Poor Clare sisters pose for a photo with Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., who visited their monastery in Chesterfield in this 2018 photo. Courtesy photo
Poor Clare sisters pose for a photo with Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., who visited their monastery in Chesterfield in this 2018 photo. Courtesy photo
Since its founding in 1881, the Diocese of Trenton has been blessed with the presence of faith-filled, courageous and inspired religious men and women whose unique ministries bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lives of the faithful during rapidly changing times.

“Each of these religious orders, congregations and societies are blessed with a sacred charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit given over to their founders to share and enrich the Church and continue its ministry through services of prayer, missionary activity, education, health care or social service,” said Sister of St. Joseph Rose McDermott, who serves as diocesan delegate for religious.

“The witness of the members of these institutes coupled with their devoted service assures the Church that, indeed, our Lord has fulfilled his promise, ‘I will not leave you orphans.’  Truly, the work of the Holy Spirit continues in the Church through the lives of these priests, sisters and brothers in these institutes,” she said.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C. M., is among those religious serving the Church today, having been ordained as a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as Vincentians, in Mary Immaculate Seminary, Northampton, Pa., on May 29, 1982.

The Vincentian spirit and those of numerous orders are alive and well in the Diocese. Here are some of the many communities whose religious currently serve in the Church of Trenton.

Brothers of the Christian Schools

St. John Baptist de La Salle founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools in the late 17th century. Since his death in 1719, Lasallian schools have been founded in more than 80 countries worldwide, educating more than one million students.

With a focus on the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Lasallian charism embodies both a spirit of faith and a spirit of zeal which desires to make the presence of Jesus Christ a reality, both personally and in the worldwide community.

In the Rule of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Institute states its ultimate mission:

“The purpose of this Institute is to give a human and Christian education to the young, especially the poor, according to the ministry which the Church has entrusted to it.”

The Brothers have served the Diocese of Trenton since Bishop George W. Ahr approved the founding of Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, in 1959.

In 1980, Bishop John C. Reiss also dedicated De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, built for the care of retired, elderly and infirm Christian Brothers. The offices for the Brothers of the Christian Schools District of Eastern North America are located in Eatontown. 

Today there are 10 brothers in ministry for the Diocese, eight in CBA, one in religious education in Holy Spirit Parish, Asbury Park, and one with the Missionaries of Charity, Asbury Park, serving in the soup kitchen.

For more information, visit fscdena.org.

Society of the Divine Word

Founded in 1875 in Steyl, Holland, by St. Arnold Janssen, the Society of the Divine Word focuses on missionary work, serving worldwide wherever people are in need, and becoming part of their communities.

The Society, also referred to as Divine Word Missionaries, arrived in the U.S. in 1895, with this year marking their 125th anniversary.  In 1941, Bishop William A. Griffin invited Divine Word Provincial Francis Humel to send priests and brothers to minister to the Poor Clares in Bordentown, and to serve African-American Catholics, particularly in Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton, followed by ministry in a smaller parish, St. Peter Claver, to be founded in Asbury Park.

Bishop Griffin also gave permission for a Divine Word seminary to be built. This became a reality when, in 1941, the Society purchased the former Joseph Bonaparte estate in Bordentown. When a disastrous fire destroyed the estate in 1983, the seminary was closed.

Bordentown has become home to both retired members of the Society and those involved in apostolates, including parish pastoral service, retreat and prison ministries and a continued presence for the Poor Clares. Though the current residence will close at the end of 2020, a number of priests will continue to serve the Diocese. Currently, Divine Word priests serve the parishes of Mother of Mercy, Asbury Park; St. Ann, Browns Mills, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lakewood.

For more information on the order, visit divineword.org.

Sisters of St. Francis  of Philadelphia

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were founded in 1855 by Bishop John N. Neumann, C.Ss.R., Bishop of Philadelphia, after following the advice of Pope Pius IX to establish a congregation of Franciscan sisters in his own diocese.

Bishop Neumann began the order with three women, one of whom, Anna Maria Boll Bachmann, was a German immigrant who became a widow with three children while expecting a fourth when her husband was killed as the result of anti- immigrant bias.

Anna Maria became Sister Mary Francis, leader of the new congregation.

By 1869, the sisters were serving in the Diocese of Trenton, teaching in St. Francis of Assisium Catholic School. That same year, with the consent of Bishop James Wood, Philadelphia, and Bishop James Bayley, Newark, Franciscan Sister Hyacintha and two companions founded St. Francis Hospital in Trenton.

The sisters describe themselves as “Catholic women who commit their lives to God as followers of Sts. Francis and Clare. We strive to live in loving relationship and service with all people and creation. We are dedicated to bringing hope and joy to those in need by promoting justice and peace with emphasis on human rights and environmental concerns in our daily encounters.”

The ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in the Diocese of Trenton has been extensive, with sisters staffing multiple schools and serving in a wide variety of apostolates, including pastoral roles in numerous parishes.

Today, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia minister in St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach;  Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, and Georgian Court University, Lakewood.

For more information visit osfphila.org.

Conventual Franciscans

With the approval of Pope Innocent III, the Conventual Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209 as a community of friars who lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ through obedience, poverty and chastity.  

Francis named his community of brothers Friars Minor, which meant “lesser brothers,” inspiring them to model the humility of Christ, to serve one another, to be in solidarity with the most marginalized of society, and to foster peace. According to their history, the earliest friars rebuilt chapels, ministered to the lepers and preached penance.

The ministry of these Franciscans quickly spread outside Italy and by the 15th century, they had moved west, as well. The breadth of their ministry expanded according to the needs of society at the time, and has continued to do so in new times and places.

In 1852, the Conventual Franciscan Friars arrived in the United States, and spent time working among the immigrant communities. In 1883, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, the first bishop of Newark, asked the Franciscans to care for German immigrants living in the Trenton area.

Over the course of the next 100 years, at the invitation of and with the support of Diocese of Trenton bishops, the Conventual Franciscans would minister in numerous parishes, establish a friary, and serve in Trenton Catholic Boys High School, which was staffed almost entirely by friars before its close in 1962. Friars also served St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton.

Today, the Conventual Franciscans, both priests and brothers, serve in St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park, and St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach.

To learn more about the Conventual Franciscans, visit franciscans.org.

Franciscan Friars,  Holy Name Province

Soon after St. Francis of Assisi received papal approval in 1209 to form the community he called Friars Minor in Italy, their rapid growth led them to form provinces, a network of brothers grouped into friaries, providing friars with a home for common prayer and belonging, and opportunities to engage in ministries allowing them to bring the Gospel to the world.

Holy Name Province, which was established in 1901, traces its roots to Franciscan missionaries who arrived in the Eastern United States in the mid-1800s to minister to an influx of immigrants, and is characterized by a diversity of ministries born of the charism of St. Francis.

Its mission statement describes Holy Name Province as “an evangelical and missionary fraternity called to minister in the Eastern United States and abroad. Rooted in the Catholic and Franciscan tradition, we are disciples of Christ who seek to bring the Gospel into the everyday experience of all people through Franciscan witness, popular preaching, teaching, and pastoral leadership. We foster Christian discipleship by collaborating with those whom we serve and by standing in solidarity with all people, especially the alienated, the immigrant, and the poor.”

Today, Franciscans of Holy Name Province serve in St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach, providing a ministry of Franciscan hospitality and reconciliation extended through four churches and a regional community center.

For more information visit hnp.org.

Missionaries of Charity

The Missionaries of Charity were founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, in India, four years after she received the inspiration to create the order in response to Christ’s call that she make him known to the poorest of the poor through humble, loving service.

She said that the congregation would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

As a religious family sharing the charism of Mother Teresa, The Missionaries of Charity include active and contemplative sisters in one congregation, with religious brothers and priests in three separate congregations.

The Missionaries of Charity have served in the Diocese of Trenton since 1999 when they responded to an invitation from Bishop John C. Reiss to begin their ministry working among the poor in Asbury Park.

Four years earlier, in 1995, then Mother Teresa visited the Diocese and attended Mass celebrated by Bishop Reiss in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.  It was there that Bishop Reiss presented a formal letter to Mother Teresa inviting the Missionaries of Charity to establish a residence in the Diocese.

Mother Teresa was canonized a saint Sept. 4, 2016 by Pope Francis.

Today, the Missionaries of Charity reside in the Asbury Park convent and their work has included visiting shut-ins and area nursing homes, teaching religious education in Mother of Mercy Parish, distributing food at the train station, assisting the poor as needed, serving in the convent soup kitchen, and simply being a presence on the streets of Asbury Park.

For more information on St. Teresa of Kolkata and the Missionaries of Charity visit https://issuu.com/dioceseoftrenton/docs/saint_teresa_monitor_special_issue or motherteresa.org/missionaries-of-charity.html.

Order of St. Clare

Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, the Order of St. Clare, also called the Poor Clares, was founded in 1212 by St. Clare in Assisi, Italy, as a cloistered, contemplative order which follows a Gospel way of life, centered on intercessory prayer for the world because of a great love of God and others.

In 1875, two Poor Clare nuns came from Italy to establish a Poor Clare monastery in the United States, successfully founding a monastery in Nebraska in 1878.

In 1909, Bishop James A. McFaul invited the Poor Clare nuns to come to the Diocese of Trenton, explaining the Sisters of Mercy had vacated their motherhouse in Bordentown, which the Poor Clares could obtain. A pioneer group of Poor Clares arrived in Bordentown in the summer of 1909. The monastery was dedicated on Thanksgiving of the same year.

By the late 1980s, the Bordentown community began to see a decline in the number of sisters and their convent facilities became too large for their needs. Though it took considerable time, their search led them to find new, smaller and more manageable quarters in Chesterfield. The sisters moved to their new home Nov. 12, 2001.

As the Poor Clares of New Jersey mark 111 years since their arrival to the Trenton Diocese, they proudly share how they are a diverse group of women from all over the United States, and note that their monastery “is not ‘apart’ from the Church; rather, it is our part in the Church. It places us in the heart of the world. It is within the proper distance and the proper closeness of the cloister that we can find God for others that will become a reality for the good of the Church and the world of today.”

The nuns support themselves mainly through the distribution of altar bread to the parishes of the Diocese. They bring one of the charisms of St. Clare to their manual labor – a deep trust in Divine providence when concerned about one’s livelihood.

For more information visit poorclaresnewjersey.com.

Order of the Most Holy Trinity

The Trinitarian Order was founded in 1198 by John de Matha and Philip of Valois in France with the intention of ransoming Christians held captive during the time of the Crusades. Soon after the order’s establishment their mission was incorporated into the order’s title:  Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of Captives.

Since then, Trinitarian priests, brothers, sisters and laity have dedicated themselves to works of mercy and redemption with a special concern for those who suffer persecution for the faith. They may be recognized by the distinctive red and blue cross worn on their habit.

When United States bishops appealed to Europe for missionary priests, Trinitarians responded to the need. Trinitarians from Italy arrived in the United States in 1906.

In 1911, at the invitation of Bishop James A. McFaul, the Order was entrusted with the care of Italian immigrants at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Asbury Park. Parishes in Long Branch and Trenton were to follow. 

Trinitarians describe themselves as “committed to works of mercy and redemption around the world. Our priests and brothers serve the poor in remote areas and in cities, we educate those whose faith is in peril, and when necessary we minister undercover in places where it is illegal to practice the faith. Whether we are serving in parish ministry, schools, prisons, or the missions, we strive to imitate the unity and love of the Most Holy Trinity.”

Today, Trinitarians staff the parish of Incarnation-St. James, Ewing.

For more information visit Trinitarians.org.

Religious Teachers Filippini

The Institute of the Religious Teachers Filippini was founded by Lucy Filippini in 1692 in Italy, with the support and encouragement of Cardinal Mark Anthony Barbarigo, who asked Lucy to direct the schools he had established for the education of young girls.

Both founders believed that Catholic education, undertaken with faith and charity, could be a transformative agent for many of the cultural and socio-economic problems that existed at the time.

The community grew and spread beyond Italy, into other parts of the world, including the United States.

In 1910 the Religious Teachers arrived from Italy to St. Joachim Parish, Trenton, to serve the Italian immigrant population. The sisters stayed on to eventually staff schools for children of all races, nationalities and creeds, beginning more than 100 years of educational ministry in the Diocese of Trenton.

Today’s Religious Teachers Filippini remain faithful to the original inspiration of their founders regarding the ministry of the Christian education of youth and of adults, especially women, as their principal duty.  With the mandate to “go and teach the Word of God” their mission statement calls them to make “the life and teachings of Jesus and his Church relevant in the lives of our students, so that they come to know and experience their true identity as sons and daughters of God, and be empowered to be Jesus for others, nurturing them to life in the Lord, enabling them to help build a world where justice and peace prevail.”

Currently, Religious Teachers Filippini serve in Villa Victoria Academy, West Trenton; St. Jerome School, West Long Branch; St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, St. Joseph by the Sea Retreat House, Mantoloking, Morning Star House of Prayer, West Trenton and Seabrook Retirement Community, Tinton Falls.

For more information visit filippiniusa.org.

Sisters of Mercy

Inspired by the life of Jesus and by their founder Catherine McAuley, an Irish Catholic laywoman, the Sisters of Mercy  are women of faith, committing their lives to God and their resources to serve, advocate and pray for those in need around the world.

The Mercy charism flows from Catherine’s personal spirituality which embraced God’s love and mercy for all people, leading Mercy Sisters to live the values of contemplation and action, service and prayer.

Sister Catherine opened the first House of Mercy in Dublin in 1827.  Encouraged by the Archbishop of Dublin, she founded religious congregation in 1831. By 1843, the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in the United States, with the sisters’ work spreading quickly across the country, founding schools and hospitals and branching into health care, pastoral and social services.

Mercy Sisters were already serving in St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, and St. Paul Parish, Princeton, before the Diocese of Trenton was formed in 1881. The first Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Michael J. O’Farrell, suggested the Sisters open a motherhouse in Bordentown, which they later expanded on acreage in the Watchung Mountains.

The Mercy Sisters have ministered in more than 25 parishes in the Diocese, as well as in numerous schools and social services. Currently, Mercy Sisters serve in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish and St. Catharine School, Spring Lake; Red Bank Catholic/St. James Parish, Red Bank; Mercy Center, Asbury Park; Upper Room Spiritual Center, Neptune; Georgian Court University, Lakewood, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, and St Ann Parish, Keansburg, including Bayshore Senior Center and Project Paul.

For more information visit sistersofmercy.org.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia

When a devout group of six women living in 17th century France sought to live holy lives in service to others, they began the Sisters of St. Joseph, with the spiritual guidance of Jean-Pierre Medaille, S.J. The congregation was formally recognized by Bishop Henir DeMaupas in 1650 in Le Puy, France. Referred to as the “Congregation of the great love of God,” their ministry and mission spread across France.

Under the patronage of St. Joseph, whom they recognize as having an inconspicuous holiness and “hidden virtue,” they dedicated themselves to “the practice of all Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy of which woman is capable and which will most benefit the dear neighbor.”

During the French Revolution, their communities were dispersed. A number of sisters were imprisoned, some were guillotined. But heroic women of the communities continued their work, continued to press forward and eventually travelled to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia in 1847.

By 1921, the Sisters of St. Joseph had traveled to St. Rose Parish, Belmar, where they continue to live and where four sisters serve in the parish high school From there their presence grew as they were called upon to staff new schools and take residence in a new convent, and later to serve the Church in other ministries as needed. 

Besides their presence in Belmar, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia also serve in St. Joan of Arc Parish and School and St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton; St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft; Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton; St. Denis Parish, Manasquan; St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford; St. Peter Convent, Point Pleasant Beach; St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville; Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade; Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Asbury Park; Francis House of Prayer, Allentown; Emmaus House, Ocean Grove; San Alfonso Retreat House, West End; the St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store, Brick, and the Upper Room Spiritual Center, Neptune.

Among those currently serving are St. Joseph Sister Rose McDermott, diocesan delegate for religious, and St. Joseph Sister Margaret McDermott, member of the diocesan Chancery staff.

For more information visit ssjphila.org