Pompton Lakes Parishioner Recognized for Service, Franciscan Spirit

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

POMPTON LAKES, N.J. – The friars at St. Mary’s Parish acknowledged parishioner Mary Lovely for her more than two decades of service at the northern New Jersey church when they presented her with the Holy Name Province Francis Medal last month at a Sunday morning Mass.

The Francis Medal was established in 1998 by then-Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM, to acknowledge those who exemplify the values and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi in their personal and professional lives.

For more than 20 years, Lovely has served the Pompton Lakes parish in several ministries, including Eucharistic minister, Mass captain, and RCIA sponsor – in which she has joyfully accompanied those formally joining the Catholic Church.

Her most notable contribution, said John Aherne, OFM, has been Lovely’s participation in the Stephen Ministry – a program that provides compassionate listeners to those experiencing hardships. Lovely has served as a Stephen Minister since 2013 and as a Stephen leader since 2019.

“Mary was instrumental in reorganizing and revitalizing this ministry during a challenging time in its development. She did so with a Franciscan spirit,” said John, who celebrated the April 25 Mass.

“Her impressive ability to meet people where they are and to walk with them is matched only by her faithfulness to Christ and love of his church,” added John, who has been stationed at St. Mary’s since 2018.

The friars wanted to honor Lovely, a Connecticut native who relocated to New Jersey in 1991 and has been part of the parish since 1999, before she moved from the Pompton Lakes area this spring.

The Francis Medal recognition and the many people who attended the Mass, among them a sister and niece from out of state – were both touching and surprising for Lovely.

“It is a moment I will never forget,” said Lovely. “St. Mary’s is such a warm, welcoming, and inclusive faith-filled community. I most enjoy Sunday Mass because it’s a celebration. I get to gather with who I call my pew peeps, sing along with our awesome music ministry, listen to a relevant and uplifting homily from one of our amazing friars, and serve as Eucharistic minister where all are welcome to the table. Spending time in the sacristy prepping for the next Mass provided more opportunity to interact with the friars, deacon, and Eucharistic ministers. It’s all about fellowship, music, and the message.”

Mary Lovely with John Aherne and the parish community on the steps of St. Mary’s Church. (Photo courtesy of John)

Admiration and Appreciation for Friars
The Francis Medal recipient admires and appreciates Franciscan friars. “They are humble, approachable, caring, fun, current, and comfortable to be with,” she said, recalling the fond memory of a friar-chaperoned pilgrimage to Italy, during which she made lifetime friendships with other pilgrims.

“I absolutely loved the experience and have enjoyed staying in touch with other pilgrims since the trip,” she said.

Like the style of Franciscans, St. Mary’s Parish is casual and comfortable, according to Lovely. “I’ve had the privilege to learn from and serve with many compassionate and kind-hearted friends I met through the Stephen Ministry. St. Mary’s touches my life daily,” she said.

“During the pandemic, live-streamed Mass has been a lifeline for many parishioners. I hope the parish continues to live-stream its Masses so I can attend from a distance,” added Lovely, who moved to the Jersey Shore earlier this month.

Her first experience with St. Mary’s was in February 1999 when then-pastor Michael Carnevale, OFM – at the request of a mutual acquaintance – stopped by to bless her house.

“I wanted to know where this utterly charming character was from,” said Lovely, who had moved to New Jersey eight years before the encounter in a corporate relocation. “The following Sunday, I found St. Mary’s and only wished I had found it sooner. From that point, I became a fan of the Franciscans. Once Franciscan, there’s no turning back. Being Franciscan is a way of life,” added Lovely, who worked for more than three decades in the multi-national consumer goods industry.

Mary Lovely listens as John Aherne reads the medal citation. (Photo courtesy of  John)

Accolades from Parishioners
St. Mary’s parishioners described Lovely’s dedication to the parish and example of lived Franciscan values.

“One of the things that stands out most to me when I think of Mary and her Franciscan spirit, is her ability to reach out to anyone,” said Michelle Morrison. “In this day and age, our Church needs more people like Mary – someone who welcomes you, no matter who you are, where you come from, and what stage of life you are in. Mary is the type of person who makes you feel like ‘all are welcome,’ truly welcome.”

“Mary is positive, optimistic, and generous of spirit,” said Clare Russo. “She radiates inner joy. I have never seen her without a smile on her face. She is the most organized person I have ever met. I admire her constant grasp of what needs to be done and her ability to follow through. Dedicated to Christian service as our Stephen Ministry coordinator, Mary was responsible for forming our current leadership team, and helping to revive and reinvigorate a ministry which was struggling.”

“When I think of Mary, I can’t help but think of the Prayer of St. Francis because her whole life is an example of what it means to strive to truly live this prayer,” said Julie Tatti. “Mary is a unique and special woman who shares her God-given gifts and talents with each person she meets.”

Maria Ginart, who lost her best friend to cancer, said, “Mary’s presence was a God’s way of sending me an angel to help me get through my heartbreak. I am so blessed to have her in my life. I often think of how appropriate her name is: Mary Lovely, a beautiful peacemaker who always shares a smile and a sign of hope, an example of simplicity and charity, and a true example of Christian joy, truly exemplifying the meaning of a follower of St. Francis.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.