Beloved religious site in Frankford to reopen, hold regular services
Photo by Kyle Morel/New Jersey Herald - The Sanctuary of Mary, located on Wantage Avenue in Frankford, will officially reopen to the public at noon Saturday with a Mass by Bishop Arthur Serratelli, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson.
By Kyle Morel New Jersey Herald
Posted: Sep. 1, 2019 12:01 am
FRANKFORD -- A former Sussex County religious institution is marking what many locals hope is the beginning of a revival in the community with a special ceremony and the start of regular church services next weekend.
The Sanctuary of Mary, located on Wantage Avenue in Frankford, will officially reopen to the public at noon Saturday with a Mass by Bishop Arthur Serratelli, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson. Following the Mass will be a groundbreaking ceremony for renovations to the building as well as construction of a new retreat house on the property.
According to the sanctuary's website, the Rev. Sylvester Livolsi founded the religious site in 1975 and saw it attract a large following of local residents, particularly in neighboring Branchville, in the ensuing decades. The sanctuary closed after his death in 2008, and though it reopened a year later under new clergy members, it closed again in 2014 and has remained shuttered ever since.
The path to once more reopening the sanctuary began in June 2018 with a message left by Marie Carlone, who had known Livolsi prior to his founding the sanctuary, on the late priest's online obituary page. She began speaking with Livolsi's niece, Susie Ritchie, who informed her that the family was seeking to give away the vacant property.
"I wish we knew somebody who would take this on and continue my uncle's dream," Carlone recalled Ritchie telling her.
Carlone did have a group in mind: the Society of Divine Vocations, which originated in Italy but has established a vocationary in Florham Park. Carlone knew some members of the congregation and was aware they had been looking for additional land to use for worship, so she put Livolsi's family in contact with them.
The group, also known as the Vocationist Fathers, officially gained ownership of the sanctuary in November. Since then, members have been working under the direction of the Rev. Louis Caputo to return the site to the prominence it enjoyed under Livolsi.
Word of the sanctuary's reopening is welcome news for many county residents who used to visit the site regularly. Carlone, who is volunteering with the Vocationist Fathers in the restoration efforts, said she has received dozens of emails from community members sharing their excitement, with many offering to help with any projects or general upkeep planned at the site.
"I am beyond excited to hear that the Sanctuary will be re-opened," read one email. "I spent many of my most peaceful times of my life and some of my most difficult times on the grounds or in the Church, praying or just embracing the amazing views. This place has been very special to me as well as many others."
Another email read: "Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing Fr. Livolsi's dream."
Looking ahead, Caputo plans to construct a retreat house on the property to accommodate visitors who want to stay at the sanctuary overnight or over a period of several days. The expansion is contingent on receiving various permits from township officials, but Carlone said the hope is to have the new building constructed some time in 2020.
While those plans are still down the road, the current Sanctuary of Mary will officially be open once again starting Saturday.
With the feedback from locals so far, the site's impact on the local community is evident to Carlone.
"I imagine the people in Branchville who frequented the sanctuary missed it," she said. "It was a place of peacefulness where they could go and meditate. ... I think the anticipation of it coming back is something that is overwhelming."
For more information on the Sanctuary of Mary, visit www.sanctuaryofmary.org, or call the Rev. Louis Caputo at 973-722-7142.