Special Greeting -- Bishop O’Connell enjoys conversation with religious sisters.  Jeff Metzner photos

Special Greeting -- Bishop O’Connell enjoys conversation with religious sisters.  Jeff Metzner photos

By Rose O’Connor|Correspondent

All Souls Day marked an opportunity for both restoration and recollection for more than 100 religious sisters and brothers of the diocese.

Gathered in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, for a “Day of Remembrance and Gratitude,” those present were invited by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., to recognize the contributions and witness of their fellow deceased sisters and brothers who served in the Diocese of Trenton in the ministries of education, social services and health care. The retreat was organized by the diocesan Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life and the Office of Worship.

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In his personal remarks, Bishop O’Connell thanked the sisters and brothers for their service and dedication to the countless number of men, women and children in the Diocese of Trenton and beyond.  He noted that there have been 2,600 religious men and women from 28 different religious orders that have served in the diocese since its inception.

 “We would not be even a shadow of what we are today without all of you.  So with all my heart, deeply and most profoundly, thank you.  Thank you for your service, thank you for all that you do – for your witness and for your service.”

The day’s speaker, Father Michael Whalen, associate professor of theology in St. John’s University, Queens, N.Y., shared his experiences and admiration of the women religious who had influenced him during his adolescent years.

“I often joke that I was raised by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia,” Father Whalen quipped. “There were many days I saw them a lot more than my own mother.”

Father Whalen cited historical data and statistics from a study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate which detailed the challenges facing religious orders in the acquisition of vocations. He outlined what he believed were the characteristics of religious life that attracted prospective vocations including, “a strong Catholic identity, a stable community life and a structured ecclesial and personal prayer life.” 

Prospective vocations often face challenges when discerning their call such as “not growing up in a Catholic culture, amassed educational debt, lack of encouragement from parents and an increasing immigrant population, often discouraged by their citizenship status and educational background.”

Father Whalen joined Bishop O’Connell, Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life; Msgr. Sam Sirianni, director of the diocesan Office of Worship,  and Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, to concelebrate Mass on the Feast of All Souls. 

In his homily, Father Whalen focused on the idea of darkness and evoked a poem entitled “The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver. “It is a deep paradox,” he acknowledged, “that sin and death is the doorway into the mystery of God’s mercy.”

 He concluded by stating, “Today we look into the heart of God’s mercy and we entrust our dead and we entrust ourselves.”

Following Mass, the religious shared a meal with the bishop and one another.  They also had time to look at the Book of Remembrance designed by the Office of Worship listing the names of the deceased women
and men religious of the diocese.  Many
sisters gathered for a photo around the
book, smiling and pointing to names of late members of their community.

Many of those in attendance expressed appreciation for the day’s opportunity.

“I think it’s an opportunity to refocus, because many times we are so stretched by our ministries; we all have different responsibilities,” said Bernadine Franciscan Sister Rosemary Stet, Reading, Pa. “It is also evident to me that Bishop O’Connell cares deeply for the religious, as a member of a religious congregation, and he understands how important it is to recharge.”

Brother Robert Ziobro, a brother of the Sacred Heart, who ministers in St. David the King Parish, West Windsor, said, “I am very touched by what the sisters have done for Catholic education. I owe my own vocation to the Felician sisters who I had throughout grammar school,” he offered. “I always find the bishop so inviting and so warm.”

 “There was a delightful sense of hospitality from the students here, at the academy,” said Sister of St. Joseph Helen Clifton, director of spirituality in St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, referring to the Upper School students from Trenton Catholic Academy who served the meal and assisted the religious throughout the day.

“It was a day where consecrated life was appreciated,” said Filippini Sister Ascenza Tizzano, the provincial superior of the Religious Teachers Filippini. “For me, it was a sense of encouragement to know that the work that the sisters have done for the Church has been recognized and applauded.”

In addition to remembering the deceased in prayer and gathering with members of different congregations serving in the diocese, it was also a day to anticipate the future of religious life.

“It is so nice to be here with all of the different orders,” said Sister of St. Joseph Johanna Danko, from St. Rose Grammar School, Belmar. “We truly are all one.”

Special Greeting -- Bishop O’Connell enjoys conversation with religious sisters.  Jeff Metzner photos