Sister Angelina receives congratulations from one of the hundreds of people who turned out for her celebration.  Courtesy photos
Sister Angelina receives congratulations from one of the hundreds of people who turned out for her celebration.  Courtesy photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Three generations of students passed through the portals of St. Jerome School and Church on the faith-filled, 42-year watch of Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia.

On June 2, hundreds of those students and their families returned once again to share communion with her during Mass in St. Jerome Church. The liturgy served as a cornerstone of events celebrating her retirement after 39 years as principal.

The woman who drew the faithful to St. Jerome Church, a worship site of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch, sat prayerfully in the one of the front pews with her Filippini sisters. There, she focused on the Lord as she had throughout her entire consecrated life, said those who would speak of her devotion during the Mass and the social hours that followed in the church hall.

That focus was first called to everyone’s attention in the introduction by her successor, Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, who will succeed Sister Angelina as principal. She invited all to unite in honoring Sister Angelina in the way dearest to her heart, “with the celebration of the Eucharist.”

Throughout the solemn, joyous and reverential occasion that began with processions by members of the school community and participants in the Mass, it was clear that the students she nurtured during her tenure got the message of faith Sister Angelina consistently shared with them.

Kathrine Mandica, one of 13 brothers and sisters who attended St. Jerome School from 1973 to 2003, said the Mass was the quintessential way to honor her beloved teacher, principal and mentor. “She is very holy and she shared her devotion.”

Mandica’s father, John, spoke of Sister Angelina’s dedication to Catholic education, saying, “She loved what she did. She gave it her all. You knew that because after graduation, kids came back to visit her. She made everyone a better person.”

“You could always go to her for help,” Kathrine Mandica added. “Over the years, we all came back to visit. St. Jerome is a family, and this is a well-deserved tribute.”

Through The Years

Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general and moderator of the curia, was celebrant of the Mass. Among the concelebrants was Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish and director of the diocesan Mission Office.

Msgr. Gervasio, whose sister, Filippini Sister Frances Gervasio, was present for the Mass, spoke of his long acquaintance with Sister Angelina. “We don’t always appreciate the passage of time,” said Msgr. Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St.Anthony Parish, Hamilton.

But in this case, time passed with Sister Angelina was especially worth celebrating, Msgr. Gervasio said, adding, “I have known her since I was born. My parents brought me to Villa Walsh,” the Religious Sisters of St. Lucy Filippini Mother House in Morristown.

Msgr. Gervasio spoke of how Sister Angelina was a nurturing presence throughout his life, noting that when he was newly ordained and a parochial vicar in Holy Trinity Parish, Long Branch, Monday evening dinners with the sisters nourished body and soul for the young priest.

“She has given so much to the school, to religious education in the parish. She is the figure that looms large” on the landscape, he said. “She knows the community and the community knows Sister Angelica,” Msgr. Gervasio said, describing her in Italian as the “punto di riferimento” or “go-to person” in consecrated life to whom all turn. She does not seek to draw people to herself but to direct others to Christ.”

“In a world of darkness, she creates spaces that permit a glimpse of light. We celebrate her joyful commitment and we thank her for it,” Msgr. Gervasio reflected.

In his remarks, Father Alindogan said the celebration “surpassed every retirement party,” he had ever attended. “It’s a moment of blessed pride and a time of grace, of respect and love for a sister, principal and a friend who created a legacy of life and love” for the students and the parish.

The concluding rite was followed by a video presentation of pictures and a tribute song adapted from Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years” with lyrics that recalled her contributions to the community.

Sung by the children’s choir under the direction of Filippini Sister Elizabeth Toft, it was a grace note to the presentation of roses to Sister Angelina by students from every class since 1977 when she arrived at St. Jerome School.

For her part, Sister Angelina, who will continue on at the school as a counselor and marketing adviser, expressed her gratitude to everyone who participated in the liturgy and the luncheon that followed. She thanked everyone who had contributed their time, treasure and talent to supporting St. Jerome School throughout the years.

“It is with a grateful heart that I thank each and every one of you for the love you have shown and for the care and prayer you have shown. You are truly my extended family and there is a special place in my heart for knowing you,” she said.