In Midst of Lawsuit, Millville Church's Outgoing Pastor Sees School to Success

By Rich Quinn
Daily Journal (Vineland, NJ)
June 3, 2000

MILLVILLE - Saving the church school is one of the proudest memories for the Rev. Anthony Manuppella, the outgoing pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Church.

Not all of his Millville stories are good ones, though.

Manuppella, an emotional man often heard referring to his Italian heritage and his Brooklyn upbringing, has plenty of memories from the Holly City.

No new stories will be added. Manuppella's eight-year tenure in Millville ends June 20.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden is moving him to St. Peter's in Merchantville. His replacement is the Rev. Frederick Link, the current pastor at St. John Bosco in Millville.

"There is no connection between the new assignment and the lawsuit," said Andrew Walton, Diocesan spokesman. The Merchantville church, with more than 3,000 families, is almost triple the size of St. Mary's congregation, Walton added.

The suit filed in March 1999 claimed unwanted sexual advances toward Christopher McKelvey, an Atlantic City seminary student.

McKelvey of Atlantic City has not received an answer from the Diocese, according to George Coan of the Atlantic County Superior Court's law division.

The Diocese has filed four motions to dismiss the case since August 1999, Coan added. The case was dismissed twice before that, Walton said.

McKelvey claimed Manuppella and the Rev. William C. Pierce, a Camden pastor, discussed homosexual lifestyles and asked him to accompany them to gay bars.

The alleged harassment occurred in the mid-1980s when McKelvey attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., according to the suit.

The complaint also accused two diocesan supervisors, including the Rev. John T. Frey of St. Isidore Church in Vineland, of failing to investigate the allegations after they were reported.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Manuppella said. "I don't worry about it."

The pastor's biggest concern these days, he said, is controlling his emotions the day he leaves the Holly City.

"I'll be very tearful that day," said Manuppella, 49. "I feel like I'm married to these people. But it's like being in the army. The vow of obedience means you will obey your bishop."

One of the vows of that marriage was protecting the elementary school, which now houses 350 students. The school was started in 1882, 21 years after the church began.

"When I came here, there were only 150 children in our school and it was about to close," said Manuppella, adding he's recruited nine nuns and one apprentice to teach there. "In fact, we added a four-room addition last year. That's a miracle."

Manuppella, who will soon celebrate his 25th year as a priest, had hoped to reach that milestone in Millville, the first parish he controlled. He has been an associated pastor at five parishes.

"I've made the people of this parish feel proud once again," Manuppella said, his phone ringing constantly as people called for Mass times. "When I came here, morale was low. Now, I call this the 'happy parish.'"


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