Father Anthony Carotenuto celebrates Mass July 8 in the outdoor chapel of Francis House of Prayer, Westampton. Since he was young, social outreach has always been part of Father Carotenuto’s life.  John Blaine photos
Father Anthony Carotenuto celebrates Mass July 8 in the outdoor chapel of Francis House of Prayer, Westampton. Since he was young, social outreach has always been part of Father Carotenuto’s life.  John Blaine photos

Story by Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Fifty years ago, Father Anthony Carotenuto was ordained to the priesthood wearing vestments handmade by his father, Michael.

Photo Gallery: Father Carotenuto's 50 Years of Priesthood

On Aug. 26, Father Carotenuto will again don the same garments created by his late father, a Freehold tailor – this time being vested during a Mass at Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, to celebrate his 50 years as a priest.  

Father Carotenuto’s May 25, 1968, ordination in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, was one of the few times his father would see the vestments on his son. Three months later to the day, Father Carotenuto’s dad died during Sunday Mass in St. Rose of Lima Church, Freehold.

“My dad did think about becoming a priest, himself,” Father Carotenuto said, explaining that after a narrow escape in World War I, his father settled down in Freehold, opened a tailor shop and raised a family with his wife, Anna.

It was as an altar boy in St. Rose of Lima Church where the young Anthony first experienced what would become a call to the priesthood. The parish and St. Rose of Lima School were formative as was the deep faith and generosity he witnessed in his parents, Father Carotenuto said.

He enjoys telling the story of how every Sunday, his parents would share the family’s spaghetti dinner with inmates of the Old Monmouth County Jail, which was across the street from the Carotenuto home. The children took turns delivering the meal, a lesson that lasted a lifetime.

Father Carotenuto prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College Seminary, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master of divinity degree in Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington. He was ordained May 25, 1968, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral by Bishop George W. Ahr.

Interest in social outreach and ecumenism grew during his years in the seminary, especially during his time in St. Martin, a racially divided parish in Baltimore, after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The world went crazy,” he said. Seeing the neighborhood in flames made him realize how necessary it is to build bridges among people. And working to build bridges was definitely one of his main focuses when he became an ordained priest, he said.

As a parochial vicar in his second parish, St. James, Pennington, he became active in Pennington Families for Peace. He was also a founding member of COPE (Christians of Pennington Ecumenical), an organization that promoted inter church dialogue and cooperation.

Later, as parochial vicar of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, he coordinated Bread for the World action alerts and was instrumental in persuading the ShopRite Corporation to support the efforts of the United Farm Workers in organizing farm labor.

First named pastor of what was then Assumption Parish in New Egypt in 1990, he went on to become pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, in 1999, where the population was transitioning from ethnic Italian to Hispanic. There, mindful of his own family’s experience as Italian immigrants, he expanded outreach to the new and growing Spanish-speaking community.

Among the outreach programs he helped to institute were a food pantry, English as a Second Language and assistance with documentation.

Father Carotenuto reached beyond the parish lines, becoming involved with a range of community programs including Love, Inc., a Christian Clearing House for those in need, and was a founding member of New Creations for Christ, a coalition of churches that advocate for affordable housing in Monmouth County.

The outreach offered by the parish to the community under his stewardship included a brush with stardom when he opened
the doors of St. Anthony Parish to serve as the startup location for Jon and Dorothea Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Kitchen in 2009.

The Soul Kitchen, which accepts as payment whatever customers can pay or service (such as dish washing), attracted national news coverage and helped set the stage for the kitchen’s move to Red Bank.

When Father Carotenuto retired, he expressed the hope that he would be able to continue his involvement in the aspects of his priesthood that he loved so much.

And he has done just that, regularly celebrating Mass for the Good Shepherd Sisters in Wickatunk; for the retired Christian Brothers who reside on the Lincroft Campus; at the Upper Room Spiritual Center, Neptune, and Francis House of Prayer, Rancocas, among a number of other parishes when called upon.

He volunteers time in the kitchens of Catholic Worker houses in New York and also assists on retreats.

Walking in the footsteps of his late mother, he brings consolation and comfort to inmates of the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, where he listens, in her memory, to the stories few will ever hear.

“I try to connect with them. I get them to tell their stories, to understand the journeys,” he said.

“Some have been incarcerated for so long. We have to be people of hope.”