The diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries announced that 20 high school teens from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties were recently honored with a St. Timothy Award, recognizing them as being a true witness to the Catholic faith and exhibiting outstanding service in their parishes, schools and wider communities.
This year’s honorees, all of whom are in high school or graduated this year, were nominated by their pastors or other parish staff, such as youth ministers, parish catechetical leaders or catechists, are actively involved in parish life in ministries such as youth group, liturgical or music ministries, as aides in the religious education program or Vacation Bible School. The St. Timothy Award is named after the disciple, St. Timothy. Many of the students are also active in their communities at school or in their towns and hold part-time jobs.
Following are profiles on the 20 St. Timothy Award recipients for 2023:
St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, New Egypt
“Aniela is a remarkably, faith-filled young teen and she isn’t afraid to show this,” according to Celeste Grant, the parish catechetical leader in St. Isidore the Farmer Parish. “Her attitude and willingness to share her faith is amazing. She goes over and above in serving her church community too.”
Aniela is a student in Allentown High School and is a Girl Scout who loves music. “She is a very humble young lady. She is smart, kind and funny,” stated Grant.
St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel
“Felicia is a true witness of our Catholic faith through her outstanding community service and leadership in youth ministry,” observed Audrey Krastins, the adult youth ministry advisor in St. Catharine Parish.
Felicia has been on the executive board of youth ministry for two years, as well as an altar server for eight years, and has helped with training new altar servers, is a teen reader during Mass, and an annual participant in the Living Stations of the Cross. Krastins said that Felicia’s “leadership, dedication and service are also evident in Holmdel High School” where she is entering her senior year.
In HHS, Felicia is a member of the National Honor Society and Latin Honor Society and was recently elected secretary for the Latin Honor Society for 2023-24 academic year. She is also involved in the Light the Candle Club, Peer Leaders, Youth Alliance and Holmdel Christian Fellowship Club. She is a team captain for Relay for Life and a member of the high school girls’ varsity soccer team.
In the future, Felicia plans on pursuing a degree in nursing where she can continue to help and work with people.
St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Bradley Beach
As a lifelong parishioner, Ciara Bellezza has been actively involved in St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish. Over the years, she has been an altar server, where she especially loved serving wedding Masses. She attended and now teaches Vacation Bible School, participated in the Christmas pageants and other various activities offered for the youth in the parish, including STOCP HS Youth Group. She also volunteers to host events including Mary’s Child Pro-Life Dinner and various other parish gatherings.
“Ciara is a hard worker, according to Kathleen McGrorry, the parish youth minister. “She maintains two part-time jobs while keeping up with her studies and swim team schedule during the winter season.
“Ciara loves to spend time with her four siblings, one of whom is her twin sister, and her friend,” McGrorry noted.
Ciara, who is a 2023 graduate of St. Rose High School, Belmar, plans to attend college in the fall where she will pursue a business degree.
Chukwudubem “Dubem” Echezona
St. Veronica Parish, Howell
“He has shown wonderful examples of parish service in many roles: cantor, lector and as a youth group attendee,” the youth minister in St. Veronica Parish, Howell, said of Duben. “He is a high school senior and many of the other teens really look up to his example. He clearly shows how proud he is to be Catholic!
“He is very bright, talented, energetic, and always pleasant.”
St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold
Benjamin joined the youth group LIFT team in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, after the parish youth minister in St. Rose of Lima Parish was furloughed during the COVID shutdown, according to LIFT youth minister, Jeanne Marinello.
“That is an example of his determination to follow his journey of faith and service. He always puts others’ needs first – he feeds the hungry, comforts the elderly and helps mentor others,” Marinello said of Fernandez, a 2023 graduate of Freehold High School where he was a member of the National Honor Society and the varsity track team.
“Ben works very hard to balance his busy schedule, but he always makes time to help those in need,” Marinello said, citing that when the youth group visits the Memory Care Unit of an assisted living facility each month, “Ben has so much patience for the residents – he plays ball with them and dances with them. He is a wonderful young man with a bright future.”
Benjamin will attend Rider University, Lawrenceville, in the fall.
St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville
Tim Blumensteel, youth minister in St. Barnabas Parish, said that Bridget was selected by her youth ministry peers for the St. Timothy Award “because she is one of the kindest and most caring teens we've ever had in our program.
“She is selfless, humble and conducts herself with a desire to serve those who are in need, always,” Blumensteel said, then added that this year, she was also the recipient of the Girl Scout's Gold Award, the highest achievement in the organization.
Now that she has graduated from Central Regional High School, Bridget will attend Rutgers University and plans to study accounting. A near future endeavor she has in mind is to start her own company.
St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford
Frank Babinchock, the youth minister in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, remarked on how dedicated Gianna is in her approach to living her faith through her participation in the parish youth program and singing with the church choir.
Babinchock noted that Gianna attended St. Mary of the Lakes School and will enter her junior year at Camden Catholic High School, Camden, where she is involved in several programs and activities “that are exemplary of a Catholic growing in their faith.
“Gianna serves as a model in one living their faith and being grounded to family and community,” Babinchock said.
“This is one great kid [who comes] from a family of the same means,” he added, then commented that even with her busy schedule, she finds time to participate in many activities in the parish and community.
Holy Cross Parish, Rumson
Jack, who will enter his senior year in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, has helped with numerous charitable initiatives this past year, according to Holy Cross Parish youth minister Matthew Butler, who noted that Jack played CYO basketball and was named team captain.
“He is kind and dependable and will be our president next year,” Butler said.
St. James Parish, Pennington; St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and St. George Parish, Titusville
The parish catechetical leader and youth minister in the St. James, St. Alphonsus and St. George attested that Emily has been a member of the IGNITE Youth Group for the past three years, and “has participated in many programs and service opportunities at our parishes.
“This year, she launched a service initiative in our linked community to complete her Girl Scout Gold Award,” the youth minister continued. “Her program ‘Blankets to Feel Better to Heal Better’ gave folks the chance to come together to create no-sew blankets that were then donated to Capitol Health for teens undergoing chemotherapy treatments. She goes above and beyond!”
Emily is a gifted dancer, the youth minister said of the Lawrence High School graduate, and “she will continue dancing when she heads to college.”
St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson
“Joe has been a great role model for his peers through his involvement in various St. Aloysius youth ministry events throughout his high school career,” said Jennifer Petrillo, parish youth minister and parish catechetical leader, noting that he faithfully participates at Mass with his family.
“In addition, Joe poured himself into his Eagle Scout project of remodeling our parish youth room. He intentionally chose a project that would benefit the youth ministry program at our parish for years to come. Joe was impressively thorough and hardworking throughout the project,” Petrillo said.
Joe, who graduated from Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, “continually shows kindness and compassion towards others and is a young man of integrity,” said Petrillo. “He has truly been a blessing to our parish community.”
St. Monica Parish, Jackson
When Theresa Calsetta, the youth minister in St. Monica Parish asked youth group members who should be nominated for the St. Timothy Award, it was “unanimously decided” it should be Brooke Krakovsky.
“Brooke shows her love and faith through her actions,” said Calsetta. Brooke, a 2023 graduate of Jackson Memorial High School, volunteers with the parish food bank as well as for the Jackson Township Emergency Medical Services, and she teaches dance.
Since Brooke is older than most of the other group members, “she has basically become everyone’s big sister,” Calsetta said, noting that Brooke also has a strong love for children.
In high school, Calsetta said, Brooke earned high honor roll every semester and she ranked sixth out of 403 students. She was a member of four National Honor Societies (National HS, Spanish NHS, Math NHS, and Science NHS).
Along with her academic achievements, Brooke served as the captain of the varsity dance team, was a member of the ski club and worked a part-time job at the Jackson Dance Center as a choreographer and instructor for younger children. She also enjoys helping others by singing at local nursing homes and visiting with the residents.
“Brooke is enthusiastic and genuinely displays her love and faith in everything she does for her family, church and community as a whole,” Calsetta said. In the fall, Brooke will head to Penn State University where she will major in pediatric medicine.
Teresa Marie Loh
St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square
“Teresa lives her faith in all she does,” stated Richard Pieslak, a youth ministry leader in St. Gregory the Great Parish, citing how his nominee has been an active member of Project Appalachia, where she serves the poor of rural West Virginia with construction projects designed to improve their quality of life.
In addition, over the past six years Teresa has been a teen leader, donating her time and talent in Vacation Bible School where she guides children through their summer camp experience learning about God’s love for them, Pieslak said. She also helps with the parish carnival and the Loaves and Fishes program.
In Steinert High School, where Teresa will enter her senior year, Pieslak said she is in the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and Key Club. She is ranked Number One Singles’ Player for the Steinert High School Girls Tennis Team where she has earned three varsity letters.
Teresa also writes for the school newspaper and works part-time as a server and trainer for new employees for Chick-fil-A. She has also earned her black belt in karate.
Jake Aidan Martinez
St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River
Jake Aidan Martinez was nominated for the St. Timothy Award by Deacon Frederick C. Ebenau, youth coordinator in St. Justin the Martyr Parish.
“Jake is a wonderful representative of the youth group,” Deacon Ebenau said. “You can always depend on him, and he is always there to help and promote the youth group.”
Also around the parish, Jake is an altar server who attends Mass regularly and he also assists the clergy at weddings and funerals as an altar server and he has played an “exceptional Jesus” during the past two Living Stations of the Cross presentations.
“He not only portrayed the part, but lived the part, moving many who attended,” Deacon Ebenau said.
Jake is entering his sophomore year at the Academy of Law and Public Safety in Long Branch where he is working toward serving others in the line of duty.
St. Joseph Parish, Toms River
Catherine Werner, the youth minister in St. Joseph Parish had high praise for St. Timothy Award recipient Dominick McGrath.
Dominick, who just graduated from Central Regional High School, “has shown great dedication to his CYGNUS youth group over the past four years,” Werner said. “He has been able to balance school, sports, activities and working while still being an extremely active youth grouper. He has a heart to serve, never hesitating to help people in need. Our younger participants look to Dominick for his leadership and example of joyful service.
Werner proudly shared that Dominick is a regular participant at Mass, then noted that he is the oldest of six children in his family.
“Dominick is kind, humble and trustworthy,” Werner said.
Geovanni Flores Peralta
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lakewood
“Geovanni is an exemplary witness to his faith. He inspires others by his leadership for altar servers and the youth group,” said Donna Schaefer, youth ministry coordinator in Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
Noting Geovanni’s contributions to the parish community, the youth minister said he teaches in the religious education program and assists in many parish activities whenever asked.
The youth minister also noted that Geovanni was a top student and senior class president in Lakewood High School, from where he graduated in the spring.
“It is a pleasure to affirm the faith of this young person and celebrate his accomplishments!” the youth minister said.
St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel
Damian Rogowski is a well-known young man around St. Benedict Parish. For the past five years he served as a lector and prior to that had been an altar server.
The parish youth minister noted that during the height of the pandemic, Damian, who is a 2023 graduate of Marlboro High School, became a livestream coordinator and a Mass-screen operator, which allowed him keep his parish connected and nourished in such isolated times.
Damian’s faith comes from his family and the people who guided and mentored him throughout his formative years,” the youth minister said. “Damian is very excited for college and is ready to meet the challenges that await him in the next stages of life because of the support of his family, parish and community.
“We are so very proud of Damian and offer him our prayers and best wishes going forward,” the youth minister said.
St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft
“Lawrence keeps our youth group thriving!” exclaimed Joan Kret, youth minister in St. Leo the Great Parish. “He has great ideas that he is ready to implement. He has passion for his faith and has a personal relationship with Jesus that he wants to share and evangelize.”
Kret praised Lawrence, saying that he is the first to volunteer and take initiative to lead when needed. “Lawrence is not afraid to speak out and ignite the flame of faith in others,” she said.
Lawrence is beginning his sophomore year in Ranney High School and is active in numerous activities. He earned a Ranney Scholar Award for exceptional academic performance; he’s a member of Ranney's National Speech and Debate Association Honor Society, and has held the position of secretary of the Ranney Future Business Leaders Association. He has been a Harvard Model Congress participant; attended the Model United Nations and has been a competitive swimmer on the Ranney Swim Team.
St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro
In nominating Nicholas Stella, a graduate of Marlboro High School for the award, St. Gabriel Parish youth minister Marie Masiello said, “Nick gives freely of his time and talents.
“He had been volunteering in our religious education program both fall and summer sessions. The last two years, we are blessed to have him as a leader in our youth ministry program,” she said.
“Nick is always there to volunteer for service projects. If he is volunteering with youth group, he is there to lend a hand with our junior high program.”
Sarah Marie Towell
St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton
According to Jay Keesler, youth minister in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Sarah has been long committed to youth ministry.
She is a graduate of the parish grammar school and has been with the program since the eighth grade. Despite the hardships that the pandemic caused, she remained committed to the youth group and helped to keep the other teens involved. She actively practices her faith and easily shares it with anyone. She has been active in many of the group’s service projects and helps bring new teens to the Wings Group. Keesler also noted that Sarah attended the National Catholic Youth Conference.
“She is a talented florist and hopes to work in floral design,” Keesler said of Sarah, who graduated from the Camden County Technical School system. “She is a cheerful, hard-working teen who has been a pleasure to have around and will be missed. We hope to have her back as an adult advisor when she is eligible.”
St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold
Jeanne Marinello, youth minister in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, said that Catherine has been an active member of the youth group since eighth grade and, “with every year that passed she has become deeply involved in serving others and growing in her faith.
“She is so actively involved in service that beyond high school, she plans on attending West Point Academy in the fall where she will honorably serve our country and share her gifts and talents with the world,” Marinello said of Catherine, who graduated from Colts Neck High School.
In addition to her parish activities, Catherine is an “amazing athlete,” Marinello said, noting that Catherine is a varsity swimmer, and a varsity track & field athlete. Catherine is also in the ROTC program and is a member of the National Honor Society.
“She is gifted both athletically and academically,” Marinello said. “Catherine has a heart of gold and is overflowing with faith!”