The Villa Victoria Academy community honored Sister Raphael Santitoro on her 75th anniversary with a Mass and 
celebration. Here, student Ellie Enright places a corsage on Sister Raphael’s wrist. Villa Victoria Academy’s Instagram photo
The Villa Victoria Academy community honored Sister Raphael Santitoro on her 75th anniversary with a Mass and celebration. Here, student Ellie Enright places a corsage on Sister Raphael’s wrist. Villa Victoria Academy’s Instagram photo
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...with the grace of God, I have always been able to do what I could for his honor and glory.

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Filippini Sister Raphael Santitoro, who resides in the convent on the campus of Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, has led a long life of service and dedication to her Catholic faith, spending 75 years of since her religious investiture dedicating her life to loving God and teaching others about him. Her former students remember her for well-known quote, “God made everyone good, intelligent and beautiful. So love everyone.”

Attended by family, friends, students, administrators and alumni of Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, the school honored Filippini Sister Raphael Santitoro June 10 with a 75th anniversary Mass celebrated by Father Daniel Cahill, retired priest of the Diocese.

Born in 1930 in Trenton, Sister Raphael – affectionately known as “Sister Ray” – is the second oldest of eight children. Her family were members of the city’s St. Joachim Parish (now part of Our Lady of the Angels Parish) and she attended St. Joachim Grammar School. Her brother, Father Francis E. Santitoro, who died in 2013, was a priest of the Diocese of Trenton and founding pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Toms River.

Sister Raphael’s vocation came at the young age of 13 when she entered the Religious Teachers Filippini in Morristown in 1944. She received the habit in 1946 and made her final profession of vows in 1949. She then attended Villa Walsh High School, Morristown, before earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Elizabeth College, Convent Station.

Following graduation, she began a 57-year ministry of education, including 37 years as a first grade teacher. In the Diocese of Trenton, she has taught in St. Joachim Grammar School, Trenton; St. James School, Trenton, and Villa Victoria Academy.

Outside her home Diocese, Sister Raphael has taught in schools in the Dioceses of Camden; Hartford, Conn.; Pittsburgh, and Providence, R.I., as well as the Archdioceses of Newark and Philadelphia.

“I am grateful for the privilege to have prepared hundreds of students for their Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist,” Sister Raphael said, calling it one of her greatest gifts from God.

Of her years in ministry, she has acknowledged that she is “able to say, ‘thank you, God,’ for all my graces in everything I did. Everybody has ups and downs, but with the grace of God, I have always been able to do what I could for his honor and glory.”

Sister Raphael received the Catholic Educators Award from the Diocese of Metuchen in May 2021. For the past 20 years she has served as an aide in VVA, helping where needed. She is known for her kindness, encouragement and great skill in the kitchen.

Currently, Sister Raphael’s is a beloved and friendly face at VVA, where she is acknowledged for her “daily prayers and words of wisdom.” Not only does she work as a lunch and afterschool aid, but she is known for keeping in touch with her students and their families.

“Sister Ray keeps in touch with people and becomes a part of their lives. Sister Ray is family,” echoed Filippini Sister Lesley Draper, VVA principal.

Due to COVID-19, Sister Raphael was unable to continue her duties as a lunch and afterschool aid at VVA this past year. However, she hopes to resume these responsibilities starting in the fall of 2021 and the girls at VVA are thrilled to have her back.

Former valedictorian of Villa Victoria, Mary Zsolway (‘18) remembers Sr. Ray as a “constant light, always giving of herself in both her time and kind words. Sister Ray is like a second grandmother to every student at Villa, truly caring about everyone she comes in contact with.”  

Following the celebratory Mass, Sister Lesley spoke to the congregation of Sister Raphael’s character and service.

“Sister Ray truly notices the person in front of her and her smile comes right from her heart,” Sister Lesley said. “[She] is gracious, thoughtful and nurturing. She is one of the most joyful people we know, and she is always thinking of how to help others. … There are not enough words to express our love and gratitude for Sister Raphael. She is so special to us.”