252 Wantage Avenue, Branchville, NJ 07826
His dream was to establish a Sanctuary for the devotion to the Blessed Mother for all to visit in prayer.
The Vocationist Fathers have acquired The Sanctuary of Mary and are in the process of restoring this land to her beauty.
The Sanctuary of Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, is a private, Catholic Sanctuary, center of prayer, adoration and retreat. It was built on 11.6 acres of a beautiful wooded area in the hilly rural area of Frankford Township.
The late Father Sylvester Livolsi (1923 -2008) devoted much of his priesthood to building, maintaining and expanding this property located at 252 Wantage Avenue, Branchville, New Jersey, 07826.
Fr. Livolsi built The Sanctuary with his own hands and the help of an ever-growing group of volunteers of up to 50 people, who prayed, worked and ate together.
With this group of volunteers, Fr. Livolsi started the Association of Mary that grew to 72 associates. Every Saturday, they got together for the celebration of the Eucharist, Bible study, praying the Rosary and sharing a frugal lunch, prepared by the members.
On August 3, 1975 the Most Reverend Lawrence Casey, Bishop of Paterson blessed and dedicated The Sanctuary and appointed Fr. Livolsi Guardian and Custodian of the same.
It was one of the most memorable days at The Sanctuary when a dozen priests concelebrated and approximately 500 faithful from Frankford, Branchville, Sussex County, Jersey City, Garfield, Bayonne and Newark, members of Father Livolsi’s family and many other friends overcrowded the beautiful chapel. In the wooded area of the property, there seemed to be more people in attendance than trees.
The news of the new Sanctuary spread rapidly and curiosity and devotion kept attracting more and more pilgrims which made it necessary to start building St. Joseph Hall, also known as Pilgrim's Hall, This new building accommodated the pilgrimages coming by buses from near and far. The pilgrimages, which usually arrived by 10:00 a.m., after a warm welcome, was followed by the celebration of the Eucharist, along with an inspiring talk by Fr. Livolsi.
The groups relaxed and consumed the food that they had brought, followed by a lengthy instruction/exhortation and concluded with a Marian Devotion. People were given ample opportunity for confession and spiritual counseling.
As the activities kept growing, Brother Enrico Esposito joined Father Livolsi and lived permanently in the Rectory. Maria Cerchio and Peggy Noto became permanent volunteer secretaries for over thirty years.
The Sanctuary, with a capacity of 150 people, eventually could not accommodate the many pilgrims who arrived, so the people attending the Sunday Mass at 12:30 p.m., bought additional new folding chairs. Subsequently, instead of an open air Cathedral dreamed by Fr. Livolsi, St. Michael’s Pavilion was built and inaugurated on September 29, 1979, with the participation of the extended family of the Sanctuary that saw the highest number of presences amounting to over 600 people.
This event gave some participants the idea of the Gospel’s multiplication of bread with people seated everywhere, sharing and consuming the food they had brought.
Two other big events took place in 1978: The construction of God the Father Chapel for ecumenical Bible study, which was blessed by Most Rev. Frank Rodimer, Bishop of Paterson; and the construction and dedication of the monumental Stations of the Cross donated by the Matarazzo Family in memory of Carmine and Filomena Matarazzo.
On the first Friday of Lent, the Stations of the Cross were blessed and inaugurated. The number of participants was so great, that when Fr. Livolsi was concluding the 14th station, the end of the procession of the faithful had not yet reached the 1st Station, which was a quarter of mile walk! A number of pilgrims participated to the exercise of the Via Crucis, every Thursday during Lent, and the Associates of Mary and others joined the walking Rosary during the months of May and October.
The number of people going to daily Mass grew from 12 to 30, and Sunday Mass participation was between 200 to 300 faithful in attendance, depending on weather conditions and the seasons of the year. The largest participation at The Sanctuary always took place during the summer’s months.
The last big event celebrated at the Sanctuary, was a spontaneous tribute of love to Fr. Livolsi for a surprise celebration for his 50th anniversary of ordination as a priest.
He had his official celebration in Lodi on May 22, 1998, but on May 30, 1998, relatives, admirers, former parishioners and friends of The Sanctuary arrived in 12 buses and numerous private cars for an open air Mass and improvised picnic!
After a very short, unexpected illness, Fr. Livolsi passed to his eternal reward on February 16, 2008, which was also his 85th birthday.
The Sanctuary of Mary then remained closed until May 1, 2009 when the Society of Our Lady of the Blessed Trinity reopened it.
Under the leadership of Fr. Jim Mulligan, the group retreats increased, while two priests, a brother and five religious sisters staffed The Sanctuary. S.O.L.T left The Sanctuary in 2014 and The Sanctuary has been closed ever since.
On November 27, 2018, the Non Profit Corporation, The Sanctuary of Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit transferred the title of the property to The Society of Divine Vocations.
To keep Fr. Livolsi’s dream alive, the Vocationist Fathers wish to make The Sanctuary a center of prayer, and carry on their mission for Universal Sanctification.
The Vocationist Fathers are looking into the possibility of building a Retreat Center, where people can come to pray, relax and renew their spirit through adoration, recollection and meditation. Their vision would provide accommodations for one day or overnight visits and/or week long retreats for priests, sisters, brothers, parish groups, individuals and Catholic families.
The neighbors and old friends of The Sanctuary of Mary are very encouraging and happy at the prospect of reopening and expanding The Sanctuary. The Diocese of Paterson, and the neighboring Catholic pastors have been generous in encouragement and blessings for the prospect of continued life.
Please visit the Vocationist Fathers' website to learn
about bringing pilgrimages and retreats to The Sanctuary of Mary.
Peggy Noto served as a trustee and officer of The Sanctuary of Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit for over 30 years, until her passing this year.
Peggy was a dedicated, generous, kind woman who assisted Father Livolsi with all things Sanctuary related. You might say that Peggy was his angel on earth.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held for Peggy on February 16, 2019 in Branchville.
Fr. James Bartoloma, a longtime friend of Peggy's, celebrated the Funeral Mass with Concelebrants Fr. Louis Caputo, S.D.V., Fr. Firmino Htwe, S.D.V., Fr. Hermogenes Sargado, S.D.V., of the Vocationist Fathers. Serving at the Mass were Br. Jerome Bauer and Br. Saw John Paul also of the Vocationists.
One of Peggy's last wishes was to help begin the restoration of the property by donating her beautiful rooms of furniture to The Sanctuary of Mary.
She said she would be looking down and praying for the Vocationist Fathers and the success of their endeavors.
The Sanctuary of Mary owes a great deal of gratitude to Peggy Noto for her selfless dedication to helping bring Father Livolsi's dream to fruition.
We miss you, Peggy.
Jan. 25, 2010
For the Feast of the Presentation, we visit The Sanctuary of Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit,
in Branchville, N.J.
May 6, 2013
The world-famous statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which is noted for miracles and shedding tears, visited The Sanctuary of Mary in Branchville
on May 6, 2013.