More About Father Fred

Pastor: Monsignor Fred Nijem

 

On May 25, 1968, Deacon Frederick J. Nijem, Jr., entered the brand-new Saint John the Evangelist Church in Valdosta, to become the first priest ever ordained there. The church's pastor, Father Thomas J. Payne, waived the privilege of celebrating the first Mass in his new church, commenting, "I think it's the most appropriate thing that could happen to a new church-to launch a new priest. We broke ground last July with this in mind."

A native Valdostan and 1960 graduate of Valdosta High School, Father Fred Nijem's preparation for ordination to the priesthood included attending Saint Bernard's Seminary in Cullman, Alabama; Saint Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Valdosta State College, and Loyola Graduate School of Education in Baltimore. He received both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

Fortified with these excellent credentials, Father Nijem soon embarked on a priestly career, which took him many places in Georgia and gave him insight into many aspects of church ministry. Assigned as Moderator and Director at Saint Pius X High School in Savannah for six years, he became administrator of Saint Anne Church, Richmond Hill (1971), pastor of Saint Benedict Church, Savannah (1972-1981), and pastor of Saint Teresa's, Albany (1981-1989). After a sabbatical year, Father Nijem was briefly assigned as pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, Augusta, in 1990. In June 1991, after serving as associate pastor of Savannah's Saint Frances Cabrini Church, Father Nijem became pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Warner Robins, his present assignment.

Dotting Father Fred Nijem's career as priest are such diverse assignments as director of Camp Villa Marie, chairman of the Committee for Pastoral Liturgy and Worship, a member of the Retreat Committee and Vocation Screening Committee, Newman Club Chaplain at Armstrong State College (now Armstrong Atlantic University), and director of both the Savannah Self-Study group and the Eastside Churches to Help Ourselves (ECHO) organization. Father Nijem was president of the Savannah Ministerial Association from 1973-1976. Appointments to administrative positions in the diocese include terms as Vicar Forane: Albany Deanery (1981-1987), Macon Deanery (1998-2001) and, again, Macon Deanery (2001-2004). Father Nijem has written articles for publications such as The Bible Today, Modern Liturgy, Today's Parish, Impact, and The Priest.

Despite the breadth and diversity of Father Nijem's ministry, accolades he has received as pastor give a better description of this Georgia-born priest's influence. The August 1981 issue of The Light, newsletter of Saint Benedict's Church, was devoted to numerous testimonials to "Father Fred," who was then leaving Saint Benedict's for a new assignment. Mamie K. Singleton commented in the lead article that "Situations that seemed impossible before he came, have been resolved during his tenure and a loving spirit abides among the people that never existed before."

Added to Ms. Singleton's commentary were the testimonials of other parishioners who, in the same issue of The Light, referred to Father Nijem's "moral support and outreaching," his "understanding and love," his "inspiration and motivating manner," his "untiring devotion to the sick," his "super-illustrated sermons," his "goodness to everyone," his "availability to members of the parish," his "willingness to use lay people in every aspect of the parish," and his "preaching the gospel with forthrightness and relevance to our lives today."

The Chatham County Clergy Council served up its own portion of praise for Father Nijem as he left Savannah for his next assignment, stating: "There are very few people you can really count on month after month, year after year. Father Fred Nijem is one of these. He is one of the founding stones which has kept the Chatham County Clergy Conference-and the important ecumenical thrust which it represents-from crumbling into ruins during his years in Savannah." In closing, the Council declared that Father Nijem's "fidelity is for us a strong witness to the ever-faithful God whom we all serve. It stands as a challenge for us who remain to persevere in our commitment to sustaining the kind of fellowship among the clergy which will make Christ's prayer 'that all be one' a little more of a reality here in this city which we call our home."

Since his ordination at Saint John the Evangelist Church in Valdosta in 1968, Father Nijem has followed a path of service, which has taken him to many places and duties in his native state. Presently continuing his ministry at Warner Robins' Sacred Heart Church, the Valdosta native validates the words he wrote for the celebration of his 25th anniversary as a priest in 1993: "The calling and power to minister is granted to me only by the grace of God. I am thankful to God for only he could take an earthen vessel of clay and use it to pour out grace upon grace."

A native Valdostan and 1960 graduate of Valdosta High School, Father Fred Nijem's preparation for ordination to the priesthood included attending Saint Bernard's Seminary in Cullman, Alabama; Saint Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Valdosta State College, and Loyola Graduate School of Education in Baltimore. He received both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.