Believe…

It’s the word of the season, isn’t it? This is the season to believe with all of your heart, even when it’s hard, even when it’s a struggle, even when you may feel as if you have nothing left to believe in.  For our youngest family members, to believe in December means to have faith in the fact that they’ve made the nice list, that Santa will come down the chimney, that their dreams will be wrapped up in packages under the tree on Christmas morning. For those of us who are older, to believe in December is to be able to renew our faith in God’s eternal gift to us, his only Son, by recalling with joy the story of His birth in a stable in Bethlehem, spotlight by a star.  This year more so than ever before we all need to be able to believe in that central Christmas story, for it is what matters most.

I focus my thoughts on the idea of believing in something today, because I along with everyone else at Saint Dominic Academy know just how hard the months from March to December have been on our students, our faculty and staff, our alumnae, parents and families. To be sure, there have been many times over the past months when I’ve wished I could be spirited away to some beautiful place, where masks aren’t worn and curfews aren’t enforced and yes, even toilet paper is not hard to come by. I’m sure all of my readers here have longed for the same thing—to visit some place of beauty that brings joy to the heart and soul.

Well, we at Saint Dominic Academy are not miracle workers, but that does not mean we can’t make magic happen every now and then.   It is my pleasure today to invite each of you to come away with us in March of 2021…so save the date of March 26 or March 27 and take a journey with us to a place far, far away. How do you get there, you ask? Well, it’s simple really. The directions are as follows: Second star to the right, and straight on until morning.  What do you need to bring? Oh, not much just three important things:  Faith, hope and pixie dust! 

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the Theater Arts Department of Saint Dominic Academy, under the direction of Ms. Stephanie DeSarle will be putting on a production of Peter Pan this March.  An all virtual production, with auditions being held via Zoom  next week, this is an new and unexpected undertaking for our program, but one that we are certain will bring happiness and joy to all who join us in Neverland this coming March. Ms. DeSarle has brought to life the streets of NYC during the Depression, the hills of Austria, the far away land of Siam and the lively TV studio in Baltimore during her time with us at Saint Dominic Academy and with her at the helm, we’ll be off to Neverland faster than you can say “Captain Hook is a codfish!” I thank her for being so willing to take on this creative directing project! 

So please, CLAP your hands if you BELIEVE in the shining stars at Saint Dominic Academy and come away with us to Neverland in March of 2021…it will be a magical journey you’ll remember for a lifetime!

December 7

My house is filled with music these days.  Alexa wakes us up with Christmas songs, I’m using Schoolhouse Rocks to teach Abigail the branches of government, and at night I’m binge watching Glee on Netflix. ( Believe it or not, I never watched the show when it was on!! Shocking, I know.) And then, there’s a song before bedtime most nights and of course the general singing that goes on during the course of the day—a voice older than her 9 years belting Broadway songs from the shower, my not to be heard in public voice singing as I make dinner or fold laundry or do the dishes. Sometimes, I wonder if my husband and stepson would have put a proviso on all this singing before we became a family! I joke, but I do think my husband at times shakes his head in awe ( or maybe annoyance) at the sheer amount of lyrics my daughter and I hold in our heads.  

I know that so many of our SDA families understand this; current families and our alumnae as well. Saint Dominic Academy, for over 40 years, has filled Jersey City, Hudson County and regions as close as New York City’s stages and as distant as the Vatican in Rome with the literal “sound of music” under the vocal direction of Mr. Joseph Napoli.  To be sure, Christmas would not be Christmas in Jersey City without the voices of the Glee Club and Dominoes raised in song at tree lightings, in rehearsals in ELAN, and of course under the domed roof of Saint Aloysius Church at the annual Christmas concert.  Sadly, this year those trees will be lit without our voices, ELAN is silent and those who venture to Saint Aloysius for Mass this December do so in masks, their voices muffed and hushed, not raised in song. 

However, at this most beautiful time of year my heart is hopeful that the houses of every member of the Saint Dominic Academy Glee Club and Dominoes, past and present are filled with song the way my house is filled with it.  We may not be able to raise our voices together as one large choir in person, but that does not mean that the music of the Advent season or even the music that lives within all performers has to remain muted and silent right now.  Sing— in your kitchen, in your shower, out on your front steps, as you do your homework, as you drive to and from places—-and sing as if you were in ELAN, at Carnegie Hall, and at Saint Aloysius.  Raise your voice and spread some cheer—and the sadder your heart is, the louder you should sing; that I know from experience. 

And, Mr. Napoli, every young lady who has shared her voice at Saint Dominic Academy has  you to thank for that gift of song she brings into her home this year.  We knew you could not let this Christmas Season pass by with whispers and hushed voices and so, it is my pleasure this week as Head of School to share with our community that Mr. Joseph Napoli and the Executive Board of the Glee Club have been working all fall on a virtual Christmas performance, featuring the voices of our current SDA students, as well as our alumnae and on a number or two, even a glimpse into the future voices of SDA.  

This performance will be released closer to Christmas and it is my  hope that this gift of music will be one of the greatest gifts you receive this Christmas season. It has been my honor to work to coordinate this with Mr. Napoli and I thank him daily for the gift of music he has brought to so many lives over the years.

Follow our social media all December long and the link will also be sent via email!  Sing out, Saint Dominic Academy and lift your voices, ALWAYS!

November 30

At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision…” Charles Dickens

With Thanksgiving Day behind us, is there a household who will not watch one of the myriad version of A Christmas Carol during the next few weeks.  In my house, we’re reading two versions of it in homeschool lessons  the original text and graphic novel), Abigail is playing the roles of Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley in her virtual theater class with the Morristown Performing Arts Center, and still, we’re far from “Caroled-out”…and will watch several beloved versions; including the Disney version and the Muppet version during the month of December.

When Scrooge has his change of heart, we know well that he looks to the service of others and, as his spectral friend Marley charged him; made “mankind” his business from then onward. Dickens himself tells us He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  A new made man, after his ghostly visitors, Scrooge went on to embody the true spirit of the season, that of giving onto others.

None of us, SDA alumnae, friends, students and parents, need to be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future in order to fully embrace the gifts of the season.  For, when you walk the halls of SDA as a student, when you interact with the school as a parent, when you serve SDA as a teacher or board member, or when you look back with fond memories as an alumna, one of the virtues that springs to your mind first would be that virtue of charity-of giving of yourself to others and bringing your time, talents and treasures into daily interactions for the betterment of all.  Saint Dominic Academy, since 1878 has instilled in all who know its mission, the desire to serve others, to help ease the pains of others, and to give back to those who have given much to us. 

Tomorrow, December 1st, 2020 is Giving Tuesday and it is our dearest hope that all of those whose lives have been touched by the goodness of Saint Dominic Academy and the Dominican Sisters in Caldwell, will take a  moment to give back to our beloved school.   Any gift you can make, great or small will benefit the next generation of your SDA sisters, those whose compassion and kindness will stretch far into the future and ensuring that everyone continues to know that those who are affiliated with SDA are full of the spirit of giving and the joy that comes from serving others. Thanking you in advance for your generous gift to Saint Dominic Academy and as the sun rises on the first of December tomorrow, let me be the first to issue that timeless line from Dickens-one that captures what Christmas is all about: God bless us, everyone!

November 23

Let’s remember…and give thanks.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

November 16

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude to God, our Creator and Provider, whose guidance and care go before us, and whose love is with us forever. 

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the changes, to remember that we, too, grow and change from one season of life to another. 

Thanksgiving is a time of changing seasons, when leaves turn golden in autumn’s wake and apples are crisp in the first chill breezes of fall.

 Let us remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

 As we see the beauty of autumn, let us acknowledge the many blessings which are ours, let us think of our families and friends, and let us give thanks in our hearts.- Author Unknown

It may be challenging for us, this year, to truly embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving. With so many challenges behind us and still more ahead perhaps none of us is feeling as thankful as we would normally feel. For the fourth Thursday in November is a date when we’d gather with extended family, see friends from across the miles and sit together, way closer than six feet and celebrate- as one year draws closer to and end and another looms on the horizon. 

There’d be talk of Christmas gifts, holiday gatherings, midnight mass plans, and for our youngest family members the thrill of knowing that Santa’s time is once again at last at hand…these are the feelings that Thanksgiving envokes—truly the “advent” of the joyful holiday season.

How then, do we find joy this year, amid our frustrations, fears and sorrows?  For those of us who lost someone, Thanksgiving will be missing something this year. For those of us who have not seen family in months and months, our tables will feel empty no matter how much we can embrace “virtual” gatherings.  For those of us who had travel plans, celebratory plans, or even Black Friday shopping plans, those may not come to full fruition this year.  Thanksgiving is almost upon us and it is up to each of us to find a way to capture the joy of the season and keep it with us until we can ring in 2021. 

I have no firm solution as to how to make this holiday full of joy…but here’s one thing I do know.  Like so many other things this year, it will be memorable. This will be the Thanksgiving you’ll remember the rest of your lives—the one you’ll tell your grandkids about and your children will tell their grandkids about someday. It may very well be the most memorable Thanksgiving since the very first one; because it will be so different from what we’ve come to know. 

So, capture the memories, celebrate live with those whom you can and virtually with those who cannot join you this year. Embrace the love of family and friends; in person or through a screen. And as Thanksgiving night draws to a close, take a photo or two—save them forever. 2020 has the potential to be the Thanksgiving you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

November 9

Heavenly Father,

As we commemorate Veteran’s Day,

We pray for those men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for the cost of freedom.

May their service and sacrifice inspire us all to follow in the selfless example of your Son,

Christ Jesus.

Bless the families of our veterans

, those who still hold their servicemen and servicewomen close,

And those who mourn the loss of a veteran this year.

Fill all of their lives with hope, blessings and peace. 

Help all of us to emulate their call to serve in our own ways,

So that our hearts, united with the hearts of all veterans, living and deceased,

Answer the call to work for peace and justice.

Together, let us work for an end to violence and conflict the world over.

Hold our veterans, today and every day, in Your loving grace.

Amen

All Souls Day

Today we at Saint Dominic Academy pray for the souls of our community’s departed loved ones- family, friends, alumnae, parents and Sisters of Saint Dominic in Caldwell, and we pray also for the lives lost to COVID-19. 

A Prayer for Departed Souls…

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,

And let perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God,

Rest in Peace.

Amen 

Oct 26

What a chilling and sinister warning from Ray Bradbury…and a fitting one as we head into Halloween week. No matter how old I get, and perhaps this is true for some of you as well, as Halloween night approaches, the wind seems to whisper just a bit more, the clouds and tree branches take on strange shapes at sunset and as darkness falls, and the moon, regardless of the phase it’s in might glow just a bit more brightly. All too soon, the jack o lanterns will disappear from windows and doorsteps, replaced by the warm, welcoming glow of Christmas lights but for the next six days—the beauty of the outdoors takes on an orange tinted, spectral glow as we draw closer to All Hallow’s Eve. 

Bradbury’s beautiful prose is taken from one of his most celebrated novels and the “Autumn People” he refers to are a band of supernatural traveling carnival workers, bent on collecting the souls of townspeople in one of those Any town, U.S. A.  settings some American authors are so famous for. His Autumn People, led by Mr. Dark are physical presences within the town and for those who have read the novel,  you know we wait until almost the final pages to see if good will triumph over the evil that has settled onto the town.

Sadly, while Bradbury can banish his creations at the end of his novel, the intangible hand of the these “autumn people” hovers over lives in many different ways. Not live, menacing monsters who lurk in quiet doorways, ready to provide a jump scare to children and adults,  but rather the presence of all that we’d like to removed from our society- inequality, injustice, hatred, intolerance, discrimination, violence, disease, war and havoc—these are the autumn people that haunt our news headlines, our social media feeds, and at times may even touch our personal lives. Sowers of disharmony and discord, intent on causing chaos and calamity, we cannot always identify these specters when we are within their presence.  And yet, as Bradbury says “they frenzy forth”, spilling their hate the world over and we well should “beware of them”.

Both in the novel and in our lives, the only way to overcome the dreaded presence of the Autumn People is with unity, happiness, peace and love. Perhaps it is no wonder that as our Halloween season comes to an end, it is followed by the season of thanks and giving, and the season of goodwill toward man.  For we can, as a school community, as a state, as a country and as a world, rise against the tide of hatred and intolerance, whenever it washes ashore as long as we remember always two essential things:

There is more that unites us than divides us.

And

We are all created in the image and likeness of God. 

Happy Halloween, 2020! 

October 19

For as long as I have been Head of School at Saint Dominic Academy, we’ve partnered each October with Women Rising; a Jersey City community organization that works to help women and children who are victims of abuse. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I always felt it was important to take time away from our classes for one day, and hold an assembly which outlines clearly to our young ladies how teen dating violence can, if not stopped, lead to a pattern of suffering life – long abuse. This October, although Women Rising cannot join us in person for a school wide assembly, they agreed to prepare a presentation for all of our young ladies, and together we coordinated with our Religion, English and Health Departments to have Ms. Pawka, (Health) work with Ms. Armea (Campus Minister) and Mrs. Herrera (Religion Dept) to share and discuss this presentation with all of our young ladies during this upcoming week in October. I cannot thank all of these teachers enough, and my thanks to everyone at Women Rising and especially Margaret Abrams, our contact there, for putting all of this together in virtual form. We are happy to share it here today. 

In New Jersey alone, we have these truly terrible statistics, compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NEW JERSEY

• There were 65,060 domestic violence offenses reported by the police in 2019

• Overall, females were victims in 75 percent of all domestic violence offenses.

• Domestic violence offenses arising from a dating relationship accounted for 14 percent of the state total.

• 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

• On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,000 calls, approximately 15 calls every minute.

• Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

• 72% of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these crimes are female.

Statistics and data can overwhelm us at times, especially for those of us (myself included) who are not mathematically inclined. I can look at these numbers above, as can every single young lady at Saint Dominic Academy, and see that these numbers are awful and far too high. However, sometimes I think we really only come to understand just how big a concern this is for women when we have it touch our lives personally in some way. 

While I would of course hope and pray that there is not one young woman walking the halls at Saint Dominic Academy who has had this affect her life in some way, the numbers show otherwise—that one in every four girls who say hello to me each morning will have this specter’s shadow fall over them; at least once.  And what the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy don’t know, what the faculty and staff don’t know, and what the overall SDA community did not know before reading this blog is that every time they cross the path of their Head of School, they are crossing the path of someone who falls into that 1 in 4 statistic…and it began in high school. 

Long ago and far away now, but still not ever a topic I revel in discussing, it happened to me. And because, at that time, there was not such an emphasis on how teen violence could lead into a pattern of abusive relationships—it went on far longer than it ever should have, and for certain, it has cast a long shadow over my life.  It is my hope, that in sharing this part of my history with the young women of Saint Dominic Academy, in showing them just how close they can be to the 1 out of 4 number, they will work to make wise choices…when they are dating as teens and when they choose a partner as adult women. 

Let us all, each of us as strong women, work to make sure that the future of New Jersey, America and the world over, becomes a future where these statistics are erased, where women are safe at all times, and where domestic abuse becomes just another part of history that we are less than proud of as a country.

Teen Dating Violence

October 12

If you told me I would be spending the Saturday morning of Columbus Day weekend, after the longest first month of school in the history of the world, sewing cloth voodoo dolls onto a child’s black robe and top hat, I would have said you were losing your mind. And yet, guess what I just finished doing? One hour, at least ten needle pricks in my index finger, a few re-threadings of the needle, and presto! Because when the store doesn’t have the “perfect” voodoo witch costume, the one that meets all the specifications laid out by your nine year old daughter, it’s “mom to the rescue.”  This week, it’s fake dolls from Michael’s being sewn on a costume. Last week, it was a white pumpkin carved with a ghost face for a movie party with a friend, and who knows what it will be next week.  What I do know is this, whatever it is, if I can make it happen, then I’ll put down the laundry and the bills and the lesson plans, and stay up late after night meetings, or get up early before work starts and make it happen. Why? Because, as we all know, that’s what mom’s do.

I tell this story this weekend because in a non COVID – 19 world,  this is the week I’d be sitting down to plan what to say at the annual SDA Mother Daughter Brunch. And although we cannot gather together this fall and pray and celebrate as we’d like to do, that does not mean I’m passing up the opportunity to remind all of the young ladies at SDA just how much they should appreciate their mothers. Far too often, we take our parents, both of them, for granted and it’s almost par for the course when it comes to teenage daughters and their moms. I well remember—although it’s long ago that I was a teenager myself, I can call to mind pretty quickly just how much I took my mom for granted—a mistake I’d never make today.  Here I am all proud because I managed to sew some dolls on a hat. My mom, who was a school administrator as well, somehow found the time to make three Halloween costumes each year—homemade head to toe,  decorate the house, get dinner on the table each night, help with homework, do her own work, and together with my dad, throw a party each and every October. (She made her and my dad’s costumes too!) 

Young ladies of SDA, take a moment as you read this and think—think back to when you were four or five years old.  What did your mom do for you in October to make Halloween magically fun for you? ( Mine made me a Princess Leia costume!)  Or think back to when you were in the school play as a child…who helped you learn your lines? Who sat there with a huge bouquet of flowers even if you were playing “orphan # 3” in Annie Jr?  Who drove you to ballet class, to soccer practice, to Rag Shop (remember those stores Moms?) at 6:00pm on a Sunday night to get what you needed for a school project?  Who helped you sell Girl Scout Cookies or patched up your skinned knees after your first Pee-Wee basketball game?  As you’re reading this…I’m certain a thousand images of all the things your mom (and your dad too of course…but I talk about Dads in January!) did for you growing up….things that you probably won’t fully appreciate it until you have a child of your own.

Being a mother means several important things:

Sleepless nights are worth it if you’re losing sleep to do something to make your daughter smile.

You worry no matter how young or old your daughter is—when she’s not under your roof, part of your heart isn’t either.

The phases“ you’re the worst mom ever”, “everybody else’s mom let’s them…”,how come you can’t be more like _____’s mom” will roll right off your back when they are uttered, and within a few years…will wash off your heart as well. You know your daughter doesn’t really mean it. 

You’ll wear the same: coat, sneakers, cocktail dress, whatever for years if it means your little girl can have the dress, sneakers, purse, whatever that she’s been dreaming of all year long.

The saddest Christmas morning is the one where there’s no wrapped doll under the tree—because it means your daughter is growing up! ( thankfully I haven’t hit this milestone yet)

Most of all, being a mother  means loving unconditionally, from the moment you are placed in your mom’s arms onward, you become her “one true thing” and she’ll do anything to make your life as wonderful as she can.  If we were at La Reggia together, by now, I’d be crying, your moms would be crying and many of you, although you’d say otherwise, might have a slight mist of tears in your eyes as well.  

So, we may not be all together and it may be some time before the mothers and daughters of SDA can gather together and celebrate, but that does not mean you can’t take a moment today, to sit next to your  mom, put your arms around her and say…

Nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t ever have to say a word.  Know why? Because we moms already know and…we love you too. Missing all my SDA moms and daughters so much…and holding out hope that we can brunch together soon. 

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