St. Joe’s – Fr. Trotta’s 78 years of memories
Seventy-eight years! That is how long Fr. Lou Trotta has memories of “St. Joes”, our former prep seminary and currently the final resting place for the majority of confreres of the Eastern Province.
Along with 17 others, he arrived there for the first time in September 1939 as a 14-year-old. Fr. Luigi Scialdone, C.M. recommended that he follow in his footsteps as a Vincentian. In the Spring of 2017, he returned once more to the property which has now been converted into the Princeton Abbey and Cemetery.
The architectural gem of the neo-gothic English style chapel whose construction began in 1932 still stands. as do a number of other buildings added to the original building that opened in 1914.
He is the last surviving member of that group that began in 1939. He is one of the four still living 8 priests who were eventually ordained with him in 1952. – Robert J. Brandenberger, Joseph A. Elzi, and William Sheldon,
I had the opportunity to interview him about the flood of memories that came back to him during his recent visit. Since he his first setting foot one the property his life has frequently intersected with this ground hallowed for so many Vincentians.
The years from 1939 to 1945 provided a foundation upon which he built over his 65 years of priesthood. But he also vividly remembers how he almost died in a diving accident.
He entered our Novitiate in Germantown in 1945 and then completed his preparation for ordination in 1952 after six years at Mary Immaculate Seminary.
Editor’s note: I met him for the first time when he and I arrived at St. John’s Prep in January 1952. He taught Latin and Religion there until 1955. In that year we both found ourselves at St. Joes’. I was a first-year collegian and served as Prefect of Students until 1961.
From 1961 through 1966 he served as Novice Master in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Then began his almost 40 years at Niagara University in a variety of administrative roles. Since 2004 he has ministered at our Motherhouse in Germantown.
Of course, he returned to Princeton almost every year for the July 19 celebration of the feast of St. Vincent. These gatherings ceased in 1967.
Over the intervening years, there have been various provincial meetings and Assemblies on the property until it closing as a seminary in 1992. The buildings were repurposed as a retreat center and center for youth programs until 2009.
Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the large campus, which was not in use but costly to maintain, the community explored other options which would preserve the architecture and the beautiful historic look and feel of the buildings.
Princeton Abbey and Cemetery
The solution was twofold: lease the school buildings to other educational institutions, and turn 12 acres of the 87-acre grounds into a cemetery.
In 2011 Plainsboro Township rezoned the land to allow the cemetery plan to take shape.
The school buildings were are various times occupied by the French-American School and the Laurel School for dyslexic students. Previous tenants include the American Boychoir School and the Wilberforce School
A mutually fortuitous breakthrough occurred with an agreement with CMS Mid-Atlantic, Inc. which provides cemetery management and consulting services to the cemetery industry throughout New Jersey & New York. They developed a plan to make a cemetery of the 12 acres on the west side of the campus in five phases of construction. This allowed the preservation of our community cemetery laid out in 1934 and currently contains the remains of over 450 members of the Eastern Province.
The new layout of the cemetery will preserve existing trees, and utilize a tree-lined buffer zone between the graves and the edge of the property.
The chapel itself — redubbed Princeton Abbey — is being transformed into a place to hold cremated remains, and will also be open for special events and concerts. The chapel’s acoustics, optimized for church music, allow two people to have a speaking-voice conversation while standing at opposite ends of the sanctuary.
Fr. Trotta revisits
This brings us to Fr. Trotta’s visit this Spring.
As he sat in the chapel he was filled with gratitude and awe remembering that it where he first learned of the apparitions of Mary to St. Catherine Laboure. He remembered the days when the legends of our community celebrated masses on the side altars and sung masses celebrated in the crypt below the main chapel.
As he sat in the midst of the beauty he remembered and the beauty of the transformation of the sacristy and crypt he realized he now had a choice of whether to be buried in the still active cemetery of the Community or in one of the niches reserved for the ashes of a slowly increasing number of confreres choosing cremation.
Please enjoy the following gallery from the Princeton Abbey Viewbook to appreciate the beautiful transformation of the place that is so special not only to Fr. Trotta but all the confreres.