Click HERE to view the Anniversary Blessings Special Issue
Click HERE to view the Anniversary Blessings Special Issue

By Rose O'Connor | Correspondent

It was an afternoon to celebrate milestones, memories and the Sacrament of Marriage as 340 couples gathered Oct. 19 for the Anniversary Blessing Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Freehold.  The couples, who hailed from all four counties in the Diocese, were honored for milestone years in their married life including their first anniversary, their 25th anniversary and 50 years or more. 

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated the liturgy before a congregation of more than 1,000 persons. He welcomed the couples and invited them to receive an anniversary blessing and to renew their wedding vows in the presence of God and their families.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell referenced the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome.

“This past week, we have been hearing a great deal of discussion about the Synod of Bishops in Rome both in Catholic circles as well as in the secular media,” he said.

“Apart from all the controversies generated in the media, the Synod of Bishops, more than anything, celebrated the beauty of married life and family life in our human experience, in our Church.”

Bishop O’Connell invited the couples, most who have been married for 50 years or more, to reaffirm their marriage vows.

“On the day of your wedding, you stood before the altar of God and solemnly vowed your love to each other,” he spoke.

“Today you stand in the presence of the Church, in striking testimony of what God’s grace, conferred in matrimony, can accomplish in a husband and wife who carefully guard the divine treasure that is in them.”

Many couples became overwhelmed with emotion as they faced one another and joined hands.  They were also invited to touch each other’s wedding rings, while Bishop O’Connell prayed that the “rings continue to be a symbol of their true faith in each other and always remind them of their love.”

Couples representing each milestone year of marriage participated in the Presentation of the Gifts. Following the reception of Holy Communion, couples placed flowers by the statue of the Blessed Mother.

Josue Arriola, diocesan director of the Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, reminded the couples that October is the Month of the Rosary and urged those in attendance to “pray for married couples and pray for their mission.”

He also acknowledged the couples who, by their “life and love,” are now examples to other couples.

“All eyes are on you,” he said.

Bishop O’Connell bestowed an anniversary blessing for each milestone year as the couples stood together. Priest concelebrants gave individual blessings after the Mass.

The Bishop thanked the priests present saying, “They wanted to be here to show their love and thanks to all of you.”

He also thanked Msgr. Sam Sirianni, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, who hosted the Mass and following reception for the anniversary couples and their families.

Whether together for a year, a quarter of a century or for more than 50 years, each couple had words of wisdom to share and offered advice to those couples contemplating and preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage.

“Marry your best friend,” Jeff Hipschman, a parishioner in St. Catharine, Holmdel, advised.  This was a sentiment his wife of 25 years, Kathy, concurred with wholeheartedly. 

“Develop a personal relationship with the Lord,” Gabrielle Toman of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, offered.  “Prayer is the basis for our marriage,” she explained of the 50 year marriage to her husband John, whose own personal spiritualty is what attracted Gabrielle years ago.

Vincent and Elizabeth Magsino of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish also have placed their Catholic faith at the core of their marriage for the past 25 years.

“Our marriage is God-centered,” Elizabeth said, adding that the family pray the Rosary together daily.

Putting God first and loving selflessly was a continuous premise for many of the couples who continue to be a witness of Christ’s love for the Church.

“I am still blown away by the graces we have received as a result of our marriage,” Serena Sigillito, from St. Paul Parish, Princeton, said. 

When she was preparing to be married on September 14, 2013 on the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, Sigillito mediated on the idea of selfless love and saw that need for self-sacrifice in her own upcoming marriage.

“I’m just in awe in how much God has given us,” she disclosed.

Her husband of a year, Anthony, is also thankful for the blessings bestowed on the newlyweds and was grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate the day with other couples.

“Our marriage has been great so far and it’s nice to be here and celebrate with everyone,” he acknowledged.

Richard and Kathleen Eyerman of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, reflected on how sharing interests and raising a family contributed to their happy marriage of 51 years.

Laura and Ephrem Pena, who are celebrating their first year of marriage, say being blessed by God has made them happier and strengthened their relationship.

Antoinette and Floyd Murray of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Toms River, simply said that: “You just have to love the heck out of each other” to make a marriage of 56 years last that long.

As Bishop O’Connell reflected in his homily, “It is the truth of Christ’s love, mirrored in sacramental marriage, that the Church lifts up and that we in the Diocese of Trenton come together today to bless in the real lives of married couples and families.  Their commitments… more, their joys and sufferings, their sacrifices and their celebrations, these are the truth that we honor and that proclaim Christ’s own love for his Church.”