By Tim Harfmann
As he turned the pages of old photo albums, Father Joseph Ceriello looked back on his time in the Navy, while still thinking of today’s sailors.
“Every day since I’ve left active duty, I think of the men and women who are still on ships that are deploying, who are training,” he said.
Father Ceriello enlisted in the Navy Reserve for two years after being ordained in 1978 and later became a chaplain — ministering to thousands of Catholics serving the United States.
“In many, many places I was the only priest,” he said, “so you’d be constantly making sure the spiritual needs of everyone were being met, but especially Catholics.”
Those needs included celebrating daily Mass, hearing confessions and just being there to listen to sailors.
“They might be homesick, they might be confused, things might not be going right, and everything is just more on the surface,” he said of how those deployed have a different emotional experience than their loved ones back home.
Father Ceriello was deployed for short stints from Norfolk, Virginia to the Mediterranean during the late 1980s. The Brooklyn priest returned home and was assigned to Saint Anselm Church, Bay Ridge.
Years later, he wanted to go back to the Navy.
“I missed that camaraderie, that type of service to young people.”
After serving in Japan in the late 1990s, Father Ceriello returned to Virginia.
He was aboard the U.S.S. George Washington on September 11. The ship was docked in Virginia and called to New York’s harbor.
“I remember all of that night that we were steaming up to New York, fighter jets were landing on the deck,” he recalled.
Father Ceriello watched as sailors answered the call in a time of need.
“It’s amazing how these young men and women are so well trained, that going into that mode of using that training just comes naturally.”
Now pastor of Queen of All Saints Church, Clinton Hill, Father Ceriello said the upcoming Memorial Day is a time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice — while honoring the sailors of today.
“Keeping those young people in mind, so that we’re not remembering them on Memorial Day but all the time, is important for all of us.”