By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Before some 250 faculty, staff, friends and students, five men and women who have supported the mission and vision of Trenton Catholic Academy were recognized in a special way during the Celebrating Iron Mikes Gala held April 22 in Cedar Gardens, Hamilton.
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Those honored by the Pre-K-12 Catholic regional school in Hamilton were Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who was presented with the Serve the Youth Award; Marty Flynn, Alumni Making A Difference Award; Judith Persichilli, Systemic Change Award; Rick Dell, Achievement in Athletics and Life Award, and John Lally, Dedication to Education Award. Each of the honorees was introduced by a family member or friend and awarded by Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Payne, TCA president. Each of the honorees were invited to offer remarks as they received their award.
Introducing Bishop O’Connell was his younger brother, Daniel O’Connell, who works in the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools as associate director for curriculum.
“Whenever I see him dressed in his vestments, I get a little emotional,” Daniel O’Connell said, reflecting on growing up with Bishop O’Connell and witnessing milestones in his life such as his vocation to priesthood, the years he served in academic institutions on both high school and college levels and his ultimately being ordained a bishop.
“We’re family, and family is important,” Daniel O’Connell said, recalling his brother’s episcopal ordination day and wishing how their father, who is deceased, had been present for the momentous occasion.
“I’m proud, too, and the truth is every time I see him, I do get emotional. I think, ‘That’s my big brother,’” Daniel O’Connell said.
In accepting the award, Bishop O’Connell thanked Sister Dorothy and her staff for their work at TCA.
The Bishop said he accepted “this award from you, Sister, in the name of my priests in the Diocese because they, too, support family, Catholic education and in a great many ways, the parishes throughout the Diocese.” He encouraged the gathering to continue to support Catholic education and Trenton Catholic Academy.
St. Anthony High School alum Rick Dell, who serves as the general manager of Baseball Development, Asia for Major League Baseball, was introduced by his sister-in-law, Patricia Dell, who noted how he had spent 27 years at The College of New Jersey and was then recruited by Major League Baseball in 2007.
Dell said he credits his Catholic education as being “a guiding light and source of strength,” especially in helping deal with hardships in life, including the death of his wife.
Reflecting on the school’s mission statement and the school’s diverse population, he said, “Diversity means greatness.”
Anthony Persichilli, mayor of Pennington, had the privilege of introducing his wife, Judith M. Persichilli, president emerita of CHE Trinity, a health ministry formed in 2013 with the consolidation of Catholic Health East and Trinity Health. She is also a recipient of the Benemerenti Medal, a papal honor bestowed on her by then- Pope Benedict XVI.
“As mayor, I have had the opportunity to introduce many famous people, but tonight I have the opportunity to introduce my wife, Judy Persichilli, a nurse who graduated from St. Francis Medical Center when I first met her. She started out in nursing and ended up running an organization of about 95 hospitals and a $14 billion-dollar organization,” he shared.
Persichilli, who graduated from St. Francis Medical School of Nursing, and currently serves on a number of boards including Trenton Catholic Academy, acknowledged in her acceptance speech that while not from the city of Trenton or a graduate of TCA, she came to Trenton for nursing school.
Persichilli noted that when she was asked to serve on the TCA board, she accepted because first, “I know that through the education that I received and that my family received, that Catholic education made a difference in our lives, and I wanted to give back when I retired.”
She said that she and her husband are also active with other Catholic causes including Catholic Charities, St. Francis Medical Center and Georgian Court University, Lakewood.
After introducing his longtime friend, Marty Flynn, Tom Mladenetz, a graduate of St. Anthony High School Class of 1979, who is currently executive director of the Mercer County CYO, noted how the two worked together at the CYO in Yardville 35 years ago and have been friends ever since.
Mladenetz reviewed highlights of Flynn’s career including teacher, a coach and administrator in the Hamilton and West Windsor school districts before transitioning into municipal government work in Hamilton Township.
Flynn acknowledged his fellow award recipients, then recognized the TCA staff who “work tirelessly to provide Catholic education to those [students] who want it [to be] here in the new millennium.”
John Lally, a former educator at St. Anthony High School and Trenton Catholic Academy School Board member, was honored posthumously for his dedication to Catholic education. His daughter, Bridget, in her remarks, spoke of her father’s love for TCA and helping those in need.
“It is a gift and well-deserved honor for his God-given talents to be appreciated and recognized by Trenton Catholic Academy, which held a very special place in his heart,” said Bridget Lally, who was joined at the podium by her mother, Lynn, and sisters Erin and Caitlyn.