A True Candlelight Wedding
Parish unites to save couple’s wedding reception
Take one bride and groom whose plans for their special day intersected with the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, mix with a parish united in the desire to see them wed by candlelight despite the devastation all around them, add heaping measures of faith, hope and charity and you have the perfect recipe for triumphing over what’s been referred to as a “perfect” storm.
Such is the story of how the nuptials of Amanda Anne Santoro and Michael Gary Esposito began unfolding in St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, just two days after Sandy struck with full fury, decimating huge swaths of the coastline of the Trenton Diocese and making its presence dangerously felt throughout the huge territory which includes Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer and Burlington Counties.
The damage was so severe and so universal there can be little doubt plans for scores of weddings scheduled for the first weekend in November unraveled including Amanda and Michael’s.
On Nov. 1, Amanda and her mom, Stephanie, turned to their pastor, Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, telling him that even though the wedding reception was cancelled by the venue because of the hurricane, the couple very much wanted their Church wedding. Despite the fact that the church was without light or heat, Msgr. Sirianni quickly agreed.
And, when Mrs. Santoro asked Msgr. Sirianni if it would be alright to bring in a sheet cake for a very small reception after the wedding, it set off a chain of events that soon escalated into a full-scale parish effort to give the young couple the closest thing they could to the reception of their dreams.
After the bride and her mother left his office, Msgr. Sirianni sent out text and voice mail messages (the only forms of electronic communication working) informing members of the parish welcoming and wedding ministries of the situation.
Pam Stengel, who chairs both committees, and her assistants, Beth D’ambrosio and Valerie Marchetta, responded with alacrity. “What’s a wedding without a celebration,” Stengel said. They “let their fingers do the walking,” as Stengel said, and texted as many parishioners, ministry members and the community as possible asking for help.
The response was instantaneous and overwhelming, she said. “I got in touch with Msgr. Sirianni and told him that the ‘angels’ were lining up and we need to give them direction.”
In no time, the team of volunteers was scouring the mostly shuttered network of area stores for enough food and decorations for a small reception in the social hall after the Mass.
The “angels” scrambled over the next 24 hours and by 10 a.m. the next morning, still minus electricity and heat, they assembled in the hall to create a festive atmosphere. “White table cloths were placed, candles emerged from every location. Decorations went up,” said Stengel. “Everyone just found a job and went with it.”
Still more parishioners turned up at the church hall with a range of provisions from finger foods to pasta dishes. The family of the bride brought in a cake and other pastries.
“All had come together and was gorgeous,” said Stengel who noted that the bride and groom were blissfully unaware of the reception to come as they took their vows. “The wedding went beautifully and after pictures were taken, we were ready for a celebration!”
The bride and groom were pleasantly surprised when they found themselves formally introduced as Mr. & Mrs. Esposito as they entered the hall. There, they danced their first dance as a married couple and Msgr. Sirianni delivered a heartfelt blessing and offered the champagne toast.
“There was even a cake cutting ceremony and although there wasn’t any heat, the room was warmed by the heartfelt energy and the many burning candles,” Stengel said. Ultimately, some 100 guests were part of the memorable celebration.
Msgr. Sirianni reported that the bride and groom expressed their thanks many times during the festivities just as he expressed his thanks to his parish family over the following days, via text message, of course, as most other lines of communication were and are still down.
“I cannot say in words how proud I am of all the wonderful people who came forward to put a beautiful reception together,” he texted. “The electric power may be off, but the people power of St. Roberts is still on. Please forward to all on your list. God bless you and stay safe and warm.”[[In-content Ad]]