ATL. HIGHLANDS – Monsignor Cajetan Salemi wanted to celebrate his 60 years of priesthood with many of the many, many friends he has made over his past 13 years of assisting at Our Lady of Perpetual Help- St. Agnes Parish. But in true fashion the beloved priest couldn’t celebrate his own special day without leaving four pearls of wisdom for his friends to remember.
The Newark-born priest, better known to his friends as “Tom” hosted a dinner for more than 100 guests at the Shore Casino Sunday, celebrating the 60 years since he was ordained in the Archdiocese of Newark. He first highlighted each of the parishes in which he has served, citing lessons he learned, memories he holds, and accomplishments he was able to achieve for the parish in each. His first assignment after being ordained a priest was for 14 years as associate at St. Joseph Church, Roselle, where he also ministered to the parish elementary school and two high schools. For the next five years he was chair of the Marriage Preparatory program for the Archdiocese, and then spent from 1980 to 1981 at St. Peter’s Church in Belleville.
In 1981, Msgr. Salemi took a sabbatical from the diocese and traveled to Rome, where he studied for a year, returning to accept his first administrative obligation at St. Joseph’s Church in East Orange. In 1983, the ever smiling and benevolent priest was rector at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, and almost singlehandedly arranged the funds and undertook the renovation and rehabilitation of the historic building.
Monsignor later served as pastor of Guardian Angel in Allendale, and Our Lady Mother of the Church in Woodcliff Lake before retiring from active pastorate, only to take on added duties as a weekend assistant in several different churches. For two years, he was an assistant both in the Atlantic Highlands parish as well as St. Elizbeth in Avon. And since 2012, he has been the weekend assistant not only here but in St. Rose in Belmar, later in St. Jerome’s/ St. Mary’s in Long Branch and Deal, positions he still holds and where he says mass on a regular basis.
Summarizing his priesthood and his reasons for becoming a priest and administering to so many thousands of Catholics, Monsignor told the Shore Casino guests his pearls of wisdom they should remember are that life is a mosaic, made of many colors and sizes, but the finished pattern is not shown until the finish line. He said just as Christ died for all “we all will win the prize together.” Friendship is his third pearl of wisdom, he said, urging all to remember the impact they have on others and others have on them, and recognize all as friends of Christ. All of which, he summarized leads to the fourth pearl of wisdom, that “life is really a comma, not a period,” and there is more to look forward to after the comma.
The Rev. Jarlath Quinn, who also celebrated his sixth anniversary of his own priesthood this week, presented Monsignor Salemi with a framed copy of a Papal Blessing from Pope Francis, in appreciation of his decades and continuing service to the church and its people.