Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, was principal celebrant and homilist of Msgr. McGovern's funeral Mass.  Joe Moore photos
Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, was principal celebrant and homilist of Msgr. McGovern's funeral Mass. Joe Moore photos
" Jimmy lived his life serving the people. "

Margaret McKay smiled when asked what she believes her brother will be remembered for the most.

“He was a servant of the Lord,” McKay said moments before the Nov. 13 Mass of Christian Burial for Msgr. James Joseph McGovern was about to begin. “Jimmy lived his life serving the people.”

Msgr. McGovern, a priest of the Diocese of Trenton for 61 years, died Nov. 2 at age 87. His funeral Mass was celebrated Nov. 13 in Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Moorestown, where he had served as pastor from 1981 until his retirement from active ministry in 2004.

Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, was principal celebrant of the Mass and homilist.

In his homily, Msgr. Sirianni reflected on how the Gospel from St. Matthew, 25:31-46, was “symbolic of Msgr. McGovern’s life.”

Along with feeding the hungry locally such as Emergency Services of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, and providing outreach to those he encountered while on mission visits to Jamaica, Haiti, Africa or the Indian reservation in South Dakota, Msgr. McGovern fed the truth to those people “who desired to know God,” said Msgr. Sirianni, who was a newly ordained priest when he was assigned to serve with Msgr. McGovern in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in 1984.

“He lived the Gospel with joy and with a commitment to serving not only Christ, but the Body of Christ, which is the Church. He loved the Church, the universal Church and the parishes where he served,” Msgr. Sirianni said referring to Msgr. McGovern’s assignments as parochial vicar in Immaculate Conception Parish, Spotswood; St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford; St. Anthony Parish (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish),  Hamilton, and St. Peter Parish, New Brunswick. Msgr. McGovern was pastor in St. Andrew Parish, Avenel, from 1976 to 1981, then was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish.

“He loved Good Counsel,” Msgr. Sirianni said.

“When he came here, he was determined to make this parish the heart of Main Street, and he did,” Msgr. Sirianni said, noting that beyond overseeing the many temporal responsibilities of the parish, which also includes a school and religious education program, “he invited the good people of this parish to open their hearts in service to those in need.

In his homily, Msgr. Sirianni referred to the various symbols that are used in the funeral liturgy that reflect the Sacrament of Baptism – how the white pall that covers the casket reflects the white garment worn at Baptism; how the sprinkling of the casket with holy water reflects that through the waters of Baptism, Christians receive the pledge of eternal life, and how the Paschal candle, which is lit during the funeral liturgy and placed near the casket, represents Jesus, the Light of the world and his victory over sin and death. Christians participate in Christ’s victory because of their Baptism.

“When Msgr. McGovern heard the Lord call him and he entered the Mystery of Death, he carried with him the Light he received at his own Baptism, the Light of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which he celebrated every day, the Light of the nourished oils he used to baptize, confirm and anoint the sick. He carried them to where he was greeted in the Light of Jesus Christ.”

Sharing about her brother’s love of service, McKay spoke of his interest in working with clergy and parishioners from other faith traditions then recalled when the music ministries from area Moorestown churches came together for a program in Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. As the event went on, she said, “it didn’t matter who was Catholic and who wasn’t. What mattered was that we were together.”

Right after Msgr. McGovern died, McKay attended a memorial service that was held in the retirement community in Sarasota, Fla., where he had lived since retiring from active ministry in the Trenton Diocese. Msgr. McGovern had led a Bible Study there that was attended by people of all faith traditions including a rabbi. At the memorial service, many of them spoke about the impact that Msgr. McGovern had on their lives, she said.

Jane McCorkell, who had traveled with Msgr. McGovern on various mission trips to Haiti and Jamaica, said, “He brought the parish into the missionary world both locally and internationally.”

“Anyone who knocked on his door, he would open it to with love,” said McCorkell, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish for 41 years, who currently serves as the parish’s adult faith formation coordinator.

Dr. Linda Dix spoke of how she viewed Msgr. McGovern as a mentor “and the one who taught me how to exercise leadership” during the years she worked with him as a teacher in Our Lady of Good Counsel School and then as parish director of religious education.

“He would say to me ‘If you feel strongly about something [that would benefit the parish and the parishioners], then follow your conscience. If you feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit, calling you to something, then go ahead and do it,’” Dix said, adding that it was Msgr. McGovern’s trust in the ability and judgement of his staff that led them to develop a religious education program for special needs children of the parish.

“Once he trusted us we could go forward and truly minister,” Dix said. “We were always a united staff and worked well together. There was never an 'I' on Monsignor's team.”

Before he became a priest, Father James Grogan, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, was a parishioner and served as a permanent deacon in of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish.

“The tenderness of his heart and the way he cared for people and on so many levels,” is what Father Grogan said he will remember about Msgr. McGovern.  “There were sides to Msgr. McGovern that many people did not see,” Father Grogan said, recalling the magic tricks Msgr. McGovern performed for students in Our Lady of Good Counsel School .

“Msgr. McGovern was a model of a pastor and a priest for me,” said Father Grogan.