Before the arrival of 2020, one could have looked at the arc of Judith Persichilli’s life and easily found it extraordinary.

Personally, she and her husband were blessed with 49 years of marriage before his death in 2019. She has been an active Catholic and strong supporter of faith-based institutions and charities. 

Professionally, the ICU nurse-turned hospital administrator was tapped in 2019 for the position of New Jersey State Health Commissioner, a capstone of a long career dedicated to healing and helping others.

But nothing in Persichilli’s remarkable life could have foretold of the day when she would be responsible for leading the critical effort to save the lives of all New Jerseyans from the deadly pandemic that had come to U.S. shores. 

Persichilli is now widely known as “the woman who needs no introduction,” a standing description used by Governor Phil Murphy during his regular press briefings on the coronavirus. It is Persichilli’s role to update the vast briefing audience of the numbers of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Off-camera, the Commissioner has been engaged in a grueling, life-and-death battle to ensure that those sickened by the virus have the care they need, that health care workers are safe in delivering that care and that the general public takes necessary precautions to stop the spread of the virus. The Department of Health, which she oversees, is the lead agency combatting COVID-19. Persichilli is the chairman of the Coronavirus Task Force, which was promulgated by the Governor and includes all commissioners in state government.

In the Diocese, Persichilli is a long-time member of St. James Parish in Pennington; board member of Georgian Court University in Lakewood, and donor and supporter of Catholic Charities. She also is a founding member of the Catholic Foundation of Philadelphia. Before being named to the state position, Persichilli was the CEO of St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton and Catholic Health East, and later president of CHE Trinity Health, a Catholic health ministry consolidation.

The Commissioner shared with The Monitor Magazine the progress and ongoing needs in her work against COVID-19:

TMM: What priorities have you and your team had to address, and what has it been like to lead this battle?

CP: It has been 24/7.  We’ve had to bring up additional beds; set up field medical stations; reopen closed hospitals; obtain hard-to-find personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, and work with all of health care facilities throughout the state to care for residents.

TMM: What in your Catholic faith has helped you to manage the challenges you have been facing?

CP: I have always subscribed to this statement of the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin (Archdiocese of Chicago): “Our job as leaders is to bring hope in the midst of chaos.” I remind myself of that every day.

I also spend time in the early mornings in reflection. It’s my quiet time.

TMM: What successes would you point to that have sustained your sense of hope and perseverance, and that of your team’s?

CP: I know that due to the work that we did and the organization, there is no one in New Jersey who did not get the care they required, and we never had to make a decision about allocation of scarce resources.

TMM: What has been the most difficult aspect or darkest moment that you have experienced since this began?

CP: The tragedy of the mortalities in long-term care is the one that stays with me. The only way I can work through it is to commit to make it better for the future. This crisis shows the vulnerabilities of our systems and long-term care, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

TMM: What do you want Catholics to know about the impact that their sacrifices have had in the effort to control this virus?

CP: Their sacrifices have saved lives. Social distancing, washing your hands several times a day, staying at home — all have been shown to curtail the spread of this deadly disease.

TMM: What is the single most important message that you want to deliver to the public at this time?

CP: Our lives as we know them have changed. COVID-19 will be with us until an effective vaccine is developed. Continue to stay safe; stay healthy and stay connected.