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  • Writer's pictureCraig Richards

SJA fundraiser to honor Bagliani family

HADDONFIELD, N.J.—On the evening of April 20, more than 300 individuals came together in celebration of three defining principles: Faith, Family, Future, echoing the mission of St. Joseph Academy (SJA). The atmosphere in the banquet hall was celebratory yet intimate. With the closeness of students, staff, supporters, and family, “The Rising” ambience is more closely akin to a homecoming or family reunion of sorts.

The annual fundraiser drew a packed house at the Tavistock Country Club… a house full of SJA family. The event not only served as a platform to gather support for the academy’s educational endeavors but also highlights the spirit of dedication and commitment embodied by its students, faculty, and supporters. At the center of “The Rising” lies the prestigious “Heart of a Wildcat” award, bestowed this year upon the Bagliani family whose generational faith and values lived out in their everyday life epitomize the school’s cherished core mission to inspire young men and women to lead lives of integrity with purposeful achievements.

Students Front and Center of The Rising

Fittingly, it was the newest generation of students at SJA who served a key role in the evening. Freshman Liam Hurley delivered an opening welcome to the crowd and expressed appreciation for the Bagliani family.

“We are very excited to honor the family that means so much to St. Joe and to the town of Hammonton,” Hurley said.

He even veered off script, giving an impromptu shout out to the Bagliani’s Market sparking smiles and laughter around the room.

“And by the way, I love your guy’s store,” Hurley said.

He returned to the welcome, extending thanks for the board of trustees and supporters of the school on behalf of the students.

“We sincerely hope that our passion and love of St. Jospeh Academy is evident whether this is your first experience with us, or you are part of our school’s history and tradition. Thank you for attending tonight and partnering with St. Joseph Academy. Your support is helping us realize our mission of faith, family, and future. And we are all eternally grateful. Go Wildcats!” Hurley said.

Continuing with the student interaction, freshman Riley Hunter shared her experience at SJA. She expressed excitement at the opportunity to speak and began by acknowledging the Bagliani family.

“Congratulations again to the Bagliani family for being awarded the Heart of a Wildcat. By the way, I love your store and the smells that come out of it… You should have to pay for that,” Hunter said.

The audience chuckled and applauded as Hunter returned to her speech, expressing enthusiasm for attending SJA. She spoke of excitement for the opportunity attending SJA offered, her desire to attend the academy and what drew her to SJA.

“As soon as I stepped on campus, I fell in love with the school, the atmosphere, the people, and everything that comes with it,” Hunter said. “Upon entering St. Joseph Academy, I immediately felt a sense of security and the warmth.”

Hunter connected her experience to the school’s mission, highlighting individuals like Coach Les Olson and Mr. Cappuccio who showed faith in her abilities as a student, athlete, and especially as a person. She also recognized those in key roles who make SJA possible for students like her.

“The donors and supporters of SJA have faith in the SJA vision, giving students like me an opportunity that seemed too far out of reach,” Hunter said.

For Hunter, family was a significant factor in choosing SJA.

“I love my SJA family, teachers, administrators and most importantly my classmates and teammates,” she said.

Hunter concluded by emphasizing the potential of the future.

“The future is full of endless possibilities for me and SJA. I strive for excellence in the classroom and on the field to secure my future. But I want to make this school, a place that has done so much for me, proud of the women I am and will become. Thank you for believing in students like me and my SJA family. God bless you all,” Hunter said.

The students who spoke that evening exemplified a deep dedication to the school’s mission. Their appreciation for both the school and the honored family was evident, accompanied by a sense of maturity and humility.

Honoring the Heart of a Wildcat

Hurley’s opening remarks and Hunter’s concluding speech delivered with sincerely, appreciation and a humble respect for SJA, the community at large, and the Bagliani family beautifully encapsulated the award presentation by SJA President and Head of School Stephen Cappuccio.

“If there was ever a family that embodied the spirit of the ‘Heart of a Wildcat,’ it’s the Bagliani family. Their significance to our school community and town is truly remarkable. They are an extraordinary group of individuals,” he said.

Reflecting on his personal connection with the Bagliani family since his childhood in town, Cappuccio reminisced about accompanying his grandmother to their store daily, a tradition he continued upon returning to Hammonton 16 years ago. He shared cherished memories of interactions in the store and emphasized the special bond the Bagliani family cultivated with their customers.

Cappuccio recounted an encounter a few years back in church where Mrs. Bagliani, a regular attendee, warmly acknowledged him, reminiscing about their shared history. He recounted Mrs. Bagliani’s heartfelt prayers for his grandmother and family, underscoring the family’s genuine care for their patrons beyond mere transactions—they were regarded as friends, family, and neighbors.

In closing, Cappuccio reiterated, “There couldn’t be a more deserving family. Their impact goes far beyond business; it touches lives and builds lasting connections.”

As he was about to introduce the family and welcomed Paul Bagliani to the stage, Cappuccio directed everyone’s attention to the screen on stage for a special presentation. The 2022 Heart of a Wildcat recipient, Kellyanne Conway who was unable to attend the event had prepared remarks via video.

“Over the last 65 years, multi-generations of Hammontonians and those from far and wide around Hammonton have come to know, patronize, and love Bagliani Market. This is a richly deserving family who represents so many of the values that St. Joseph’s Academy is instilling in their students: Christianity, service, hard work, family, freedom, patriotism, and is a consistent, reliable, pleasant, loving, generous part of a beautiful community that is Hammonton New Jersey,” Conway said. “Many of their sons, number of daughters-in-law and their grandchildren have gone through St. Joseph’s, but whether they had students in this school or not, they remain faithful patrons of St. Joseph’s Academy and all that it stands for and all that it means to our community and to the future of new generations.”

Conway concluded acknowledging the Bagliani family’s years of service and wishing them continued success for “the next 65 years for Bagliani’s Market and for St. Joseph Academy.”

Following the video, Paul Bagliani took to the stage to thank all those in attendance on behalf of the entire Bagliani family. The 2008 graduate of St. Joe expressed the family’s appreciation of the award.

“We are very humble and grateful to the St. Joseph’s Academy community and for this honor and recognition here tonight,” Bagliani said.

He shared the family’s beliefs in the three foundational principles of SJA and considering his family’s recognition in the evening’s event, added his own lighthearted Bagliani addendum.

“We remain committed to the hallmarks of St. Joseph’s. That’s faith, family, future. And I guess tonight, since we’re involved… food,” Bagliani said.

The family remains a shining example of the virtues being instilled in the students of SJA, also embodying the spirit of fighting for and acquiring the American dream.

“As a family, we have a lot to be thankful for. We consider ourselves very blessed and fortunate to be members of such a great Southern New Jersey community and this great country as a whole. Our ancestors took great risks and left everything that knew behind and took a chance on the dream of America,” he said.

Remembering the sacrificial challenge of others as well he added, “Many of us in this room share a similar story of sacrifice and the common immigrant story of the risk takers we call our ancestors.”

The family’s pursuit of and ultimate apprehension of the American dream was rooted in faith and family. The family matriarch Maria Bagliani held a core belief that anyone who sought it should have the opportunity to have a quality Catholic education. A graduate of the “legendary St. Joe Class of 1956,” Maria would go on to send five of her six sons to St. Joe.

That early connection was a lasting bond between SJA and the Bagliani family. The unwavering commitment to faith and family by both Maria and Francis Jr. has generational influence.

“We were blessed by her guidance in our journey of faith and the example she set; and also, by my grandfather, Francis Jr.’s equal dedication to his family and incredibly hard work ethic,” Bagliani said.

The future that St. Joseph Academy works to instill in their students can be depicted in the faith and commitment to family found in the history of the Bagliani family. Paul Bagliani briefly shared that rich history at The Rising.

The Bagliani Story

An Italian American story of faith, family and future portrays the Bagliani family’s journey through the lens of entrepreneurship and determination. From the beginning, the Bagliani family took calculated risks coupled with relentless drive in the pursuit of their dreams. Paul Bagliani recounted how his grandfather Francis Jr. had always dreamed of owning his own store and with the help of his parents Frank and Margaret Bagliani, he was afforded the opportunity. However, this endeavor was not without challenges, requiring faith in oneself and the family’s unwavering determination.

Frank and Margaret played a crucial role by selling their vegetable farm to support Francis Jr.’s dream. This decision marked a significant step forward, laying the foundation for the family’s future. Despite the hurdles, including raising six boys—Vincent, Victor, Francis III, John, and later A.J. and Stephen—Francis Jr. and the family persevered.

Paul’s grandfather dedicated endless hours to his career as a butcher, navigating the competitive marketplace and providing for his large family. The eldest sons, Vincent and Victor, joined him in the store, learning the ropes while growing up. Victor, the first Bagliani to attend St. Joseph’s, graduated in 1979, followed by Francis III in 1982, who later met his wife Jode at the same school.

After graduation, Francis III joined his father, marking a crucial turning point for the business.

Together, they expanded the store’s vision, transforming it into a one-stop-shop for Italian specialties. This innovative approach, spearheaded by Francis III, propelled Bagliani’s Market to new heights, solidifying its place as a premier independent Italian specialty market.

The family tradition continued as Francis welcomed his brothers A.J. and Stephen into the business. Today, celebrating 65 years, Bagliani’s Market thrives with the fourth generation, including Paul, Matt, and their cousin Rebecca, carrying on the legacy of faith, family, and a vision for the future.

Paul Bagliani likened his family’s journey to that of St. Joseph’s Academy.

“It’s evident that the Bagliani story is similar to that of the St. Joe’s Academy story as we share the St. Joe Academy motto of faith and family. But what about future? That is what I believe brings us all here today. It can be summed up in one word for the future, and that is opportunity. The same opportunity granted to each of us by similar stories of sacrifice and selflessness and the risk taking of our ancestors, the generational immigrant stories that so many of us share,” Bagliani said.

But the staple of SJA and the Bagliani family goes far beyond the devotion to their own. It speaks to something bigger than themselves.

“Our friend, Kellyanne Conway, stated something at this event two years ago and stuck with me as I prepared to speak today. She said that we should consider it our duty in life to focus on those that have less than us. It should be our duty to dedicate our time, resources, and focus on those who have less. Those who don’t have the same opportunity that we were so fortunate to receive. If each one of us in this room tonight can focus on assisting just one person, or providing just one opportunity, think of how much good can come from 300 plus people with that shared vision together,” Bagliani said.

Bagliani combined the ethos of selflessly giving to others with the significance of backing SJA.

“All it takes is that one breath of fresh air for a young family, young parents with seemingly nowhere to turn, especially in this world, facing their most important and difficult decision regarding the education of their child or children, a quality education—a quality faith-based education. This, I believe, is most important. If we can spend our time and resources in giving that one opportunity to someone who comes after us, then I believe we have answered the greater call. We believe in St. Joseph’s Academy, just as each of our generations before,” Bagliani said.

Bagliani ended with acknowledging the Chairman of the SJA’s Board of Trustees Jeff Umosella and his family for their dedication and contributions to the vision of SJA.

“Thank you, especially Mr. Umosella and your family and team, for believing in St. Joseph’s Academy and for your commitment to creating opportunities for future generations, just like the opportunities we were so fortunate to receive. Thank you all,” Bagliani said.

The success of The Rising 2024 was evident in its accomplishment of securing financial resources for SJA’s ongoing work. A matching fund of $100,000 that night aided in topping half a million dollars in fundraising for the evening; funds continuing to provide opportunities and education for the students of SJA.

“The event raised over $500,000! It was the most successful fundraiser in the history of the school! A true testament to the passion and resiliency of St. Joseph Academy! We truly are RISING,” Cappuccio added.

Each year “The Rising” plays host to a special group of individuals grafted together through their continual love and support of the academy—a true SJA family possessing a unified spirit forged through their shared association with St. Joseph Academy and their foundational values of faith, family, and future.


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