‘Outstanding’ seniors of W. Hudson

A modest Monsignor John J. Gilchrist, of Kearny, a priest for more than half a century, was honored for “outstanding achievements and contributions to his community” as the Hudson County Senior of the Year at a luncheon held May 28 at Casino-in-the-Park, Jersey City.

Other West Hudson seniors recognized for dedication to their communities were Harrison Councilman Victor B. Villalta and James Lynch of East Newark.

Villalta, a decorated Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War, is active with the Marine Corps League and chairs the council’s senior citizens committee. Lynch has served as a youth soccer coach and is active with the local seniors.

“Monsignor Gilchrist was especially dedicated to seniors – of all religions and of all ethnic backgrounds – whose rights as tenants were being ignored. He realized the need to be ‘a voice for the seniors who felt they had no voice.’ He formed the Hudson County Tenants Association and fought for a protection act for senior citizens,” Hudson County Executive Thomas said.

“As a result of his work, a building in West New York was dedicated in his honor by then-Mayor Albio Sires,” DeGise noted.

DeGise also lauded the priest’s “commitment to the working poor, efforts to insure a just wage and life spent in service to others.”

On the labor front, Gilchrist was chaplain to two New Jersey-based unions: the Operating Engineers and AFL-CIO.

Noting his deep roots in the community and his selfless service to many noble causes, Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said that Gilchrist “has worked in the vineyards his entire life.”

Gilchrist, who retired seven years ago but continues to say Mass three days a week at St. Stephen’s Church and three days at Sacred Heart Chapel at the former Boystown site, both in Kearny, said he didn’t expect to be singled out for special honors by the county.

He took the opportunity to celebrate his association, during his long clerical tenure, “with almost 1,000 priests – overwhelmingly wonderful priests.”

“These men baptized your babies, married you, blessed you with confirmations, buried your people – they were part of your family,” Gilchrist told the guests at the Casino. “A priest is part of every family but a member of none. So I accept this honor in memory of those I served with. I’m a parish priest – no more, no less.”

Over the years, Gilchrist said, “I’ve had other things wrapped into my life,” and, as an example, he recalled the work he began more than a quarter century ago as a tenants’ rights advocate “during the wave of condo conversions” when many Hudson tenants “were being put out” of apartments they could no longer afford.

“People were being evicted illegally or were being harassed by the landlord or their rents were being raised illegally and many of these tenants didn’t speak English,” Gilchrist said.

Part of his legacy, he said, is the establishment of a county resource center serving both tenants and landlords. “Over the 25 years we’re in business, I believe many have been helped. For those tenants who do face displacement, they will at least get a respite – they don’t get put out on the street,” Gilchrist said.

“I’ve also been involved in the labor movement,” Gilchrist said. “I’ve worked with many unions and I was part of the Hudson County Central Labor Council.” And, he added, chuckling, “I walked a lot of picket lines.”

Gilchrist said he’s also proud of having served as ecumenical officer for the Newark diocese. “I can still say that Hudson County is the mosaic of religions and the relationships between different peoples is marvelous. They blend together beautifully,” he said.

Seniors from other Hudson municipalities who were honored for service to their communities were: Linda Procaccino of Hoboken, Henry Norford of Jersey City, Marion Cooney of Bayonne, Magaly Saa of Union City, Paula Marissa Pascual of North Bergen, Lillian Martinelli of Weehawken, Claudina Claveco of West New York and Joseph Miller of Guttenberg.

– Ron Leir 

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