When Father Robert Emery was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1987, he thought it would take some time for him to get a chance to become a parish pastor. Such important roles are generally reserved for veteran, older priests in the church, priests who have paid their dues in service and are rewarded with a parish of their own. But it didn't take long to see that Emery, a Hoboken native who was raised in Ocean Township, was a rising star in the eyes of the Archdiocese of Newark. He served as secretary to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick for two stints. He was assigned to attend Catholic University to study Canon law to become a lawyer in the eyes of the Catholic Church and a part-time judge in the church's marriage tribunal. Emery was well liked and well-respected within the hierarchy of the Archdiocese. That's why it was no surprise that at the tender age of 38, Emery, who has called St. Lawrence Parish in Weehawken his home for the last seven months, would be installed as the permanent pastor of the parish. Emery will officially take over after a ceremony, presided over by his former boss McCarrick, today (Sunday, Jan. 23) at 1 p.m. The church is located downtown in the Shades section. Emery is looking forward to the challenge of serving as the new parish pastor. He has been serving as the temporary administrator since his appointment to Weehawken last June and has received a six-year term as pastor from the Archdiocese. "Being a pastor is a tremendous challenge for me, but one that I feel very ready to accept," Emery said. "It's exciting and invigorating and I hope to do some great things." St. Lawrence has not had a full-time pastor since Father Charles Noble died in January, 1999, and the parish has never had a pastor as young as Emery. "I think the parish is excited in having a younger man as a pastor," Emery said. "It's a sense of new life, with more activities and ministries. The people of the parish have been very supportive. The truth is, my job description won't change much now as being pastor. But there is more of a sense of permanence and stability, knowing that I will be here for the next six years." When Father Emery was a youngster, he never had aspirations of being a priest. He didn't come from the typical strict Catholic home. His father is not a Catholic, but his mother chose to raise him under the faith. "I was never an altar boy or anything like that," Emery said. His family moved to Ocean Township from Hoboken when he was a youngster, where he attended Ocean Township High School and later Kean College, where he received a degree in elementary education. "I wanted to be a teacher," Emery said. "That's all I wanted." However, as a freshman at Kean, Emery started thinking about the priesthood. "I really just believed that God had called me to become a priest," Emery said. "It's a mystery to me how it happened. I just got the call to make it my vocation. I can't put my finger as to the reason why." Emery found himself soon talking to priests about the possibility of becoming a priest. He attended seminars and went on retreats to the seminary, where he was finally sure he was making the right decision. After graduating from the seminary, he was assigned to St. Catherine's Parish in Glen Rock, where he served for three years. He then was taken from St. Catherine's to serve as the Archbishop's personal secretary for two years, then went to study at Catholic University for two more years. When he returned as a Canon lawyer in 1994, Emery was assigned to St. Peter's Parish in Belleville, where he remained for four years as an associate pastor. In 1998, Emery went back to Newark to serve another year as McCarrick's secretary and remained there until his assignment to St. Lawrence last June. He received word that his appointment as pastor of St. Lawrence had been approved Dec. 1 and the installation ceremony will take place today. When Emery arrived at St. Lawrence, he realized he had a parish in some disarray. With no official leadership after the passing of an elderly pastor, St. Lawrence was struggling. "I didn't sense that the parish had much life," Emery said. "But in the last six months, I've seen so many signs of hope and enthusiasm. I'm looking for the parish to do more than it has done in the past. I want the people of the parish to get involved." Emery said that he was enthused by the response of the Archdiocese's Stewardship program, which asked those of the Catholic faith to volunteer in some way to their respective parishes. More than 150 of St. Lawrence's parishioners responded to the program and have pledged their time to the parish, in the form of Eucharistic ministers, CCD teachers, lectors, rectory assistants, groundskeepers and others. "That shows me that the people of the parish want to get involved," Emery said. "They seem to be coming out of the woodwork. I think a lot of people are looking for the parish to do more than they did in the past." Added Emery, "There's a perception that we have this dead little parish, tucked in the corner of the Shades, where no one cares. But that's not it at all. We have a very vibrant community and we're going to see some new things happening." Because of Emery's youth, he plans to institute a youth ministry program, something that has not been in existence within the parish in ages. "Because I still consider myself young, I feel a special closeness to the youth," Emery said. "It's one of my hopes and goals, to get a youth ministry started." There are signs that it can happen. There are 120 children enrolled in the CCD classes and Emery has already began a monthly children's mass, geared toward youngsters, where the children huddle around the altar and the pulpit to listen to Emery's words. In this matter, the children become more involved in the mass. "We also want to do something with the junior high and high school students, to get them more involved as well," Emery said. Other groups that Emery hopes to get started includes a bereavement group for those who have recently lost loved ones, a group for divorced and separated Catholics, as well as parish council, which does not exist, but should, according to Archdiocesan law. Emery also hopes to construct a parish center on the grounds, but that has to be considered a dream at this point. "We just want to move forward and try to do as much as possible," Emery said. Although there might be one problem. St. Lawrence is a one-priest parish, which means that either Emery plans on getting a lot of help from the lay community or he plans on doing it all himself. "That's why it's such a big challenge," Emery said.