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.
I remember with great respect, Father Trotta as my Freshman Latin teacher at St John’s Prep in 1953. What a great introduction to high school and the Vincentians. His being thoughtful, patient, and thorough are the things I remember most. Congratulations to him on celebrating his 65th anniversary as a Vincentian priest. God bless him for all the positive role model examples he has provided.
Tom Sullivan (SJP ’57)
Many thanks,Father Freund,for sharing your inspiring remembrances of Father Louis Trotta whose life reflects not only the ideals of Saint Vincent de Paul but also the life of Christ Himself. in this vein,I could not agree more with Tom Sullivan’s assessment of Father Lou who overflowed with Vincentian kindness.
Ed Ambrose,AA,St. Joe’s,1957
Such a beautiful story of one man’s life, led in the Vincentian tradition. Over my years at St. John’s University, I have spoken with Father on several occasions when he visited and he was always so upbeat and personable. God bless him and his many years!
I was a student at St Joe’s from 1958 to 1960 and later at Niagara U from 1962 to 1966. I have found memories of my years with the Vincentians. One of them is awaiting Father Trotta ringing of the bell at breakfast so we could break our silence. Thank to all of my friends from years but especially Father Trotta. You influenced my life in ways you will never know.
I was a student at Saint Joe’s from 1958 to 1964. Father Trotta was there during my first several years. I knew Bob Winzinger during the first several years as well, a fine young man. I did not go on to the novitiate, not because Fr. Trotta was the head of the novitiate at the time, but in spite of that, because I really thought of him as a very wonderful man and priest. As it turns out, my leaving the pursuit of the priesthood was fortuitous, because my father died six months after I left, in December 1964 at the age of 53. Somehow Fr. Trotta learned of this and send me a note that I remember to this day. Without referencing my father’s untimely death, he said: “it is amazing how God writes straight with crooked lines”. I have seen Fr. Trotta once or twice since then and I’m always amazed at what a great person he is and has remained. Bob McKay
Congratulations to Fr Trotta , a wonderful man and a fine Vincentian priest.
I was st St Joe’s from 72-76 and Niagara til 78. I never had the privilege of having Ff T in class but st Niagara I always admired his humor, warmth, and accessibility to students. What great memories this article brought back!
I remain eternally grateful to the community for foundations in friendship, faith, education and charism for which mybyhanks could never be adequate.
Ad multos annoys, Fr. Trotta!
Frank Coughlin St. Joes ’76
St. John’s ’78-’80
I couldn’t agree more. It’s been fifteen years since you and I communicated. I lost your E-mail address when moving from Las Cruces to San Diego & finally to Phoenix in 2004. My E-mail is email@example.com if you would be able to resume correspondence.
Unto God’s greater glory!
Ed Ambrose,AA,St. Joe’s 1957
The Rev. Dr. Edward F. Ambrose,Jr.
Visitation Ministry: Christ The Redeemer Lutheran Church
Phones: (602) 595–6428 (602) 350-1305
Father Trotta is the best of the best
Father Trotta is the best and we are blessed to have him . I met him when I was about 13 years old . I am 74 now and am blessed That God let him into my life. He is my best friend.
I was at St. Joe’s from 1958 – 1962. Father Trotta was a tremendous influence on my life in those formative years – and not just because I spent quite a bit of time on ‘The Carpet’ in his office for various infractions. In that regard, he was a gentle disciplinarian and his rebukes were more along the lines of Pack Your Bags ‘Cause You’re Going On A Guilt Trip. He was an exemplary role model, an outstanding handball player and his devotion to God and the Vincentian community was inspring. Though I’m an old(er) man now, I still reflect from time to time on those years I spent at St. Joe’s and our Prefect Father Louis Trotta.
I attended St Joe’s from 1953 to 1959. Although I did not become a Vincentian my heart has always remained with the Vincentians. Recently I was in Germantown to celebrate with my classmates their 50 years of Priesthood. They will never realize how happy I was to be with them. I had a short but amazing visit with Fr. Trotta which added to my joy. Thanks for this tribute to a fine priest who remains in my memory as someone who had a major influence on my life.
Father Lou is a wonderful role model of everything a priest should be. He influences everyone he meets. I am honored to be called his friend
I couldn’t agree more. Although I completed St. Joe’s in 1957 and went on to the internal seminary through the winter of 1958, I was doing poorly as a “community man”. Nevertheless,Father Lou guided me with the mercy reflecting Saint Vincent and Christ Himself! I feel that you are enriched through your friendship with this Vincentian priest who is great in his humility. I would guess that Father Trotta is enriched by your friendship as well.
Mary, may you feel,always,the richest blessings of our one true and triune God.
Faithfully and Cordially,
Ed Ambrose,AA,St, Joe’s,1957