Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., center, celebrated Mass Feb. 3 for the St. Jerome School community. With him, from left: Father Peter J. Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Parish, Howell; Filippini Sister Marianne McCann, provincial councilor; Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, school principal; Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general, and Father Javier Diaz, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch. Joe Moore photos
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., center, celebrated Mass Feb. 3 for the St. Jerome School community. With him, from left: Father Peter J. Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Parish, Howell; Filippini Sister Marianne McCann, provincial councilor; Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, school principal; Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general, and Father Javier Diaz, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch. Joe Moore photos

For students and staff of St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, Catholic Schools Week included a new cause for celebration this year.

A special indulgence was granted by Pope Francis to all churches and schools associated with the Religious Teachers Filippini – of which St. Jerome’s is one – to “open the doors” for celebration of a special Holy Year in honor of the 350th anniversary of the birth of St. Lucy Filippini, foundress of the religious order.

“It’s unusual that Pope Francis decreed this,” said Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, school principal. “It’s a time for our community to come together and be renewed in the life of St. Lucy and what we’re meant to do.”

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., visited the school Feb. 3 with Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general, to celebrate a 9 a.m. Mass and bless a Holy Door in honor of St. Lucy. They were joined by Father Carlo Calisin, parochial vicar in St. Paul Parish, Princeton; Daniel T. O’Connell, associate director for curriculum and instruction, diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, Sister Marianne McCann, provincial councilor, who represented the Filippini Sisters’ community, and other priests of the Diocese.

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“Many saints’ stories are told in our churches and schools. Another one we think of today is that of St. Lucy Filippini,” Bishop O’Connell told the students in his homily. “She founded Catholic schools to teach young girls, especially the poor … I blessed a special door today to serve as a reminder of her wonderful life and the good example of many of her sisters who have taught here.”

Sister Elizabeth said that the general superior of the Filippini Sisters community in Rome, Sister Ascenza Tizzano, wrote to Pope Francis and asked him if it was possible to have the saint’s feast day put aside for special honor. He responded by decreeing the entire year a Holy Year beginning Jan. 13.

This Holy Door designation and blessing in St. Jerome School was the first of its kind to take place in the United States for the Filippini Sisters; until now, Holy Doors have been opened only in Italy in St. Lucy’s birthplace and place of death. 

During a school-wide virtual Zoom meeting, Sister Elizabeth told the students, “Opening the Holy Doors symbolizes that Jesus serves at the only door to his father’s forgiveness and salvation toward us … During the Holy Year, Pope Francis is granting a plenary indulgence to all who pray and fulfill the requirements of the plenary indulgence.”

“Our community has planned a whole year of celebrations,” Sister Elizabeth noted. “What’s really important is that we consider the Diocese of Trenton our cradle … when the Religious Teachers Filippini first came to the United States more than 100 years ago, they came to St. Joachim in Trenton– so it’s very special that the Bishop is here to celebrate with us.”


“I love stories.… I love to tell them, especially when they are true!” Bishop O’Connell exclaimed. “The ‘greatest story ever told’ is the story of Our Lord Jesus Christ… that is the reason for our true Catholic faith … and the reason for Catholic schools… As we celebrate Holy Mass today, remember that it is his story that Mass is all about!”

As the Feast of St. Blaise fell that same day, Bishop O’Connell and Msgr. Gervasio blessed the throats of those in attendance. The Bishop recalled the story about the saint performing a miracle and saving the life of a boy who was choking on a fish bone. 

“St. Blaise prayed, and God saved the boy. And ever since, the Church has blessed throats in memory of that miracle, to ask God’s protection.”
The Bishop blessed the school hall in rededication for Sister Angelina Pelliccia, principal emeritus; the hall was dedicated to her in 2019 when she retired after 45 years at the school, but a formal celebration had not yet taken place because of the pandemic. 

His tour continued in the newly renovated STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) science lab, which he blessed along with two plaques in honor of two benefactors – Diogo Ferreira and Dr. Philip and Charlotte LoBuono – who volunteered on Christmas Eve to help build and pay for the lab.

“This is truly a blessed event,” said Joan Tagliaferro, science teacher for grades 5-8. “Today marks the culmination of so many people; our principal, faculty, staff, parents, students and parish community coming together to support Catholic education.”
Many celebratory events are planned for the year ahead, Sister Elizabeth pointed out, beginning with March 25 – the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, and the anniversary of St. Lucy’s death. 

“Every year we do a living Rosary, with a rope around the church, and the kids are the beads,” she explained. Another Living Rosary is planned to coincide with a May Crowning. “Then on May 12, her feast day, we will have a big family picnic and field day in her honor. We will invite the parents in and have our annual Jump-a-Thon – the kids raised $20,000 last year!” 

The teaching ministry of St. Lucy and her sisters lives on in St. Jerome School’s religious sisters “with a lot of joy,” said Sister Elizabeth. “They carry out the mission to teach the Word of God, and the kids are imbued with that. I want the kids to know God. I tell them, ‘when you pray, pray for us because Jesus said in the Gospels to bring the children to me – so he hears you first!’”