Deacon Joseph A. and Ann Hannawacker of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, present the gifts to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., at the Oct. 20 Anniversary Blessings Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. The couple have been married 60 years. Vic Mistretta photo
Deacon Joseph A. and Ann Hannawacker of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, present the gifts to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., at the Oct. 20 Anniversary Blessings Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. The couple have been married 60 years. Vic Mistretta photo

Charles Nixon smiled as he considered what he would tell couples who are preparing for marriage.

“I wouldn’t want to give anyone any advice,” the 99-year-old said. “Just love one another.”

Nixon and his wife, Mary, who have been married 73 years, were among the 310 married couples to gather with loved ones in October for Anniversary Blessings Masses celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Video: Bishop's Anniversary Blessings Masses

Photo Gallery: Anniversary Blessing, Oct. 6 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral

Photo Gallery: Anniversary Blessing, Oct. 20 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral

Bishop's Anniversary Blessings Digital Edition

The Nixons, parishioners of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, have attended the annual Mass many times. “It’s very special to us,” Mary Nixon said.

Blessings Abound

In his homilies delivered Oct. 6 in Freehold and Oct. 20 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Bishop O’Connell spoke sincerely to couples celebrating one, 25, 50 or more years of marriage from across the Diocese’s four counties.

“Every once in a while we might find ourselves getting a bit nostalgic. Today is one of those days,” the Bishop said. “Think back on your wedding day – what comes to mind? … Details from a single day lose their importance, and their memories do start to fade – but what matters is that you’re still here, that you’re still together, that you’re still very much in love. What a blessing you have together. What a blessing you are together.”

Those words weren’t lost on Vito and Maryann Truglio of St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell. Celebrating their 55th anniversary, the couple was accompanied by two of their four daughters, Beth and Mary, their husbands and two grandchildren. All traveled from Florida to witness the couple’s commitment of love at the Mass in Trenton.

Maryann Truglio said the Mass served as a witness to younger generations. “It encourages our children and grandchildren to see how many people are married this long.” She explained that the couple had been active in Pre-Cana and Marriage Encounter, which “taught us that you need to work at your marriage, that a successful marriage doesn’t just happen.”

“You have to take time to create memories,” she said, adding that the Mass did just that. “The kids were in awe.”

Bonded in Faith

With family and friends serving as emotional, sometimes teary-eyed witnesses, couples at both Masses stood to renew their wedding vows and share a kiss. Bishop O’Connell offered his blessing to each of the groups of couples in turn – first, 25 and 50 or more years of marriage. The latter received a joyful round of applause as they stood, representing nearly half of both congregations.

To the couples celebrating their first year of marriage, the Bishop asked God to help them to “be an example of faith to their family and friends.” For those celebrating 25 years, “Lord, strengthen their bond of peace, so that surrounded by children and friends, they may always rejoice in the gifts of the Sacrament of Matrimony.” And to those marking half a century or more, “They have prayed to you in good times and in times of sorrow … Lord, bless them in this time of Thanksgiving; may their children and grandchildren and families be a constant source of blessing to them.”

Fiftieth anniversary couples Gerard and Maryann Cole, and Anthony and Joanne Godino, both from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, were humbled by those blessings of support, pleased by the turnout at the Co-Cathedral.

“It’s amazing how many people were here today,” Maryann Cole said. “We’re not alone! And 50 years – where did it go? It was like it was yesterday.”

Joanne Godino agreed, saying, “I can’t believe how many 50th [anniversaries] and over were here – the church was packed! That shows you that nowadays, people go through trials and tribulations, but they stick it out. You just stay with it, and it’s great to see.”

The Mass was a time of inspiration for two deacons and their wives from Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, who were marking marriages that together, totaled 120 years. Deacon Joseph A. Hannawacker and his wife, Ann, and Deacon Thomas Rivella and his wife, Angela, were each commemorating 60-year unions at the Cathedral Mass.

Deacon Hannawacker, who teaches marriage preparation to diocesan deacon candidates, was also moved by the number of couples, especially those married one year. “I think that bodes well for the Church. In marriage preparation classes, I encourage [the candidates] to impress upon young couples that the Church is a part of marriage and a great support.”

Jorge Fuentes and his wife, Sandra, of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, can relate. The couple, who served as readers for the Oct. 20 Mass, were celebrating the first anniversary of their wedding. The couple were married in a civil ceremony in 2001 but felt incomplete. That changed when they had their marriage convalidated last year.

“We feel fully blessed. It has made us change, feel more close to God,” Jorge Fuentes said, explaining that over the years, the couple have increased their attendance in Church. Jorge Fuentes has become a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the couple strive to set an example for their three sons.

The convalidation, he said, was the last step in the process of coming fully into the life of the Church. He said the couple feel as if they are at the beginning of the rest of their lives.

Faith Foundations

Among his words of encouragement, Bishop O’Connell reflected on faith – “faith in God, faith in your spouse, faith in the Church and what it offers in your holy sacrament.” 

“There are few opportunities for faith as demonstrable as when a husband and wife commit themselves to one another for the whole of life,” he preached. “Did you know at the moment of your consent what the future would hold for you?  And, yet, you said yes regardless of what might come your way. That is faith.”

Joanne Godino counts daily Mass as a great help to her faith. She said parish life has been a wonderful strengthener for the couple. “Everybody is so supportive. I know when I go to church, I just feel a peace, and you take it home with you, and hopefully spread it to other people. It’s a good feeling.”

John Pantano and his wife, Rina, Co-Cathedral parishioners who have been married 25 years, noted how faith has assisted their family unit. “We have three beautiful children, and faith has really helped us in raising them and being there for each other,” Rina Pantano explained.  Her husband added, “[faith] represents the solid ground beneath our feet, for our kids and family to stand on.”