an altar boy at age 12, and was forced out of public school only two years later because he refused to sign a document that said he wouldn’t practice any religion.

“I was sort of in a hidden seminary, working and praying at Diocesan houses on weekends or taking on missions in bad neighborhoods,” said Br. Asiel. “But it’s what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let the government stop me, even though sometimes it wasn’t so good to go against them.”

Br. Asiel’s fortunes changed, however, when, just a few weeks removed from being kicked out of the public-school system for “Being Catholic,” his legal papers came through and he would be reunited with his father in the United States at the age of 14.

He eventually settled in Union City and his work to serve the people began to take shape. “What a relief,” remembered Br. Asiel. “One minute I was fearing what would happen to me in Cuba and the next, I’m in America.”

Now free to practice religion in his new home in America, Br. Asiel dove head first into his religious studies and by the time he graduated high school in 2010, he was living at the Priory with the Missionary Order of Augustinian Friars.

(Watch a live-stream of the Priestly Ordination of Asiel M. Rodriguez 5 p.m. on Tues.)

“It was a great feeling,” said Br. Asiel. “I was living in the Priory from my home parish in Union City. They spoke Spanish and it was only a few blocks from home. Everything seemed to be falling into place for me.”

But that feeling of stability and closeness to home started to fade for Br. Asiel. He was first moved to The Bronx and then to Spain for the next six years of his life. Instead of being at peace, Br. Asiel started feeling like he was living a nomadic life, instead of being part of a community.

  Br. Asiel (at podium) with his fellow Monks at Mass

A few years into his stay in Spain, he connected with Br. Patrick Winbush of Newark Abbey and came to visit during his vacations from Europe. During one of his forays to Newark, he took in Monkfest in 2015, an Annual celebration of food, fun and prayer held by the Monks of Newark Abbey.

Br. Asiel was hooked.

“I could feel their sense of community and stability right then,” he admitted. “That’s what I was looking for, but hadn’t really known until I felt it. From Cuba, to Union City, to The Bronx and then Spain – I always felt like I was moving. The Abbey felt like home.”

Because of his prior commitments in Spain, Br. Asiel couldn’t find his way to Newark Abbey just yet. After training a fellow Friar of his duties in Spain, Br. Asiel finally wrote to Abbot Melvin of Newark Abbey on Feb. 2, 2016, and informed him he wanted to join the Monks here.

Just two weeks later, after an acceptance from the Abbot, Br. Asiel was back in the United States and on Feb. 23rd, he was at his new home in Newark. “I don’t like moving around all the time. I have been doing it since it was 12. The stability and the community here were the most important part for me and now I felt part of something much more than I ever had before.”

Br. Asiel, who is never one to sit still, was entered into the Novitiate in March of 2016, made his Simple Vows a year later. He received his Masters of Arts Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Seton Hall University in May of 2019 before being ordained a Deacon last summer. All the while, he held a teaching position at St. Benedict’s Prep.

“I move quickly,” said the 29-year-old Br. Asiel. “I knew what I wanted to do at an early age. So why wouldn’t I want to get there soon as possible? I’ve always wanted to serve people and being a priest is the best way I think I can help people.’

  Br. Asiel (right) with Br. Bruno

Br. Asiel, who was the publicity director of Newark Abbey for the last three years, is now the Formation Socius, a person who accompanies new Monks as they get acclimated to their new surroundings in the Monastery. He has seen the dwindling numbers among Monks at Newark Abbey grow more than it has in decades.

The Abbey now has 20 Monks, half of which are under 40 years old. “You could say there is a lot of energy in the Monastery now,” laughed Br. Asiel. “We have five guys right behind me going through what I’m doing and that’s a great sign for us. The future seems very bright here in Newark.”

Br. Asiel relishes the Vow of Stability while being a constant student of The Rule of St. Benedict. He says all his duties have prevented him from focusing too much on the magnitude of what will take place on Tuesday; but when Bishop Manuel Cruz of his former home church, St. Augustine’s in Union City, called him to talk about being the one who would Ordain Br. Asiel into the Priesthood, it became apparent.

“This is beginning to sink in now,” said the soon-to-be Fr. Asiel. “This has been such a huge priority in my life, and I’m so glad I found the stability I was looking for. 

“There are a few places in the world where you can get everything you want in one place. Think about it. Where else can you have prayer several times a day, meals with brothers all the time, walk with the children every day and work with the poor here in the city. I never thought that would be possible, but here I am – home.”

--By Ron Jandoli