A mourner prays by Father Coppola's casket before the start of Mass.
A mourner prays by Father Coppola's casket before the start of Mass.
The love, affection and respect that was shown for Holy Cross Father Vincent J. Coppola was made apparent by the long line of people that formed around the perimeter of St. Joseph Church, Toms River, the morning of Oct. 8. Father Coppola died Oct. 2 following a lengthy illness.

Wearing masks and keeping a social distance, mourners waited to pay their last respects and participate in the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated for the 57-year-old parochial vicar of St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish, Lavallette, and Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head.

“When someone whom we love suffers, it is difficult to stand by and accompany them,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., principal celebrant of the Mass and homilist.

“We do it out of love. When the Lord calls our beloved one home, our hearts break. We want their suffering to end but we don’t want to say goodbye,” Bishop O’Connell said, directing his words to Father Coppola’s family – his mother, Madeline Mooney, brother Michael, and sister Barbara Devine, and some 250 faithful, most of whom were from the two parishes where Father Coppola last served as parochial vicar, as well as his earlier assignment in St. Maximilian Kolbe, Toms River.

“Today we come together to pray for Father Vincent and for those who remain behind at Holy Mass, the prayer he loved so much to celebrate,” Bishop O’Connell said.

Bishop O’Connell was joined at the altar by Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, and Father Joseph Hlubik, pastor of St. Pio of Pietrelcina and Sacred Heart Parishes, who were principal concelebrants. Other concelebrants included a contingent from the Trenton Diocese as well as confreres from the Holy Cross community of which Father Coppola had been a member since his priestly ordination 19 years ago. 

“I know that his profession as a Holy Cross religious and his ordination were moments in his life, transforming moments that took all the love he received from his mother, his family, his teachers up to that point and his friends and Holy Cross confreres; all the grace that he received in the Sacraments; all the talents and refinement that he developed, ordination took all these things and made Father Vincent the son, the brother, the friend and the colleague, the priest, the preacher, the confessor, a gift of God to others,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“He brought the Word of God to life for them and among them,” Bishop O’Connell said. “He smiled. He laughed. He listened and in all of that he loved. Our little part of the world, our lives were truly changed because he was a part of them, and they now change again because he has left us. We are saddened by his going forth but so grateful for that gift of his life as a priest.”

Prior to coming to the Diocese of Trenton Father Coppola served as parochial vicar of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish, Bennington, Vt.; pastor of St. Brigid Parish and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, both West Rutland, Vt., and administrator and then pastor of Holy Cross Parish, South Bend, Ind. 

In the time they served together in St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Father Carlos Castilla, parochial vicar, told The Monitor that he had come to regard Father Coppola as a mentor and brother. He also noted the camaraderie the two priests enjoyed along with Father Stephen Piga, pastor.

“He was my guardian angel,” Father Castilla said, noting that it was a privilege for him to visit Father Coppola during his last days in the hospital and administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

In remarks shared with The Monitor, Father Coppola’s mother and brother reflected warmly on some of Vincent’s characteristics and achievements, such as his enjoyment of making others laugh through his impersonations of famous celebrities like Elvis Presley. They also spoke of Vincent’s love for dogs, his winning an award for ballroom dancing and his being an avid athlete. But what they will always remember him most for was his innate desire to care for others.

“He was a great person,” Michael Coppola said.

He was always attentive to his siblings, Madeline said, recalling how as a three-year-old, he wanted nothing more than to help care for his newborn brother. 

“He was like that,” she said, “always thinking of others. I love him so much.”