Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., personally congratulates the Paolillos, who marked 75 years of marriage at the Freehold Mass.  Courtesy photo

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., personally congratulates the Paolillos, who marked 75 years of marriage at the Freehold Mass.  Courtesy photo

By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent

Ask Ben and Frances Paolillo what the secret is to their 75-years-and-still-going-strong marriage, and one word keeps coming up: respect.

“The secret is respect,” Ben explained. “Take care of her, and she’ll take care of you.”

“And don’t argue,” Frances added. “Arguments don’t help – they only make you feel like a bad person.”

Keepsake Magazine: Vocation of Love

Frances, 93, and Ben, 96, have had a lot of time to practice what they preach, and by all accounts, they seem to know what they are talking about. The love they share is evident in the way they effusively complement each other when they talk about what keeps them going strong after all these years.

“I love him,” Frances said simply.

“She’s a good wife, a good mother, a good mother-in-law and a good grandmother,” Ben said lovingly. “And a sweetheart.”

“Thank you, love,” Frances responded affectionately.

The Paolillos, parishioners in St. Luke Parish, Toms River, were among those who attended the Anniversary Blessings Mass with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Oct. 7 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. They said they were delighted to meet the Bishop and receive a special blessing for their 75th anniversary.

“We thank God that we reached this point,” Frances said. “So far, God has been very good to us.”

Ben, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and Frances, who was a soprano in the parish choir for years before her eyesight deteriorated, both admit their Catholic faith has been paramount to their relationship and family life.

“That’s number one,” Frances said.

Meant to Be

Frances was born in Italy and came to the United States as a toddler. She met Ben, who is also Italian, at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., when she was 15 and he was 18. She recalled how Ben would pick her up every day after school while making deliveries for the grocery store where he worked.

Ben still fondly remembers the first time he met his bride. “I was watching her, and I thought she was young and beautiful,” he said. “I started going out with her, and that’s how we fell in love.”

The couple became engaged just two years later, and they were married Sept. 26, 1943, in Our Lady of Grace Church in Brooklyn. They settled into married life in their hometown, raising four children, three girls and a boy. Ben worked in the New York City Transit maintenance department for 32 years, and Frances worked as a clerk for Chase Manhattan Bank.

Today, their brood has grown to include six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, ranging in age from 20 down to four-year-old twins. They said they are fortunate to spend a lot of time with their extended family, most of which live within driving distance.

Nothing for Granted

After their time in Brooklyn, the couple lived in Tampa, Fla., for 32 years, managing to pack a lot of traveling into their time in the Sunshine State.

Two years ago, the Paolillos’ daughter convinced them to move to New Jersey, and they have happily settled into a retirement community in Lakewood. They count their blessings for their sound minds and overall good health. They take care of themselves by watching what they eat and drink, walking, keeping busy and living a mostly independent life.

“My mind is still good,” Frances said, acknowledging she has macular degeneration. “My husband does mostly everything, God bless him.”

Their advice to young couples contemplating marriage is the same advice they’ve followed for 75 years.

“Give them a lot of love,” Ben said. “Stay with them as much as possible. With care, you get to love them, and they get to love you.”

“You have to be a good person, that’s all,” Frances said, adding that a person needs to “respect yourself first, and then everybody else.”