By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
This year, for the first time anyone present could recall, the annual Blue Mass was woven into the fabric of Easter Week.
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And those attending the event in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, April 7, said that timing was just perfect.
The cathedral, dressed for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, echoing with compelling hymns offered by the Diocesan Festival Choir, was further enlivened by the presence of hundreds of law enforcement officers from scores of departments and associations throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Together, they formed a long, blue line in front of the cathedral and then filed in to participate in the Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
The more than 600 officers and scores of their family members were joined by the community at large and a host of civic officials led by Kim Guadagno, New Jersey's lieutenant governor and Trenton's mayor, Eric Jackson.
With the pomp and circumstance that have been hallmarks of what's officially known as the Diocesan Celebration of Law Enforcement for 16 years, the colors were posted and dozens of flags carried by color guards of added to the ceremony as did the sound of bagpipes playing in tribute to those who have fallen in service and those who still serve.
All listened intently as Bishop O'Connell offered a homily that melded appreciation for their service, deep concern for their welfare and faith in their devotion to their mission to protect and serve.
“My sisters and brothers in law enforcement,” he said, looking directly at the sea of blue before him, “this day, so close to Easter is a day that we in the Diocese of Trenton dedicate to you and your families.”
“We lift you in prayer, you who protect and serve us, to the God who created, protects and through his Son, the Lord Jesus, protects and serves you.”
Bishop O'Connell drew his homily to a close with two passages from Scripture, each full of hope and inspiration.
Quoting Jesus first from John 11:25-26 that “whoever believes in me, even if they die, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die,” and then invoking St. Peter, “the rock upon whom Christ built his Church,” he urged his sister and brother officers to “remember that you have a mission.”
“Fulfill it daily,” he said recalling the words of St. Peter that each one among them has “received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
The bishop's words of support were widely appreciated by those who heard them. After the Mass and at the luncheon in the cathedral's social hall, they spoke warmly of the overall affect of the day and his role in it.
“The bishop's homily brought home the mission,” for the men and women who feel called to law enforcement as a vocation, said the Deacon of the Mass James Scott, an assistant Mercer County prosecutor, who has served in that capacity several times since his ordination in 2008.
“They believe God calls them to do this,” said Deacon Scott, who is assigned to St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. “His homily hit home.”
Retired Lt. Howard “Buddy” Allaire of the Trenton Police Department, a member of the Blue Mass committee since it during the millennial year 2000 and its chairman for four years, described this year's Blue Mass as “one of the nicest I've attended.”
The committee includes members of local and county departments; the N.J. Fraternal Order of Police; the State Troopers Fraternal Association; N.J. Department of Corrections; the State Police; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
“The Bishop's homily was so right, so on point and warm,” Allaire said. And the timing was wonderful, he added. “Since it was Easter week, families had a chance to come. There were more children than usual and it was very good for them to be here.”
Being in such a supportive, uplifting atmosphere was very important for them, Allaire said.
Sharing the day with family made this Blue Mass very special for retired Hamilton detective Rick Prihoda. He has attended regularly but this is the first year that his family – mother Emily, wife Kim, and son Matthew, 6, were able to accompany him.
“We were very excited for Matthew to be here,” said Kim Prihoda. “It was a very beautiful Mass and Matthew, who is in religious education in St. Mary of Bordentown, wanted very much to come. He really wanted to go to Mass with the Bishop.”
Emily Priohoda spoke of what a blessing the experience was for Matthew, noting that two generations had served in law enforcement and speculating that perhaps, the little boy would be inspired to do the same when he grows up.
Her late husband, John R. Priohoda, had been chief of the Trenton Police for 20 years and a member of the force for 43 years all together. She expressed real joy in sharing this experience with her son and grandson. An extra joy, she said, was seeing Bishop O'Connell looking so well after his recent amputation surgery.
Among the other families who gathered for the Blue Mass were Lt. Leonard Aviles of the Trenton Police, his wife, Gladys, their daughter Giana (sic), son, Leonard Jr. His parents, Irma and Hiran, members of the cathedral parish, were also there and clearly overjoyed that they could be together for this Blue Mass.
“I'm so proud to have them here,” said Lt. Aviles, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square. He shared that he was very pleased his family had a chance to experience the pageantry, the discipline and the camaraderie of the members of the law enforcement community.
“It all shows in this Mass,” he said with a smile.