Archbishop Damiano Chalice

Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano Chalice and Paten

 

In March 2019, Celestino "Tino" Damiano of Virginia Beach, VA contacted Fr. Chris Gaffrey, OFM, whom he knew from Fr. Chris's home parish of St. Mark, with the following message: "Fr. Chris...need your assistance. The attached link is to my uncle, Archbishop Celestine Damiano (former Bishop of Camden), after whom I am named. My family has been holding and safeguarding his chalice for decades, but it shouldn't be kept in a closet. It would mean a great deal to us if a priest was using it for daily mass. My Dad was an alum of St. Bona's and it would be fitting for it to go to the Franciscans. Can you help us get it to someone appropriate? Thanks, in advance!"

One Friday of Lent 2021, Fr. Chris was reminded of Archbishop Damiano, when he saw his name in the booklet for "A Way of the Cross with Text from Scripture" that Deacon Joe Dion had been using for Stations of the Cross. He contacted Tino and let him know that St. Thomas Aquinas Church could use the chalice as it does not have one belonging to the church.

Tino sent the chalice and paten to Fr. Joseph Powell, OFM, administrator of St. Thomas Aquinas Church with a beautiful letter explaining about the life and achievements of his uncle, Archbishop Celestine Damiano.

Below is the text:

 

 

5 May 2021

Dear Father Joe,

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Celestino J. Damiano, though I go by “Tino.”  I received your name and contact information from Fr. Chris Gaffrey, a former member of our parish, St. Mark, in Virginia Beach. I reached out to him in search of a home for a treasured item in my possession. But first, let me tell you a little bit about me and my family.

I was born in Buffalo, NY, the older child of Joseph and Kathleen Damiano. I was named after my uncle, Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano, and introduced as his namesake. I have a sister, Mary, who is 4 years younger. When I was 2, my father took a teaching position at Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk, NY.  Dad was born in Dunkirk and I grew up knowing and playing with many cousins there. I could hardly walk down the hallways in Holy Trinity School and Cardinal Mindszenty without bumping into a relative.  Sunday at my aunts’ home, the one in which my father was born, typically included a priest or two. Among the guests might be our pastor, priests from other parishes and some of the Passionists assigned to Holy Cross seminary or housed at a neighboring parish. My family had a network of priest friends, some of whom remained close for many years to come. My uncle, who began his priestly ministry in the Buffalo Diocese and served in several different countries and continents, introduced us to many of the priests we knew.

My uncle, or “Uncle Father” as the nieces and nephews knew him, remained influential in the growth of Holy Trinity Parish and was the principal celebrant at my First Eucharist. My cousins and I spent many a holiday at his residence in New Jersey, where he served as Bishop of Camden. School mates often asked me if wanted to be a priest like my uncle. While I thought about it, in my heart of hearts I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father. My wife and I have been married for 38 years and we have 4 adult children and a granddaughter. All that time with priests, though, did influence my own ministry. At the minimum age required, I completed training as an altar server. The church had just changed over to using English for Mass and I remember having laminated cards in both Latin and English. Around the time I wore my first cassock and surplice, Uncle Father was taken from us. At only 10 years old, I was devastated. Not until I was much older, did I fully appreciate the number of lives he touched. While several of us have little mementos of our time with him, I have an item that surely must be shared with another priest.

Fr. Joe, I want to entrust you with his chalice. I know that many of the ordered priests are limited in what they own themselves, but I hope your superiors will honor my wishes. My father went to St. Bonaventure University and held the Franciscans in high regard. Our desire was to have it to go to a Passionist or Franciscan, but with Fr. Chris wearing the brown it was a simple choice. I pray that God continues to bless you in your ministry and keeps you in good health. Our only request is that from time to time, you remember the entire Damiano family in your mass intentions. I know they all will be glad to know that a part of our history lives on with you.

Sincerely,

Mr. Celestino J. Damiano


 

Biography of Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano

 

The oldest of six children, Celestine Joseph Damiano was born in Dunkirk, New York, to Vito and Stella (née Zaccari) Damiano, who were Italian immigrants. Receiving his early education at public schools in Dunkirk, he studied at St. Michael's College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for two years before entering the Urban College of the Propaganda in Rome, where he studied philosophy and theology.

Damiano was ordained to the priesthood on December 21, 1935 in Rome. He then did pastoral work in the Diocese of Buffalo until 1947, when he became an official of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome. During his time at the Propagation of the Faith, he also served as an associate observer of the Vatican to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

On November 27, 1952, Damiano was appointed Apostolic Delegate to South Africa and Titular Archbishop of Nicopolis in Epiro by Pope Pius XII. He was ordained a bishop at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Buffalo, NY on February 11, 1953 from Bishop Joseph A. Burke of Buffalo, with Archbishop John Francis O'Hara, C.S.C. of Philadelphia, and Auxiliary Bishop of Buffalo Leo Richard Smith serving as co-consecrators. From 1952 to 1960, Archbishop Damiano in many ways changed the face of the Church in South Africa. His great respect for the dignity of the human person, of whatever race or ethnic origin, would not permit him to silently fulfill the duties of a papal delegate in a country dominated by apartheid. As he worked in a pastoral manner with other bishops and with the priests of South Africa, he insisted quite vocally on new modes of Church advocacy for the equality of the races.

Following the death of Bishop Justin J. McCarthy in December 1959, Damiano was named the third Bishop of Camden, New Jersey (with the personal title of Archbishop) on January 24, 1960. He was installed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on May 3, 1960. Shortly after his installation, where he described himself as above all a “citizen of the Church,” the Archbishop spoke publicly of the plight of the 25,000 Puerto Ricans in the diocese. “Give them an opportunity to belong, to be educated, to progress.”

For the next seven years of his time in Camden, the Archbishop urged and put into action several initiatives to provide a better life for Hispanics. Particular significant contributions made under his direction were the opening of a pre-natal clinic for expectant mothers in North Camden, staffed by the Hospitaler Sisters he brought from Rome in 1966, and the establishment in 1962 of the Spanish Catholic Center which is now a parish for all Hispanics in the city of Vineland. The works of the Neighborhood Apostolate were also important achievements in the upgrading of pastoral care for Hispanics.

In September 1960, Damiano launched a drive to raise $5 million for the construction and improvement of Catholic secondary schools in the diocese. He established Camden Catholic High School, Holy Spirit High School, and Paul VI High School, and opened 17 new elementary schools with enrollment increasing by more than 3,000. He also founded a diocesan school board in 1965, and greatly expanded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

In 1961, Archbishop Damiano began the Camden Diocese’s mission to Brazil with the assignment of two priests. To this day, this initiative continues to broaden the understanding of priests and lay people of the universality of the Church and to commit themselves to generosity beyond the borders of the local church.

Probably the most lasting memorial of the Archbishop’s ministry in Camden was his establishment of the House of Charity Appeal for funding the human services of the diocese. It is noteworthy that the idea of the House of Charity first came from remarks made by Pope Saint John XXIII in 1962. The Holy Father saw all religions working together to help each other. The concept for the House of Charity was born with John’s words, “I am your brother Joseph, come into your Father’s house.”

In rapid succession, several new social ministries to the poor and needy were announced: the pre-natal clinic on State Street in North Camden, additional classes for the developmentally disabled and handicapped persons, the construction of a new complex planned for the educable and trainable in Deptford Township, and the opening of new nursing homes in Pleasantville and Upper Pittsgrove Township near Elmer. A new chapel and convent were added to St. Mary’s Home, and by 1965 the services there had been expanded to house 95 chronically ill patients.

Pope Saint John XXIII named Archbishop Damiano as a member of the Preparatory Commission for the Missions in advance of the Second Vatican Council, of which Damiano attended all four sessions (1962-1965). He also delivered the invocation for the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ.

The Archbishop was deeply committed to the renewed spirit of the liturgy which flowed from the Second Vatican Council, just as he was deeply convinced that the vision adapted by the Council Fathers had to be carefully understood. To do so, he established scores of programs, conferences and liturgical training programs in his diocese.

The post-conciliar spirit of renewal was evident in a number of other initiatives led by the Archbishop. He fostered involvement in ecumenical and inter-religious activities, and when he received a B’nai B’rith Award, he was justly proud that he had helped to strengthen brotherhood.

While recuperating from gall bladder surgery, Archbishop Damiano died from a blood clot at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, NJ, on October 2, 1967. He was 55. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill, NJ.

“If my pastoral ministry accomplishes nothing more than fulfill the programs and desires of my predecessors, especially in the building of churches, institutions, and fostering vocations, then my humble name will be blessed before God and before souls.” – Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano

Personal Coat of Arms of Archbishop Celestine J. Damiano with the motto "Fortis in Fides,"
Latin for "Strong in Faith"


A special thanks to the Diocese of Camden for permission to use parts of their bio of Archbishop Damiano