Remarks from the All Saints Catholic Academy GALA…

On Saturday, February 22nd, I was proud to be honored by All Saints Catholic Academy of Bayonne, NJ for my Commitment to Catholic Education. As many of my readers know, this is where my daughter has gone to school since she was 3 years old, and many of the young ladies from ASCA move on to Saint Dominic Academy when they begin high school. It’s a wonderful school community; one that I am proud to say I have served, as a Class Parent from Pre K 3 onward. Today, I share with you my thoughts upon receiving the award on Saturday night. 

When Jen Mulcahy first called me in the fall to ask me if I would be the honoree for Commitment To Catholic Education, I was floored. I’m sure she well remembers that call- I think I said something like “What?! ME?! Really?!” Then, I pulled it together enough to say yes. Once the call ended, I realized something…If I was going to be honored for Commitment to Catholic Education that meant one important thing—I was OLD! Because, to be recognized for a commitment to something meant that must have been doing it for quite some time! And I thought, well wow- how about that? 20 years in education, and 16 of those years in Catholic education- I guess it’s true that time does fly when you’re having fun!

Although, if I truly think about it, my commitment to Catholic education began way before 2000, when I returned to the Academy of Saint Aloysius to work in their Development Office. I guess, it began in 1982, when my mother dressed me in a navy blue dress and tied red ribbons on my ponytails and walked me over to Our Lady of Mercy for my first day of kindergarten. I loved school; and I especially loved Our Lady of Mercy- the sisters and teachers there left an impression on me that still resonates today. First Friday mass, making communion with my classmates, singing in the children’s choir on Christmas Eve, arriving at school early to serve the 7:15am mass; in almost all ways, my entire childhood did center around Catholic education. That leaves an impact; and that impact became even deeper when I moved on to high school at The Academy of Saint Aloysius. There, once again, it was not just a place to learn and prepare for college, but a community that shared a common belief and that celebrated not only the Catholic faith, but the gift of Catholic education. It seemed only natural that after college, I would return to my alma mater and begin my career. 

Perhaps really, for me the commitment to Catholic education began even before I was born. It’s a legacy, handed down. My father was an alter server at Saint Michael’s church and he sang in the choir. Many Sundays, he went to mass twice. My mom dedicated her life to Catholic education, as a teacher and administrator. My maternal grandparents, whose example everyone in our family strives so hard to follow, helped to found the parish of Our Lady of Mercy and gave their time tirelessly to the church and the school for their entire lives. It’s what I saw, my entire life- my family supporting Catholic schools, my family working in Catholic schools, my family believing in Catholic schools.

But, we’re not alone in this belief. In fact, I may be the honoree tonight, but in reality- there are many people in this room who have made the same commitment I have, in one way or another. My friends Mary and Brian Murphy put 5 children through Catholic school and work and coach in Catholic schools. Members of the Board of Trustees at All Saints and Saint Dominic Academy find time in their already busy days to sit on those boards, because they believe in the importance of Catholic School. The Hester family is here tonight; 8 children in Catholic school! Jane Mattiello is here tonight- works at ASCA and is Vice President of the SDA Parent Association- Catholic school is her life! . My Athletic Director, John Nagel- over 40 years of service to Catholic schools in Hudson County. Sister Rita, the Sisters of Saint Dominic in Caldwell- they give all they have, every day to the children in the schools they found and run. The list could go on and on, but I promised not to… all of us here because in one way or another, we are committed to Catholic education. 

We are all here to show our belief in Catholic education and to work to ensure that schools like All Saints and Saint Dominic Academy continue to exist far into the future. And why should we do this? If you are asking that question- I have the answer. You need to look no further than at Katie and Grace Mulcahy sitting with their mother Jen. You need to look no further than this little girl, my Abigail, standing next to me. They are the reason for Catholic education. They are the reason all of us give so much to Catholic Schools. It’s because Catholic schools give so much to our children and one day, we know, they will change the world for the better.

I thank All Saints Catholic Academy for honoring me tonight. It means a great deal to me; more than you know. I thank the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell for the honor of serving as Head of School at Saint Dominic Academy; each day I walk through those doors is a gift to me. I thank my family and friends for being here tonight. I thank my fiancé, Frederick, for his unending support of me and his understanding of why I choose to work in Catholic education- he and his son have been gifts to both my life and to Abigail’s. And finally tonight, I thank you on behalf of my family, who started me on this path, and on behalf of my daughter, who will follow this path, I hope, for her life. I teach Film Studies this year, and so, am going to end with a bit of a “tweaked” line from a classic movie. “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my daughter thanks you, and I assure, I thank you.” Enjoy the evening!

Two Sides To Every Story…

For almost 40 years now, I was a Wizard of Oz purist! I’m guessing you are thinking “ I didn’t even know that was a thing!” Since I first saw that movie at the age of three, and hid under the kitchen table when they met the intimidating Wizard, I was enamored with the film. And so, when I was handed a copy of Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked, in my twenties I wanted nothing to do with it. I had no interest whatsoever in hearing how the “wicked witch” was not really wicked. In my mind, things were clear cut and straightforward. Dorothy was a heroine, Glenda was a benevolent good witch, the Wizard was perhaps misguided in his actions, but a kind hearted man, and the Wicked Witch of the West was Wicked. She cackled, she threw fire, she was going to drown a dog!? Why would I want to hear her side of the story? That mindset did not change when I saw the musical in 2005. While I would agree that the sets were beautiful and creative and the music powerful, I did not enjoy the show at all. I never recommended it to anyone, or listened to the soundtrack or even really gave it another thought.

Last Sunday, I saw it again. Why? Well because I took my 8 year old daughter, who is just as obsessed with yellow brick roads and ruby slippers and the Emerald City as I was at her age and as most little girls are. There is truth to the statement that with age comes wisdom…because this time around, my heart was more open to the story that was being told. Long before intermission, I was in tears (much to Abigail’s embarrassment!). How could I have judged this “witch” so harshly? How had I failed to see how mistreated she was, how they painted her as wicked, when all she was truly, was different. All of a sudden, everything I had believed about Oz since I was a toddler was just turned upside down- and I could see the “truth” presented in this tale as well. 

You may be thinking, “ well, ok…so now you appreciate a fictional story that you didn’t appreciate before. Why are you sharing that with everyone?” It’s because I realized so much more in that theater then that perhaps the Wicked Witch was not truly wicked. I realized that for many of us, there is a time period in our lives where we only see things in black or white, in absolute yes or no, in totally right or totally wrong. For most of us, it’s that age span between 18 and -25 or so. We’re adults, finally! And don’t we know it all! Nobody can convince us of anything or entice us to see a point of view other than our own. Of course I didn’t like Wicked; because I KNEW that it was not the RIGHT story.

What have I learned from 2005 to 2020? What I always knew in theory but have seen in practice countless times in both my work and personal life. There are always two sides to every story. Almost nothing is just truly black and white. There are shades, there are degrees, especially when there are differing points of view. And this lesson is one of the many lessons we at Saint Dominic Academy try to teach the young ladies while they are still here with us.  We encourage them, be open minded, examine all sides of every issue, listen to the thoughts and insights of others. We never accept the answer “ I just don’t like it.” Instead, we work to inspire them to find something they like about any given subject, from math to musical theater. It’s the job of every teacher at Saint Dominic Academy to remind the young women under our care that there are almost always, two sides to every story and that how they feel about a particular subject or topic now, at age 18 may not be how they feel at age 38. At age 25, I decided to judge a book by its cover, even though I knew better. Daily here at SDA, we work tirelessly to make sure the young ladies in grades 7-12 never do that. One more thing I learned from Wicked last weekend…it takes an open mind to “Defy Gravity” and become the version of yourself you were meant to be!

The Blog That Almost Wasn’t…

This blog almost wasn’t here. I was running late with my writing (and my ideas) this week and as of Thursday morning, I still had not formulated a good solid idea for a blog. And then, on Thursday afternoon, I was in a car accident. Thank God, everyone was fine; nobody was seriously hurt at all. Thank God again that Abigail was not in the car but safe at home with her grandparents. The car itself didn’t fare as well, but the bottom line is simple- cars can be replaced, people cannot.

It made me think, though, about all the young ladies in our building; those studying driver’s ed for the first time, those who are making their parents nervous with learners permits, and those lucky seniors who have their driver’s licenses. I know they “know” all the rules; no cell phones, drive within the speed limit, buckle that seatbelt, eyes on the road at all times, stay focused…the list goes on. It’s the list my dad presented to me (well, except there were no cell phones then), when I got my license and took his car out for the first time. And the list was repeated more than once, and still is at times, even to this day. But, no matter how careful we are, no matter how safe we think we are driving, accidents still happen. 

I was lucky; I got out and walked away. However, we’ve all heard stories of those who were not so lucky. There are people, each of us know I am sure, who have been hurt in an accident, who have suffered a loss because of an accident, whose lives have changed because of an accident. Teenage drivers feel that the entire world is before them. They are breathless with excitement at the fact that they can drive. It is a timeless moment, for them and for us- because it’s their first full taste of independence. It’s also their first taste of adulthood and so, they need to know the responsibility that comes with it.

So, I worry- for each young lady here at SDA and for each teenage driver who is out on the road. I see, even in the classrooms, where cell phones are not supposed to be out- the girls cannot resist taking a peek, checking that screen for an instant. What they don’t truly realize is, if they do that behind the wheel, an instant is all it takes for their lives to perhaps change forever. And it’s not just the cell phones- it’s the chattering with friends in the backseat, or changing the music that’s playing, or speeding up to get home in time for curfew…a million little things that can really cause damage beyond repair.

As I said, this blog was almost never written- I was just lucky that I was not hurt badly. Because accidents happen- even when we are extremely careful. What we all, us at school and parents at home need to impress upon the teens we see each day, is that, if accidents can happen when you are being very careful, imagine what could happen if you are being careless while driving? Talk to your daughters, and we will talk to our students, about what it means to be “old” enough to drive a car and how with that age comes responsibility. 

And give your daughters that list of precautions my dad gave (and gives) to me. Even if they roll their eyes and toss their hair, impatient to go wherever it is they are heading- remind them every time to be careful, to be safe, and to be alert. Most importantly, tell them you love them. When these young ladies are old like I am, they will understand two key things- Accidents happen even when we are extremely careful and Parents worry about us because they love us and don’t want us hurt

Stay safe on the roads, everyone.

A February Love Story…

Ah February…and Hallmark mass produced love is in the air. Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to…it’s just that I don’t know that we need a day or a month dedicated to telling the people we love how much we love them. Shouldn’t we be doing that, and showing that by our actions every day? However, since it is February, I’ll set the tone of the month with a love story that truly, I think, reflects that all we do centers around God.

A high school boy and girl met right before World War II. They dated, fell in love and got married on Valentine’s Day. He went to fight in the Pacific, she moved back in with her parents. Thankfully, the war brought him home safely to her and they began their lives together. I know there were joys and sorrows; losses for the family, and three beautiful children who were their parents pride and joy. And always, there was faith. She stayed home to care for the family and he became a firefighter. They found a way to put their three children through Catholic school from kindergarten onward. They went to church on Sundays. There were trips to Wildwood and visits from cousins and shopping at Journal Square in its heyday. When time allowed, he went back to college to earn a degree. There were handmade communion dresses for nieces and nephews, and dollhouses built from kits and first cars and weddings for their children and then grandchildren. 

And always, I say again, there was faith. For amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, they managed to help found a parish in Jersey City. He studied and became a permanent deacon and she studied right along with him. They led baptism classes for the new parish and helped with Pre-Cana retreats. He baptized all of his grandchildren and even two of his great-grandchildren. He handed his eldest granddaughter the Eucharist at her First Holy Communion, as she stood before the altar in a dress handmade by her grandmother. God was everywhere; not just in their lives for an hour on Sundays, but he existed right along beside them, from their first meeting and for the rest of their lives. Their love was so strong, so beautiful to all who witnessed it, because it was constantly sustained by their belief in God.

On Valentine’s Day in 1996, God called her home; 54 years to the day that He blessed their marriage. And yet, their love story lived on; in his eyes, in his voice as he talked of her, and in his still sustained faith even in the face of the loss of his beloved, that she was with God and someday he would see her again. He waited a long time; until October of 2019….23 long years of Christmas parties and Easter celebrations and daily mass without her by his side. 23 Valentine’s Days passed; with flowers on her grave instead of in a vase in the kitchen. And yet, each family member those who remembered their courtship and those who never knew her personally knew that in this family, there was never a love story as beautiful as theirs.

It’s my family of whom I speak. My maternal grandparents, whose love existed daily for me from the moment of my birth and that still inspires me today. And so, this month of February is special to me this year, because in my heart I know, that after 23 years of waiting, with God’s abiding love, they are together again, to celebrate not only Valentine’s Day, but their eternal wedding anniversary. I have faith in that, I believe that with all of my heart, and I hope, as we begin to celebrate the month that rejoices in love in all its forms, that God brings that same love into your lives in one way or another.