By JASON NARK
Bridget Sullivan O'Pella doesn't know the USS New Jersey is the most decorated battleship in the history of the United States Navy. Her parents, friends and family members hope some of the ship's strength rubs off on her, though.
Just six months old, Bridget was the first infant to be baptized on the ship since it was permanently stationed on the Camden Waterfront, two years ago.
Bridget's father, Daniel, is a gunner's mate in the Navy on active duty at Naval Weapons Stations Earle in Monmouth County.
"Maybe some of her strength will rub off on the ship too," said O'Pella's father after the ceremony in the ship's ward room.
O'Pella, who is involved with anti-terrorism programs on the base, said officers with the New Jersey easily accommodated his request. "Bringing the whole family up to the base would have been impractical," said O'Pella, 35, of Haddonfield. "I'm very pleased we could do this."
Barefoot in her long, white gown, young Bridget sat attentively on her mother's lap for much of the ceremony and paid particular attention to the voice of the Rev. Michael Mannion.
"I've been told this ship had the capabilities to fire a Volkswagen from here to Valley Forge. She'll need the same spiritual fiber within her," said Mannion, as Bridget stared at him with large, blue eyes.
The importance of the ceremony, which initiates newborns into the Catholic Church, was very significant Saturday on a ship where so many men and women had served, said Mannion.
"It's not just a cute ceremony where we light some candles, throw around some water and say it's cool," said Mannion.
Mannion, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, said taking the sacraments aboard vessels was common for officers on active duty.
"It's quite a tradition for Navy families," she said.
Bridget's godfather, 42-year-old Danny Connolly, was amazed by both the ship and his goddaughter.
"I have to say it's pretty awesome," said Connolly, a New York City fireman. "It's a really unique thing to do and for her to remember."
Reach Jason Nark at (856) 486-2473 or firstname.lastname@example.org