Father John Michael Patilla, St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, blesses college-age students and their parents July 30. Photo by Rosemary Daniels

Father John Michael Patilla, St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, blesses college-age students and their parents July 30. Photo by Rosemary Daniels

By Rosemary Daniels | Correspondent

“You are a part of the community,” was at the heart of the message directed to college-aged students and their families attending the vigil Mass July 30 at St. Benedict Church, Holmdel.

 “Soon you will be going away to college, where you will see old friends and make new friends,” Father John Michael Patilla, parochial vicar, said in his homily, stressing the importance of God’s gifts and not showing greed for the treasures of this earth.

“Keep looking for the treasures from God, and sharing them with other people,” he said. “Don’t forget to bring the treasures that your parents and your family have given to you. Empty your heart and let God penetrate deep within you, so that any struggle you may encounter at school, with Christ you will conquer it. “

Photo Gallery: College send-off Mass at St. Benedict

Twenty families and their college-aged children were sprinkled throughout the congregation during the Mass, which was geared as a sendoff for those going to college.

Initiated by pastor Father Garry Koch, this was the second year the parish has invited college students and their families to attend this Mass.

“We really want to show college-age students that they are part of our community,” Father Koch said. “We notice when they come; we notice when they leave (for school).”

Sisters Melanie and Cheyenne Bennett attended the Mass for the second year with their mother, Sheryl, and grandfather Jacob Baum.

“We saw lots of old friends from high school at last year’s Mass and wanted to come back,” said Melanie Bennett, who will be a senior at Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit university in Baltimore. 

Younger sister Cheyenne is returning to Providence College, a Catholic university in Rhode Island, for her sophomore year. Both girls participated in junior and high school CYO, and both continue to teach Vacation Bible School.

“This is a good sendoff for everyone,” Sheryl Bennett said.

As a community, the parish members prayed for intentions, asking, “That all those who are leaving the parish for college or military service, may find a welcoming Eucharistic community that let them grow deeper in communion with Christ.”

At the end of Mass, Father Patilla asked all college students and their families to come forward for a special blessing.

Sandy Umbriaco, who attended with her mother, Peg, McCloskey, and her two young children, Robert, 6, and Olivia, 4, said afterward with a smile, “I think the blessing was probably more comforting to the parents than to the kids.”

Although hand surgery sidelined Father Koch from celebrating the Mass, his presence was evident both before and after the service, as he and Father Patilla mingled with families at a reception.

Lori McCahill, director of youth ministry for the parish, decorated the reception hall walls with logos of many schools and arranged a buffet.

 “We want to tap into this age group, to make sure they feel welcome,” McCahill said. “This (the parish) is the foundation of where it all started, and we want to make sure they feel comfortable here.”

Hannah Nappi, a sophomore at Arcadia University, outside Philadelphia, and her friend Amanda Contino, a sophomore at New Jersey Institute of Technology, based in Newark, sat at the reception with their families. This was also their second year attending the sendoff Mass.

“They wanted to come back, and I liked the fact that they included the parents this year,” said Hannah Nappi’s mother, Nancy, explaining that last year, only the students went up for a blessing. “Next year, I’m going to bring our whole family up for the blessing,” she said.

The students also received a gift bag containing a St. Benedict keychain and a small, laminated card with a listing of the Divine Praises.