There were many expressions of heartfelt congratulations and well deserved words of recognition said about the one priest and eight lay women and men who were presented with papal honors during an evening prayer service Sept. 8 in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville.

Yet, Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith seemed to convey it best when he spoke of the nine individuals as being baptized Catholic Christians and how each of them had taken “their Baptism seriously and saw their Baptism as a missionary call to bring the love of Jesus Christ and the love of his Church into the world day after day.”

“The people we honor tonight have done that in an extraordinary way,” said Bishop Smith.

Alongside Bishop Smith who was homilist, was Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who presided at the prayer service and led in the conferral of the papal honors.

“What a great occasion and joy for all of us this evening as we gather to celebrate papal honors,” Bishop O’Connell said to the honorees and the throng of  loved ones and well wishers who filled the church.

“They are honors being bestowed on members of our diocese in recognition of and in gratitude for their many years of great and generous service,” said Bishop O’Connell. “God has given them so many graces and they are so grateful to have used those graces for his Church and the greater good.”

Leading off the list of distinguished honorees was Msgr. R. Vincent Gartland, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, who was named a Chaplain to His Holiness and given the new title of “Reverend Monsignor.”

In a Sept. 11 bulletin message to his parishioners, Msgr. Gartland, who has been pastor of St. Ann since 1995, remarked on how “honored” he was to receive a papal award.

“My primary work in the diocese has been as pastor of this wonderful Church  of St. Ann for the past 16 years,” he said, and “a pastor is only as good as his parish, so this honor is one for the whole parish.”

“I am grateful to all of you for making me look good,” said Msgr. Gartland, who was born in Camden, and was ordained a priest by Bishop John C. Reiss May 23, 1981 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

“The parish is very excited to see Msgr. Vince receive this special recognition,” said Gary Maccaroni, pastoral associate at St. Ann Parish. For Maccaroni, the occasion brought to mind highlights of his 19-year friendship with Msgr. Gartland. Maccaroni recalled meeting Msgr. Gartland in 1992 when Maccaroni was a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary and Msgr. Gartland was chaplain of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Rider University, Lawrenceville. As part of his studies, Maccaroni needed work experience and it was Msgr. Gartland who offered him a part-time job assisting him with the campus ministry.

In 1996, Maccaroni was delighted when Msgr. Gartland, who had become pastor of St. Ann Parish, had asked him to join the parish staff as a pastoral associate.

“He has been a model for me,” Maccaroni said of Msgr. Gartland. “He was wonderful in helping to plug me into to ministry. I enjoyed watching him bring all his energy and creativity into his ministry.”

-- The conferral of membership into the Knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great was granted to W. James White of Divine Mercy Parish, Trenton.

White, who was born in Union City, was honored for his nearly 40 years of participation with the Knights of Columbus on local, state and national levels as well as for his many dedicated years of service to the pro-life movement.

Humbled by the honor, White said that it was “a recognition of what has been done in the pro-life movement and with the Knights of Columbus.

“Really, the people I worked with over the years made the sacrifices and I recognized all of them for the part they played. You may be (the one) out front, but you can’t accomplish anything without help.”

White and his wife, Jill, have been married 50 years and they are the parents of six children and have 16 grandchildren.

Bishop O’Connell then presented seven individuals with the Benemerenti Medal, which was instituted by Pope Gregory XVI and is conferred on those who have exhibited long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church, their families and community.

The Benemerenti Medal recipients were:

Francis E. Dolan, a resident of Philadelphia and member of St. Bridget Parish, Philadelphia, was recognized for his 22 years as executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton. During his tenure, he significantly expanded the services of the organization, which currently provide support and resources to more than 100,000 individuals throughout the four-county diocese each year.

Of the Benemerenti Medal, Dolan said he was deeply humbled to receive this “great and unexpected honor.”

Even though Dolan said he thought he “got more honor and recognition than I deserved when I retired,” the Benemerenti Medal is “is like a bonus.”

“This is not a reflection of my work at Catholic Charities,” Dolan emphasized, “but on the great work being done at Catholic Charities.”

“It’s important work that Catholic Charities does day in and day out and I am certainly gratified that I personally was able to play some part in Catholic Charities.”

Dolan and his wife, Lena, are the parents of three children and have three grandchildren.

Laurence M. Downes was honored for his almost 15 years of faithful service to the diocese as chairman of the Finance Council. During this time he has offered valuable assistance in the guidance of financial matters of the diocese particularly during current economic difficulties. Other positions he has held within the diocese include the chair of the board of trustees at Georgian Court University, Lakewood.

Downes, who was born in Hackensack, is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of New Jersey Resources and its principal subsidiary, New Jersey Natural Gas. He currently resides in Princeton Junction with his wife, Carol, and their two children. He is a member of St. David the King Parish, West Windsor, where he has served as a trustee since 1994.

Downes said he sees his service to the diocese as a “way of giving back” and sharing some of the experience that he had gained in his business career “to help my parish and the diocese.”

Harry R. Hill, Jr., a resident of Lawrenceville and member of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, is a law partner with Backes & Hill, Lawrenceville, which, along with its predecessor, Backes & Backes, have provided legal services for the diocese and its parishes, schools and other entities for more than 100 years.

Like fellow Benemerenti Medal recipient Downes, Hill, who was born in Trenton, also serves on the Diocesan Finance Council. He has also been active in other diocesan-related entities, including chairman of the board of trustees and finance committee of St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, and the stewardship committee for Catholic Health East, the parent corporation of St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton.

“This is a real honor and I appreciate it very much,” said Hill. “It causes me to think back that I have worked with four bishops and started before e-mails or faxes” over the past five decades.

Hill smiled as he recalled the honor and privilege it was for him to serve four bishops of the Diocese of Trenton, including as a courier for Bishop George W. Ahr with important pieces of mail and having the “real honor” of working with Bishop Emeritus John C. Reiss.

Hill and his wife, Sara, were married in 1966 by the then-Msgr. Reiss, who was pastor of St. Francis of Assisium Parish, Trenton. The Hills are the parents of three children and they have three grandchildren.

“I’ve been blessed with good heath and feel fit and that has allowed me to work for a long time,” said Hill. “This is truly an honor.”

Carolyn Leaver, a member of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, was recognized for her 38 years of service in the Diocesan Pastoral Center, Lawrenceville.

Leaver, who was born in Trenton, smiled as she recalled when she first came to the diocese in 1972. Initially, she worked in the Office of Vocations with (the now deceased) Msgr. James P. McManimon, director.  Then when Msgr. McManimon was asked to head up the newly created Office of Diaconate in 1974, Leaver “followed him” and continued to work as his secretary. Leaver’s work in the Office Diaconate concluded this past July 1 when she became administrative assistant in the new Office of Clergy which was created by Bishop O’Connell.

Of her years with the diocese, Leaver said that she has “received much more than I have given.”

“The priests and deacons that I have worked with and for have been an added blessing in my life,” said the Hamilton resident. “To hear the deacons and their families share their stories has been truly moving. I am overwhelmed to have received this award.”

Leaver and her husband, Norman II, have two children and five grandchildren.

Judith M. Persichilli, a member of St. James Parish, Pennington, currently serves as president and chief executive officer for Catholic Health East. She joined CHE in 2003 as the executive vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Division. She was promoted to executive vice president of acute care for the system in 2008 and then to executive vice president and chief operating officer in December, 2009, before assuming the role of CEO. Prior to joining CHE’s System Office, she served for eight years as CEO of St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton. On a diocesan level, Persichilli and her husband have been longtime supporters of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, and involved in many fundraising efforts.

“I’ve been in Catholic health care ever since I graduated from St. Vincent’s Nursing School and I think Catholic health care brings something very special to the community,” said Persichilli, who was born in New Brunswick. “There’s a deep faith that goes into working in Catholic health care and being able to provide for people’s spiritual needs as well as their physical and mental well being.”

“The holistic approach that we deliver in care is so important to me and it’s rooted in our Catholic identity,” Persichilli said, “and it’s our Catholic identity that reflects our faith in caring for the poor and our recognition of the common good and living out our Gospel values.”

Persichilli and her husband, Anthony, live in Pennington.

Rose Anna and Angelo Romanello, residents of Ewing and members of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, were honored for their more than 37 years in supervising the Holy Innocents Society, a diocesan program to provide catechetical instruction for special needs children and young adults. Angelo Romanello has been president of the Federation of Holy Innocents Societies and director of the Holy Cross Center of Learning for 31 years. As diocesan president, he also oversees the centers located throughout other parts of the four-county diocese.

Rose Anna Romanello has served the Holy Innocents Society alongside her husband of more than 55 years, and she is currently the coordinator of the Holy Cross Learning Center, which is based in Divine Mercy Parish-Holy Cross Church, Trenton.

What Angelo Romanello said he found most heartening about he and his wife receiving the Benemerenti Awards was in knowing that it was given in recognition of the Holy Innocents Society and its ministry in providing for the spiritual welfare of special needs children.

“Even the pope recognized the Holy Innocents Society,” Romanello said with a smile, and noted that he and Rose Anna have two daughters, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

“Rose Anna and I consider our ministry a gift from God.”

Lois Rogers, features editor of The Monitor, contributed to this story.

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