‘Did you hear the one about Father Mike?’

CHERRY HILL — Before the start of the roast of Msgr. Michael Mannion at the Marian House here on Saturday, Nov. 21, while more than 90 friends and supporters of the priest were still settling in, the DJ played Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” It was a perfect song for the Camden Diocesan director of community relations, who has, in addition to other interests, worked as a law enforcement chaplain, youth retreat leader, Camden City advocate, and pro-life supporter, heeding Jesus’ golden rule to love all.

“We’re honoring one of the key people in the Camden Diocese. He is present to countless people, as one of God’s priests,” remarked Father Joseph Messina, longtime friend of Msgr. Mannion, who gave the night’s invocation.

To show their appreciation for the community leader, and to raise money for the National Life Center, which Msgr. Mannion has supported, the Knights of Columbus held a roast for Father Mike, as he is known to most people, with longtime friends of his making lighthearted jokes at his expense.

“Msgr. Mike often says not to worry about the past or future; but tonight, Monsignor, you can forget about the present, because I didn’t get you one,” said Knights of Columbus State Council Advocate John Moore.

Remarking that “we’re roasting the big turkey,” Bob Collinsgru, who has known Msgr. Mannion for over 30 years, and has done crafts work at Camden’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where Msgr. Mannion was rector, said that he’s “never seen Msgr. Mike so nervous, and so quiet, about a fundraiser in my life.”

When speaking of the priest’s ability to bring people together for a common cause, Collinsgru joked that when he told others about the roast, they’d all say “I’ll never forget when Msgr. Mike roped me into….”

While honoring Msgr. Mannion, the night also raised money for the Knights of Columbus ultrasound project at the National Life Center in Woodbury. Earlier this month, the center held a groundbreaking for an 882-square foot, two-story building that will make room for an ultrasound exam room, a handicapped accessible bathroom, an exterior concrete ramp, additional office space, and additional storage space for mothers and their babies. Construction is scheduled to be completed by early February of next year.

The State Council of the Knights of Columbus, as well as 41 councils in Camden and Gloucester counties, have also provided funding. Msgr. Mannion is chaplain of the Blessed John Paul II Chapter, out of Camden’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where he was rector.

As parent corporation to 1st Way Pregnancy Centers, the National Life Center provides guidance and counseling to mothers facing pregnancy, with a 24/7 National Toll-Free hotline.

Denise Cocciolone, president of the NLC and one of Msgr. Mannion’s roasters, believes that the ultrasound technology “is going to be really effective.”

“Approximately 92 percent of women and girls who see their child in the womb, and are abortion-minded, will choose life when they see that child; they bond as soon as they see that baby,” she said.

After enduring the light jabs, Msgr. Mannion took the podium to have the last words of the night. While giving those who roasted him a taste of their own medicine, he focused more on the work of the National Life Center, mentioning that at an early age, his parents impressed on him the sacredness of life.

“It’s not about me…it’s about a baby inside a mother, who doesn’t know that she has people who care for her.”

After giving him a standing ovation, guests presented Monsignor with cards, gifts and warm praise.

The final benediction was by Msgr. Edward Alleyne, who remembers Msgr. Mannion, when the latter was a young seminarian in his Latin class.

“I have great respect and admiration for the work he does,” Msgr. Alleyne said. “He touches many people’s lives, and always has.”

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