James and Nicole Angiolino, founders of Joey’s Little Angels, were guest speakers for the PTA Spring Conference.
James and Nicole Angiolino, founders of Joey’s Little Angels, were guest speakers for the PTA Spring Conference.

“We come together because we are called for a reason – but answering that call is most important, because the Lord knows where you belong.”

These words from Elia Landino, Diocese of Trenton PTA president, summarized not only the “We Are Called” theme of the diocesan PTA spring conference March 4, but also the collective response of those at the morning gathering in Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton.

For the second time this academic year, PTA presidents, officers and school principals gathered for a Mass and luncheon to reflect on their commitment to their respective schools and to Catholic education. Historically subdivided by regions, the spring conference gathered PTA representatives from all four counties of the Diocese – building on the success of the 2022 combined regional spring experience.

“We want to unify things; it’s always best to have everyone,” said Landino, who has been involved in PTA at the school and diocesan level for more than 14 years. “It works well, and we get to see all 31 schools coming together.”

Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, celebrated Mass in Our Lady of Sorrows Church to open the conference, offering his thanks to those gathered.

“I pray that all the PTA does is directed toward the sanctity of our students – to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect,” he said in his homily. “Christ comes to make us great … that comes when we meet the challenges of the Gospel.”

Guest speakers James and Nicole Angiolino, founders of the non-profit Joey’s Little Angels, shared with the group their journey – from bereaved parents after their 15-month-old son died in 2010 after a courageous battle with Hurler’s Syndrome, to turning their loss into a cause for helping other children in need.

“We are called – Nicole and I were called, Joey was called,” James Angiolino said. “He has given us a platform not only to help others, but has given countless numbers of school-age children the chance to experience the gift of giving … more importantly, it has taught them about compassion and empathy.”

Joey’s Little Angels, he noted, has donated over 40,000 toys to hospitals nationwide, and has raised more than $250,000 for families with a child undergoing medical treatment.

Several representatives of the diocesan PTA board also spoke during the luncheon, reflecting on the collective calling to serve.

“Our mission is united in our belief in Catholic education, as we are called to help nurture our children’s knowledge and spiritual growth,” Landino noted. “Your efforts are very visible in our schools, which utilize our support to enhance children’s educational experiences.”

And that calling is often met with diligent and quiet hard work behind the scenes, noted Brianna Starkey, regent for Monmouth/Ocean region.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to one PTA event where the volunteers’ names are in gold,” she said, recalling the homily of a priest who described political figures being recognized with their names brandished above their sponsored projects. “You’re always there for others. It’s not about us, it’s about our Lord. Our name is in gold with him.”

Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, superintendent of Catholic schools, reminded the attendees that “most of us made the decision to be who or what we became … We are called to use the gifts we have, to make the most of every day; we are called … to make a difference in people’s lives.”

As regent for Burlington/Mercer region, and former PTA member of OLS since 2012, Cyndi Primerano served as emcee for the luncheon. She reflected on the necessity of PTA chapters to the success of Catholic schools in the Diocese, including offsetting tuition costs and funding activities and programs.

“My hope is that PTA members and principals recognize that they were called to serve our children of our Catholic schools; and they made a conscious decision to take action and say yes,” she said. “Their work is critical to keeping our communities thriving!”