Catholic Charities honors baker Joseph Leone Introna as Light of Hope in Ocean County

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton will honor Joseph Leone Introna with its Light of Hope Award for Ocean County at the 30th Annual Guardian Angel Dinner Dance in September.

Introna donates to countless causes, including Catholic Charities.

Humble roots

He came from humble roots. Introna started working at a North Jersey bakery at the tender age of 12. The job would change his life. “As a teenager, I was able to develop a trade,” he explained.

At 21, he opened his own bakery. Now, 22 years later, Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties is a Jersey Shore mainstay, with over 150 employees working in the company’s two retail stores in Sea Girt and Point Pleasant Beach, as well as its bakery and catering operations.

“I was very motivated and driven, because I wanted to break that chain of living paycheck to paycheck,” Introna said. “It’s been a true blessing having not only God on my shoulder, but also the support of my staff and the community, and just being an American with an American dream. You can really start with almost nothing and build it to something.”

A life-changing epiphany

Charity is a key part of his business, especially since he experienced a religious epiphany at the age of 33. He had been struggling with depression and stopped into St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Point Pleasant Beach to pray.

“I said to God: ‘Please help me. If you help me get out of this hole, I will visit you every day of my life, I will feed Your people, I will help everybody I possibly can, I will try to live closer to You than I ever have,’” he said.

Introna has not missed a day of Mass since then. He gives so much to charity that plaques expressing gratitude line his office walls, testament to the countless causes he supports.

“The community is deserving of it,” said Introna, who lives in Brielle with his wife Jennifer and their five children. “They support me, so I want to support them.”

In 2009, he created the Joe Leone’s L’Aquila Earthquake Relief Fund to rebuild an orphanage destroyed by an earthquake that year. He continues fundraising to support other disaster-recovery efforts in Italy.

Introna supports Catholic Charities because the challenges it helps people overcome are challenges he and his family share. Besides his depression, he has a sister who struggles with drug addiction and domestic abuse – and who sadly, he has been unsuccessful in trying to help.

Getting honored by Catholic Charities gives him the opportunity to spread the word about its transformative work. “I don’t need another plaque or pat on the back. My great blessing is when my children and wife kiss me good night,” he said. “But I honestly think the Holy Spirit was involved, saying: ‘you might have not been successful with your sister, but you can help others.”

Tickets available

To learn about sponsorship and advertising opportunities, buy gala or raffle tickets, or donate,  click here. Or contact events coordinator Barbara Yuson at (609) 394-5181, ext. 1159 or byuson@cctrenton.org.

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For more information: Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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