Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preaches his homily on Ash Wednesday. The Bishop celebrated Mass Feb. 26 at Monmouth University, West Long Branch. Rich Hundley photo
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preaches his homily on Ash Wednesday. The Bishop celebrated Mass Feb. 26 at Monmouth University, West Long Branch. Rich Hundley photo
The young adults who attended Ash Wednesday Mass with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., were attentive to their shepherd’s words as he spoke of the common ground of how “we all have sinned, we all have failed, and we all are in need of the mercy of God” as a community founded by Jesus.

“We know that from the time we were little children, the season of Lent was a time to give something up as a sign of penance: candy, TV and other things,” he said in his homily. 

“In more recent years, the emphasis [of Lent] has been on ‘doing something’ rather than doing without. … We should give something up to create emptiness for God to fill. We should also do something positive that shows we belong to Christ,” Bishop O’Connell said during his visit to the West Long Branch campus. The Bishop served as principal celebrant of Mass and homilist of the Ash Wednesday liturgy Feb. 26, attended by students and faculty, including university president Patrick F. Leahy.

Photo Gallery: Ash Wednesday Mass - Monmouth University

Following Mass, Bishop O’Connell enjoyed fellowship with the Monmouth University community in the Catholic Center, where students shared their spiritual goals for the Lenten season.

“If I make some emptiness in my time, then I can give that time to Jesus,” student Amanda Prascsak said. “I will disconnect more [from technology] and connect more to Scripture passage.”

Abby Miller, a junior studying for a degree in social work, said she plans to go to Stations of the Cross regularly. “There’s just something about being there, listening to the priest walk through each step … toward Jesus being crucified. I think it really helps me to understand the true meaning of Lent … to look more introspectively, make that room.”

David Fasolino, a sophomore history major, said the Bishop’s homily made him think of Lent in a new way. “I never thought of it [Lent] as a way of creating emptiness for God to fill. I think doing that … will expand my faith.”

Monmouth University Catholic campus minister Cristina D’Averso-Collins was pleased at the students’ positive reaction to Bishop O’Connell’s visit.

“I think it’s absolutely incredible. ... This is someone who is present to them in their needs and daily lives. It makes a huge difference,” she said. “The young adults are starved for feeling cared-for – they need to feel that belonging.”

Sophomore Caroline Hurtt, a business marketing major, said she was grateful for the Bishop’s presence. “This is our most popular Mass of the year, and the fact that so many students come to this and see the Bishop’s face. ... I’m hoping that will translate [into] bringing more people into our ministry.”

There are many opportunities for Catholic students to worship on campus and at nearby St. Michael Parish, West End, said Catholic campus chaplain Father Mark Nillo. These include Sunday night and noon Masses, Confession, Eucharistic Adoration and small group meetings, as well as Wednesday night dinner and speaker events.

Father Nillo’s invitation for the Bishop to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass was quickly and enthusiastically accepted, he said.

“This ministry is important to [Bishop O’Connell],” Father Nillo said. “He sees the importance of meeting the students and showing that he cares.”

Freelance photographer Rich Hundley and correspondent Christina Leslie contributed to this report.