While St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral in Freehold is often the site of many diocesan events throughout the year, the celebration held there Sept. 17 was dedicated to the parish community and the feast day of their patronal saint and namesake.
Msgr. Sam Sirianni, Co-Cathedral rector and pastor, welcomed Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who celebrated the noon Mass for the special occasion. Some 500 parishioners came out on the beautiful late summer morning, many staying for a picnic that followed.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Feast Day Observance
St. Robert Bellarmine, (1542-1621), was a Jesuit priest, an Italian cardinal and a theologian, and has been declared a Doctor of the Church and the patron of catechists. He was chosen as the patron of the Freehold parish by Bishop George W. Ahr at the time of its erection in 1971. The parish church was named a Co-Cathedral in 2017 when Bishop O’Connell requested the designation from the Holy See.
Bishop O’Connell began the Mass noting that he often visits the Co-Cathedral for multiple other diocesan celebrations but that he was especially pleased to be present for this occasion dedicated to the parish itself. (The Bishop also celebrates Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton annually on its patronal feast, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Aug. 15.)
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the topic of forgiveness, the overarching theme of the Readings proclaimed at Mass.
“The funny thing about forgiveness is this: whether forgiveness makes sense and seems reasonable or, on the other hand, if forgiveness doesn't make sense and seems unreasonable, forgiveness is God's way with us and it's what he asks to be our way with one another,” Bishop O’Connell said.
“Forgiveness does not excuse what others do wrong. Forgiveness prevents it from destroying your heart,” he said. “Forgiveness does not change the past ... it changes the future. Jesus taught us that we are worthy of his forgiveness.”
Reflecting on the day, Msgr. Sirianni said what made it extra special was celebrating the parish Sept. 17 on what was the actual feast of St. Robert Bellarmine. To mark the feast day, holy cards of St. Robert Bellarmine were distributed to the parishioners and a first-class relic of the saint who was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI was present in the sanctuary.
Since Sept. 17 was also Catechetical Sunday throughout the Diocese and the nation, Bishop O’Connell took the occasion to express his gratitude to Mark Russoniello, director of religious education, and to all catechists who generously give their time to sharing the Word of God and the Catholic faith with the young. “Your ministry is vital to the Church and its growth,” he reflected. After Communion, the Bishop commissioned and blessed the parish’s catechists present for Mass.
Members of the Freehold Council, Knights of Columbus, tend the grill for the picnic in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Hal Brown photos
The Bishop also reminded parishioners that Sept. 18-24 is the Catholic Church in the United States’ National Migration Week culminating in World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He stated, “This commemoration is not a politically based response to the current immigration crisis facing the U.S. It is a tradition of over 100 years’ duration, and the opportunity to pray for migrants and refugees displaced from their native countries.”
The month of September begins a notable series of national or world days of prayer for a variety of intentions, the Bishop observed. “Next weekend is also a celebration of ‘Priesthood Sunday,’ a day set aside on the national Church calendar to honor the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ in and through our parish priests. Pray for vocations!”
A Parish Celebration
Following Mass, the Bishop, along with his priest secretary Father Jean Felicien and Msgr. Sirianni, joined more than 300 parishioners and their families for their annual feast day picnic in the parish center.
Of the picnic, Msgr. Sirianni said all enjoyed various dishes, some of which was donated by businesses that support the parish and cooked by the Knights of Columbus.
During the afternoon, Msgr. Sirianni said the Bishop mingled about and that many parishioners were happy to have their photo taken with him.
“The Mass was beautiful,” he said, noting that it’s a longstanding tradition for the parish picnic to be held on the Sunday closest to Sept. 17, St. Robert Bellarmine’s actual feast day.
“It was a very nice atmosphere,” Msgr. Sirianni said. “The people loved their time here and I think the Bishop had a nice time too.”
Many parishioners were happy to participate in the day’s Mass and festivities.
“It was very festive,” said Gina Barnett.
“It’s always a special occasion to celebrate our parish feast day and it was even more so to have the Bishop here today,” Barnett said, noting that she was inspired by the Bishop’s homily.
“It was as if he was speaking to me face to face,“ instead of before an entire congregation, she said.
“Today was a great day, it was a day of community and celebration,” Barnett said.
Returning from the Freehold celebration, the Bishop and Father Felicien stopped at the picnic for Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish in Hamilton.