NORTH WILDWOOD – As Winter Storm Orlena arrived Jan. 31, Faith Matters spoke to Mayor Patrick Rosenello, regarding the intersection of faith and politics.
In the coming weeks, Faith Matters will highlight people of faith who hold office, seeking to make a difference in a highly charged political climate.
Respect for government remains shaky, as America emerges from a global pandemic and social unrest. Yet, Rosenello believes that what holds people together outweighs what drives them apart.
Rosenello, 48, set foot on Five Mile Island as a young child, in 1977. His parents, Mary and Joseph, who moved from Levittown, Pennsylvania, raised their nine children in North Wildwood, setting the course for Rosenello’s future.
“I was the eighth of nine kids,” he said. One of his earliest “faith memories” is spending summers enrolled in Vacation Bible School at the First Baptist Church of Anglesea. Although raised Roman Catholic, Rosenello’s parents ensured he attended the summer Bible program.
“It was a very interesting time,” he said, reflecting on his exposure to different Christian denominations. Growing up “around the corner,” Rosenello fondly remembers time spent at First Baptist.
While attending St. Ann’s school and Wildwood Catholic High School, he also “rubbed shoulders” with Greek students. Young Rosenello attended services and activities with friends at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
“It was an enlightening experience,” he said.
According to the mayor, growing up in a “melting pot” of denominations and cultures prepared him for future service, opening his mind to a wider world.
“Differences in denominations are not as important as core beliefs,” he added. The core tenet of the Christian faith is anchored in Jesus Christ’s life and death.
From home to school, Rosenello’s world centered on faith; he served as an altar boy for seven consecutive years. Exposure to clergy and nuns sharpened his understanding of Catholic history. Rosenello said all his siblings were baptized in the Catholic Church.
University Meets Public Office
In the 1990s, Rosenello bade his island home farewell and attended Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.
As a student, he mingled in a wide circle of men and women from across the world. He realized the global scale of faith, meeting fellow Catholics from Central America, Mexico and South America.
“My suitemate was from Panama and was Jewish,” Rosenello said. By getting to know a variety of people, he said, he learned empathy. This lesson began in childhood and continued.
The mayor graduated, in 1995, and found a position as legislative aide to former U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.). Life on Capitol Hill honed Rosenello’s skills, especially when he became former State Sen. Nick Asselta’s (R-1st) communications director.
In 2002, Rosenello married Michelle Davenport and returned to North Wildwood. They have three sons.
Rosenello served on the city’s school board until he answered the call to politics. He joined North Wildwood City Council, in 2004, serving 10 years beside late Mayor William Henfey. Rosenello, once again, found himself working and legislating alongside people whose faith and political views differed from his own. Empathy fostered dialogue and working together for the good of North Wildwood’s taxpayers.
High Office, High Stakes
Rosenello Jan. 4, 2014, took the oath of office as the 17th mayor of North Wildwood. Surrounded by family and friends, the mayor vowed to serve the people and uphold the law.
New challenges arise for Rosenello, especially in the wake of Covid and political turmoil on the federal level. However, he remains confident that America will “pull through.”
“People have to realize that their differences are being exploited for money,” Rosenello said. Sadly, social media and many news agencies create “an industry of dividing people,” according to the mayor.
Growing up in an Irish-Italian home, Rosenello demonstrates how two cultures can come together to create something strong and beautiful.
“This is what America is meant to be,” he said.
The mayor includes himself in the mistakes made by government officials during the early days of the pandemic.
“We can’t keep people locked up in their houses. It’s not the American way,” Rosenello said. He regrets the “devastating psychological effects” of the lockdown, as well as the economic impact.
Rosenello’s faith journey is also taking a new course, as he attends non-denominational Christian services. He also attends Notre Dame de la Mer Parish, a Catholic church, with his family. He remains proud of his heritage and the city’s accomplishments.
“North Wildwood was a respite for so many,” the mayor said, referring to second homeowners who found refuge in 2020. Rosenello hopes to see a more “social” society, as people find the confidence to be together again.
He continues discovering different viewpoints and empathizing with others, while rebuilding trust in government at the local level.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.