February 15

Have you ever fallen down a “rabbit hole”? You know what I mean…an internet search “rabbit hole.” You look for information on one thing and hours later, you are still at the computer, learning about things you never even knew you wanted to know about. This happens to me, more often than I really care to admit…and it happened on this past Sunday. It started simply enough, I was reading a brief list of anticipated movies in 2021 and one was called The Vigil. The description indicated it had to do with a shomer. 

And off I went—what’s a shomer? Well, in the Jewish religion it’s someone who sits with the body after death. Why do they do this? Well, that led to a page all about Jewish funeral and burial customs (very interesting) which then led to a page about Muslim burial customs and just as Alice did in Lewis Carroll’s classic work, I went further and further down the rabbit hole. I’m glad I did, because it brought me to a reflective state that’s been on my mind all week long. In short, I began to wonder, what effect has COVID-19 had on funeral, burial and mourning customs in the past year? And, what would the long term effects be on society in general; the inability to gather to mourn, the inability to say farewell to someone in their religious traditions, the inability to have hospice care or palliative care in one’s home. Sobering thoughts for Valentine’s Day weekend, and yet in reality it is love that connects us to all of these final traditions—the love we have for our family and friends that causes us to grieve, to mourn, and to send our departed to God in a certain manner. COVID-19 has destroyed many things since last February and the ability to grieve as we wish is one of those things.

Still, the question begs, why am I writing about this instead of Valentine’s Day or Lincoln and Washington or the approaching Lenten season or even Mardi Gras? It’s a big few days spanning 2-14 and 2-17 this year. I think it’s because I could not get out of my mind that phrase each of us hear when people are talking about dying… “In the midst of life, we are in death.” How true that statement is, this year especially as we watched for daily counts of losses due to COVID-19. Even the youngest among our households could not be completely shielded from the fact that death was literally all around us; it had us on lockdown for most of the year. But what we didn’t hear much about, at least I didn’t, was how once death came, those who were left behind were able to cope with the loss and how, for many families across the country and the world, that the grieving process, so essential to us in life, was incomplete at best. 

If you turn on your TV or scroll social media these days, you hear about the vaccine, the rollout, who gets it first in which state et al. You see people with their stickers announcing their vaccination status, you can watch videos of health care workers administering the doses, you see indoor dining opening up, entertainment venues opening up, and we won’t even get into the heated debate about schools…I’ll just say my feeling is that all those in education are doing the best they can. You can once again buy tickets to a major league baseball game, it looks hopeful for Broadway to be open by the fall, vacations ( with masks) are once again being planned…and there’s a sense of re-emerging from the pandemic and coming out on the other side. Hope springs eternal and perhaps this spring season, more than ever in anyone’s memory, people will have a renewed sense of hope. However, for some it will be a hope tainted with sadness; because for every person lost to COVID-19, there’s been an imbalance in the grieving process for their loved ones. The tales I read during my time in the “rabbit hole” were heartbreaking and I will not heavy your hearts with them in detail. Suffice to say, the words I read and the images I saw are things I will carry with me, always. 

So, while God would want us to be hopeful, to see the rainbow shining through the darkness of the past year, to rejoice in the goodness of medical breakthroughs and the slow reemergence of gathering as we did once before, with hugs and laughter among friends, He would also remind us to never once forget those who are not with us, nor the families who lost so much. Those who lost a loved one lost that person in their lives; but they also lost the ability to say goodbye just as they would have wanted, the ability to have others help them grieve, and the ability to come to terms with loss surrounded by the warm embrace of family. We cannot ever lose the memory of all that loss and we should work to expand our sense of compassion and understanding as we move forward. Now and in the future, compassion is what everyone will need most.

Rose Fitgerald Kennedy once said “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

How fitting those words are in light of what we’ve all lived through from last March until now. And how important they are, when it comes to us understanding and empathizing with the sadness of others, even as we celebrate our own joys in the coming months.

Happy Valentine’s Day and my prayers to all in the Saint Dominic Academy community who are grieving a loss. You have my sympathy and my empathy always.

Saint Dominic Academy’s National Honor Society Presents…

BEDTIME STORIES For READ ACROSS AMERICA

National Honor Society Students & Faculty Volunteers will pair one on one with your child, via Zoom for a ½ hour read aloud and discussion. 

It’s the perfect way to wind down the little ones before bedtime!

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays in March

March 2nd, March 4th March 9th, March 11th, March 16th, March 18th, March 23rd, March 25th, and March 30th 

Time:  7:00pm- 7:30pm

Age Range: 3 year olds to 9 year olds

(older siblings welcome to join the Zoom!) 

To sign up, please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/GriwJ1vc2cDTLqHg6

You will receive a confirmation email with a Zoom link and the name of your Reader(s). 

There is NO cost and you can sign up more than once! Looking forward to fostering a love of reading all month long!

February 1

Today, I share with the entire Saint Dominic Academy community the letter regarding on site instruction that was given to our parents and students last week. We ask for the continued prayers of all who love Saint Dominic Academy, as we work hard to continue to provide both remote and in person learning options for the young women under our care.

Thank you for being so understanding and cooperative this week as we once again navigated the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continual impact on our school community.  I had the opportunity to speak with some parents over the course of this week, and as always, I welcome the opportunity to talk with each and every one of you, should you ever wish to express your concerns and frustrations to me.

Every time I communicate with parents and students, I stress over and over again that the administration, faculty and staff of Saint Dominic Academy have been, from day one constantly committed to ensuring stellar education while at the same time keeping everyone in our “family” safe. That’s been quite a challenge from last March onward, and even when we make a decision we never consider it fully final—we are constantly re-evaluating and discussing the situations connected to our school, as we realize circumstances change quickly in the face of this pandemic.

The commitment to the health and safety of all truly extends to all—the dedicated and caring teachers who currently teach remotely for health reasons, those who are temporarily unable to with us due to quarantine or COVID recovery, and those who can be present on site, even if it’s at personal sacrifice—the inability to see family or friends due to their interactions at school. At all times, we are considering every single student under our care, those who wish to be remote and as well as those who wish to be in person, those who have the desire to participate in sports and those who chose to remain at home, relatively isolated until this pandemic is finally behind us.

I’ve made no secret of my disappointment in the fact that, in NJ, teachers are unable to be vaccinated as of yet. It’s a risk to their health when they enter the classroom—although we have taken every safety precaution and although we know you join with us in ensuring the young ladies take the necessary precautions as well, there is always a risk of exposure.  That said, our teachers, whether they are remote or able to be on-site, put the needs of our students first and foremost at all times.

It is in that vein that I am able to announce today that the administration has re-evaluated our remote learning status, and as of Monday February 8th, when  teachers who were quarantined are fully able to return, we will once again make an effort to have a hybrid learning option for those young ladies who wish to return to Saint Dominic Academy.  I know this news will please many of you and I am happy to be able to offer this in person learning option.  Students who wish to be remote may still opt to do so at any time, via an email to Mrs. Farrales ( gfarrales@stdominicacad.com) and those who wish to come off our remote list and return to hybrid can do so by also informing Mrs. Farrales.

Our commitment to returning to hybrid learning does not mean that we can 100% assure that we will be able to remain open at all times, for the duration of the school year. Our commitment to health and safety has not wavered and as such, if there is a need for quarantine, a need to re-evaluate the hybrid model due to rising numbers, or due to anticipated travel plans and higher risk of exposure after the Easter recess, we will do so.  Furthermore, as we move into the spring, the schedule may once again need to be adjusted, depending upon how the College Board plans to implement AP testing. I do have to ask for your cooperation and consideration in all of these situations, as they are yet unknown fully.

Teachers who are remote for health related reasons will continue to be remote until further notice. I ask that you please keep in mind that these men and women are fully dedicated to their roles as teachers; the only difference is where they are teaching. We have all, in our jobs and day to day activities had to be more understanding and accommodating from last March onward, and of course, we should all continue to do so.

Additionally, while we remain committed to our athletic program as well, it has been noted that more and more exposures in schools, especially colleges and universities, has come about due to athletics. While I do not ever want to even ponder the idea of not having athletics, I am going to ask our student athletes, parents, and our coaches to be even more diligent and take every single precaution to ensure that all rules are being followed at all times.  We must be very careful, especially as we are in the season of indoor sports right now.

In person learning on our hybrid schedule will commence on Monday, February 8th with our 10th and 12th grade students as well as our 8th grade, in the building. Please note, that Friday, February 12 and Monday February 15, Saint Dominic Academy is closed for President’s Day weekend.  In person learning on our hybrid schedule will commence for  our 9th and 11th grade students, as well as our 8th grade on Tuesday February 16th

If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call or email me. I ask for your continued prayers—as I said earlier in the week, this is not an easy time to be a student or a parent, nor is it an easy time to be a teacher, school staff member or a school administrator. We are doing the very best we can, in extremely challenging circumstances. Please, let us remember that and continue to be kind, respectful and pray for one another always.

Most sincerely,

Sarah Degnan Barbi

Head of School

Peter Pan Cast List

Come away to Neverland with SDA this spring…think of the happiest things! 

Peter Pan – Alyssa Fuentes 

Wendy Moira Angela Darling – Reagan Mattiello 

Captain Hook – Max Rueda 

Mrs. Darling – Isabel LeCompte

Mr. Darling – Joanna DeJesus 

John Napoleon Darling – Luke Mullins

Michael Darling – Sal DeSarle-Scarpulla

Smee – Abby Barbi 

Tiger Lily – Miya Morrison 

Nana/Crocodile – Annabel Calabrese

Liza – Carolina Quito 

Jane – Elle Mullins 

Featured Lost Boys/Pirates/Natives :

Lyeba Jadun 

Isabella Betancourt 

Christis Shepherd 

January 18

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.

Today, as we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should reflect not only on his inspiring words, but ask ourselves as a nation—has the dream Dr. King spoke so eloquently about in 1969 truly been achieved? Or, as the celebrated poet Langston Hughes queries, has the dream of Dr. King been deferred?  While there is no doubt we’ve made great strides forward from that historic day when his speech was delivered to thunderous applause in Washington, D.C.,  we are still tasked as a country to fully come together and allow for the full realization of his dream to come to fruition.

Let us all take a moment to read excerpts from the immortal and impassioned speech of Dr. King and allow them to speak to us in the quiet of our own minds.  

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today…

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

August 28, 1963

January 11

I consider myself a good writer; certainly not one who will be studied in the halls of universities after I am gone, but I’ve been writing for a long time and I do feel, every so often, my writing can touch someone’s heart, stir their emotions, or perhaps even make a person consider a different point of view. However, I also consider myself an intelligent woman and I know better than to attempt to convey a message with new words when those great writers and orators who have gone before me have left much more meaningful words that I can “borrow” and impart.

And so, as we return to the second portion of our school year, as 2020 falls behind us like a shroud and 2021 moves forward from a murky and hazy horizon line to the center of our lives…let’s all listen to these excerpts from great American voices and hear not only with our ears, but with our hearts, the message they are sending to us all. Welcome to 2021, everyone! 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. – Maya Angelou

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…singing with mouths open their strong melodious songs – Walt Whitman 

They’ll see how beautiful I am …I, too, am America. – Langston Hughes

I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so my children can live in peace. Thomas Paine

It is the individual who can and does make a difference even in this increasingly populous, complex world of ours. – Sandra Day O’Connor 

Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. – Chief Sitting Bull 

There is no life that does not contribute to history. – Dorothy West 

The most important thought that ever occupied my mind is that of my individual responsibility to God. – Daniel Webster

December 21

On this first day of Winter, 2020, I’d like to share with the entire Saint Dominic Academy family the Christmas reflection I sent to my own beloved family and friends this year. I hope its words are a source of comfort and inspiration as we head into Christmas.
Let nothing you dismay…
Tidings of comfort and joy…

Old lyrics take on new meanings this year.
As we draw closer to our inner circles,
Full of sadness perhaps ,
at this time of celebration.

We long for the days of gathering with
Loved ones near and far,
Of late night trips to the shops,
Of hot chocolate with friends,
Of cuddles on Santa’s lap.

Pause for just a moment…
Look up to the stars…
And remember long ago,
A tiny family, gathered in the stable,
Had all they needed in each other.

So too, do we this year, and always…
At our own quiet hearths, we have what matters most.

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!