Story by Carly York | Correspondent
Like any family sending loved ones off on a new journey, the parish of St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, and pastor, Father John Folchetti, expressed their love and prayers for college bound students during a celebration of Mass where students were recognized and blessed. The occasion marked the return to a former parish tradition, with hope that students would be strengthened in their Catholic faith when they are away from home.
Such was the occasion Aug. 13 when current and new college students from the parish and their families gathered for the 5 p.m. Mass and barbecue that followed. During the Mass, all of the college students participated in the Presentation of the Gifts, and each received a special blessing from their pastor. At the picnic that followed, Mark Russoniello, the parish’s director of faith formation, and Joan Kret, youth minister, gave each student a booklet and packet of information from different Catholic campus ministries that are offered around the country. Russoniello and Kret wanted the students to have facts and resources on how to stay true to their Catholic faith while living away at college. The information told of how groups such as the Newman Connection and FOCUS run Bible studies, fellowship groups, conferences and mission trips for Catholic college students as a way to help them connect to teach others and grow in their faith.
In his homily at the Aug. 13 Mass, Father Folchetti reflected on the Readings, which centered on the theme of encountering the Lord.
“God is with us in the brokenness and doubt that inevitably comes to us in life,” Father Folchetti said. “It is our job as Catholics to come along side other people who may not know God, and say to them, ‘God is with you.’”
When directly addressing the college students and their families, Father Folchetti quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who in a 2008 address to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and leaders of Catholic Universities, said, “Catholic institutions of learning are the place to encounter the living God.”
In college, students can experience two of God’s great gifts to humanity, Father Folchetti said.
“God gives us the gift of faith – going beyond ourselves. Faith becomes our anchor as we go through life,” he explained.
“God also gives us the gift of reason,” he continued. “Students, I am concerned for you as a spiritual father. You will encounter people who will ridicule you for your faith, and also those who will support you ... I encourage you to be people of prayer; surround yourself with good people; and remain faithful to God.”
Father Folchetti reminded the students that, “we, your extended family of the parish, are here for you whenever you need us. You only need to call us and we will help you.”
Jessica Ventura, a rising sophomore at Villanova University, Villanova, Pa, and graduate of St. Leo the Great School and St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, said she was happy to attend the special Mass because she was very involved with the parish’s CYO during high school, and she wanted to reconnect with her friends at the event. Ventura said that even though she spent her entire early education in Catholic schools, “it was difficult to stay true to the faith when I got to college. It is sometimes difficult to get up and go to Mass, and it is hard to find a CYO type group while at school. I am looking for my niche.”
Tyler Gentile, a graduate of St. Leo the Great School and Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, who is preparing to enter his freshman year at Georgetown University, Washington, said it is his hope to “try to stay true to my Catholic faith, especially after just hearing Father John’s homily.
“I will try to go to church, and I am looking to get involved with the Jesuits at Georgetown and their community service outreach,” he said.
James Ladley, another St. Leo the Great School and St. John Vianney High School graduate, who will enter his freshman year in The Catholic University of America, Washington, said that he chose to attend a Catholic college because it seemed to have the best of everything that he was looking for.
Ladley, who will major in bio-medical engineering, said he wants to continue practicing his faith and will probably attend Mass in “that big basilica,” – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – located adjacent to the CUA campus.
For six years, parishioners of Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach, has recognized their returning college students, according to parish business manager Joan Walsh.
The blessing, which this year was held Aug. 12 and 13, is important because, “we have nurtured the children during their formative years, and now we are sending them forth to hopefully live out the Gospel,” Walsh said.
In addition to the students, Walsh smiled when she said that a special prayer is also bestowed on their parents.
Sometimes it is hard on the parents to send their children away, “so we bless the parents as well,” Walsh said.
For the second year, St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, also celebrated a special Mass to recognize returning college students.
According to Deacon Stephen Sansevere, “We are trying to maintain some continuity even as they go off to college.
“We want them to feel welcome when they return,” he said following the July 30 Mass. He noted that several students from last year participated in this year’s Mass, and all assisted as readers, ushers, gift bearers and several joined the music director in providing uplifting music.
To mark the milestone evening, Deacon Sansevere noted that the pews in the church were decorated with college pennants pompoms.
In his homily, Deacon Sansevere said he talked about the Wisdom of Solomon, noting that wisdom is more valuable than money or power and stressed to the college students that “As you return or go off to college, wisdom is a Gift of the Holy Spirit that could help you make positive choices in every aspect of your lives. Wise choices in friendships, you social activities, your academic courses, and your life with God will lead you to that pearl of great value described in the Gospel.”