Story by Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Long before St. Robert Bellarmine Church was established as a co-cathedral, it had been an active and vital parish community, serving as the spiritual home to more than 4,000 households and offering a variety of ministries that numbers more than 40. In addition, the parish, in recent years, had also become the chosen location to host numerous diocesan workshops and liturgies primarily because of its central location within the four counties of Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean, and facilities that are accessible location-wise and can accommodate large numbers of people.
Now that the Freehold Township church has been dedicated a co-cathedral by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, who now serves as rector, said he envisions the mission of the Co-Cathedral will be to work in close cooperation with St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, “the Mother Church of the Diocese, in serving the Diocese.”
“I believe as a parish and as a co-cathedral, St. Robert Bellarmine is now being called to serve a variety of communities – the parish community, the diocesan community and the wider community of Freehold and western Monmouth County,” said Msgr. Sirianni.
Msgr. Sirianni smiled as he recalled more than a year ago when Bishop O’Connell “asked me if I would mind” his investigating the process involved in establishing St. Robert Bellarmine Parish as a co-cathedral. The process, he said, would include the Bishop’s collecting data on the parish, such as its history, demographics and ministries, and submitting a formal request to the Vatican for review and approval. Additionally, the Bishop had also asked Msgr. Sirianni to solicit feedback from parishioners on how they felt about their parish obtaining co-cathedral status.
While the community had recognized the prestige that would come with being named a co-cathedral, Msgr. Sirianni assured the Bishop that with or without the co-cathedral title, “We here at St. Robert Bellarmine would continue to do what we can to help the Diocese in any way.”
“The parishioners are used to hosting various diocesan events,” Msgr. Sirianni said, referring to the numerous workshops, the Chrism Mass that’s traditionally held on the Monday of Holy Week each year and the Bishop’s Anniversary Blessing Mass for couples from Monmouth and Ocean Counties who are observing milestone wedding anniversaries: 25, 50 or more years of marriage.
Now with its official status as a co-cathedral, Msgr. Sirianni, along with his staff and parishioners, will do everything possible to be of service to the larger diocesan community. It’s his hope that the major renovations that are currently underway in the parish center will be completed in a timely fashion and that the building will soon “be fully operational.” The renovations include repairs to the floor, converting the kitchen into more of a catering pantry to accommodate the myriad events the parish hosts, renovating the space where the offices are set up as well as the foyer area to create a more welcoming and useful area.
The Co-Cathedral now has the responsibility of being of service to the larger diocesan community, Msgr. Sirianni reiterated. Most importantly, our community of faith continues to strive to fulfill its mission “to proclaim Christ in a very active and concrete way.”