Linked in with a favorite priest in Rome

Julianne Calzonetti, who grew up in the Diocese of Camden, is pictured in Rome with Father Frederick Link, a retired priest of the diocese, and below at her baptism.

Just as the fading sun set off its celestial hues one night, Father Frederick “Don Federico” Link came into view. Father Link, a retired priest of the Diocese of Camden, married my parents and baptized both my brother and me, and here we both were in Rome.

Between a family move to San Francisco, and wherever else this fleeting life seems to take us, we hadn’t seen each other in well over 10 years. A reminder that God is outside time, and his best gifts are the ones most unforeseen.

The story begins on a spontaneous trip to Assisi with two of the Diocese of Camden’s finest seminarians in Rome, Josh Nevitt and Peter Gallagher. It was a voyage that almost ended before it began, for let us remember this is Italy, and the concept of “convenience” doesn’t exist. The church bells had struck 6:30 a.m., and I was retrieving my laundry. Upon opening the washing machine, gallons of cold water and floating socks met my face, I slammed the door and pretended that neither I, nor my suitcase filled with winter wools, were dripping wet.

This setback left me with but one option to get to the train station on time: run. I knew I looked like a distressed American in my Lilly Pulitzer greens and blues, and this was confirmed when I caught my reflection in a passing bus’ window — and two very familiar faces laughing at me!

However, Saint Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of laundry, and I made the train. It is also not perchance that Peter gave me a book about Maria Esperanza, a former Jersey local on her way to sainthood. The author, Father Tim Byerley, pastor of Saint Peter Parish in Merchantville, would be in Rome the following week. Unbeknownst to me then, so would a dear mutual friend.

The following morning was Pentecost Sunday, and I — along with 100,000 other pilgrims — arrived at Saint Peter’s Square for outdoor Mass with the Holy Father. Eyeing a good place to stand in the crowd, to my amazement I found our closest family friends and fellow diocese members: Gregory and Lucy Santiago. As they are part of the Esperanza family, I told them about the book I just received. Who sooner do we see, but our very own Peter Gallagher.

“Jules, I emailed Father Link and told him I knew a great girl from our diocese that would like to talk to Father Tim about his book.”

“Peter, did you just say Father Link? He baptized me! Is he in Rome?”

Grabbing his phone, I penned, “Dearest Father, I think you remember our first meeting better than I….”

Two days passed, and with no response, I dropped Pete another line.

“I still haven’t heard back from Father Link, he definitely doesn’t have an iPhone, can you send me Father Tim’s number?”

“I don’t like to give out people’s contact information, but we are all going to lunch together on Wednesday so I’ll ask him in person!”

Laughing and shaking my index finger at our Facebook chat, I thought, “Oh, Peter, you forget I know where you always go out to eat.”

The mission for Wednesday afternoon was clear: Pray to Saint Anthony that I may find them in Maria Esperanza’s favorite restaurant, Sor’Eva. When it was time, I bolted from my office next to the Vatican and sprinted in my favorite seersucker pants and loafers past the basilica, down a side street, and across one of Rome’s busiest intersections.

I put on the brakes as I approached the fully opened, door-length window. There was the priest that baptized me 23 years ago.

I moved to Rome one year ago, following a call as loud as the bells of Saint Peter’s. Eight months later, in that same city, God reunited me with the same man who brought me into the church I came to serve.

In a short time we spent together, he shared his stories of Saint John Paul II over pastries in one of the most beautiful Italian courtyards. He took me to his most cherished church, introduced me to his beloved saint, and taught me about a woman soon to become one. In turn, I took him to my favorite pizzeria and gelateria on my side of town, just across the bridge. These memories are among the most treasured in my heart, because the very hand that guided me to him from above, now gave me one to hold here on earth.

Julianne Calzonetti was born and raised in Cherry Hill, where her family were members of Saint Pius X Parish. She is currently pursuing an Arts/Media Management Master’s degree at the American University of Rome.