by Suzanne Tavani
Birth – 1951 in Aramoun-Keserwan,Lebanon, the son of Farid and Sadie Azar.
Studies: Seminary of St. Maron, Ghazir, Lebanon
College: University of the Holy Spirit, Kaslik, Lebanon
Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary, Washington, D.C.
Ordination:June 28, 1980 by Bishop Francis M. Zayek at St. Elias Maronite Church, Birmingham, Alabama
1980: Administrator, St. George Maronite Church, Dover, NH and Assistant, St. Anthony Maronite Church, Lawrence, MA
1981: Administrator, St. Sharbel Maronite Mission, New Brunswick, NJ and Vice Chancellor, Chancery Office, Brooklyn, NY
1986 – 1991: Pastor, St. Sharbel Maronite Church, New Brunswick, NJ
1991 – 1997: Pastor, St. Ann Maronite Church, Scranton, PA
1997 – 2004: Pastor, St. Anthony/St. George Maronite Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA
2004 – 2016:Pastor, St. Anthony Maronite Church, Lawrence, MA
2016 – Present: Rector, Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary, Washington, D.C.
Elevation to Monsignor and Periodeut: October 13, 2003
A Life of Blessed Coincidences
Einstein once said that a coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous. Regardless of whether they were coincidences or otherwise blessed occurrences, good timing and unexpected phone calls poignantly mark the life of Msgr. Peter Azar.
The first of these blessed occurrences happened in the mid 1970’s while working as a Relief Worker with the International Red Cross. He learned that the Bishop Francis Zayek, who happened to from a neighboring town, would be in Lebanon. Azar, who had attended the Seminary of St. Maron as a teen and studied theology at the University of the Holy Spirit, requested a meeting and met with the Bishop to discuss his vocation. They also discussed the possibility of Azar studying at Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary in Washington. At that time, Azar was also awaiting to hear about an opportunity to work in Switzerland with the International Red Cross. Fortunately, the phone call to attend Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary arrived first, and so began the fulfillment of his vocation and a new life in America.
Following his 1980 ordination by Bishop Zayek, Azar was given administrative and pastoral assignments each with their own unique set of challenges. In 1981, he was assigned to establish a Maronite Mission in New Brunswick, NJ which today stands as St. Sharbel’s. The parish’s life began humbly and included the renting part of the building to a Day Care Center which allowed him to develop a much-needed cash flow. At one time, he looked upon this as a great challenge. However, he now fondly looks upon this period of time for its many blessings and lessons. One day while praying, he asked God to send a sign regarding much needed additional funds to close on the purchase of a church from a Protestant denomination. That very night he received a phone call from a man who mentioned that he had been Treasurer of a now-defunct organization of Lebanese Americans. The man offered the remaining funds – almost exactly what was needed for the Closing!
He recalls that his pastoral assignment at St. Sharbel’s also exposed him the breadth of experiences as a Maronite priest in America. “It was not only a church, but also a consulate, and a social center. Not only did I celebrate Divine Liturgy and administer the sacraments, but I also helped people get their driver’s licenses, I acted as a plumber for the Day Care, and I even served as a translator when accompanying parishioners on doctor visits.”
While taking a moment to reflect upon his pastoral life to date, Azar remembers with great joy two traditions he established at each of his parishes. On Palm Sunday he always carried the youngest member of the Parish during the procession with the Palms. On Christmas Day, he guided the Children’s Choir to sing Happy Birthday, Jesus.
In 2016, he accepted a new assignment as Rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary which serves both he Eparchy of St. Maron and the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon. Azar is quick to point out that the Seminary is indebted to the tremendous generosity of the Order of St. Sharbel and other benefactors without whom it could not exist. As Rector, he has embraced the opportunity to share his life and pastoral experiences with seminarians. “When I arrived at the seminary”, said Azar, “Forty-one years flashed into my mind and I reminiscenced about my years as a student. The good memories kept coming alive.” His initial challenge was a small enrollment of two seminarians. However, he came to realize that enrollment would be just one of his many challenges. Always a man of action, Azar went back to school to better deal these challenges. He enrolled in a program specifically focused on seminary formation which he credits with helping him tremendously. In his second year, Azar welcomed five seminarians from both Eparchies.
He adds, “Yes, being a Rector of a seminary is completely different from being a pastor, however, I try to apply my thirty-six years of parish experience with our seminarians. Most important, however, I hope they learn to be compassionate, pastoral, and holy priests enabling the parish to shine. My joy will be to see these young seminarians grow in spirituality and love for Christ, so one day when they stand at the alter they will lift up their hearts and minds in prayer for all those who have supported them and cared for them throughout their journey to the priesthood.”
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