Pumpkin Spice and Prayers

October has finally arrived, hopefully bringing with it cool autumn breezes, chunky sweaters and warm boots on weekends, jewel colored leaves on trees and piles on the ground just perfect for crunching,  flickering Halloween lights and of course, pumpkin spice everything. From coffee to candy, from paint samples in Lowes to slogans on sweatshirts (and yes, I have one!) it’s that pumpkin spice season once again.  Those who don’t even like pumpkin flavored things may feel encouraged, or cajoled, (or even pressured) to purchase at least one pumpkin themed beverage in the next 31 days.

Why the infatuation with pumpkin, with fall, with fuzzy scarves and fleecy sweatshirts and football Sundays and All  Hallow’s Eve?  I do not remember this “craze” as a youngster or even as a very young adult.  Fall was just “back to school” season; uniforms, homework, sports or clubs, one show on tv and then bedtime before the routine began once again.  Maybe one pumpkin decorated the steps and a few ghosts hung from windows and maybe my mother made pumpkin pie once in October. (One October, the “scariest” of my youth, she made pumpkin stew in the actual pumpkin. My reaction when called to the dinner table that night is still remembered by my parents and brothers!!) It’s as if our society realized that we needed something to celebrate during the fall, not just that one day of October 31st, but rather a full celebration of the season, of the beauty of nature that occurs between the first day of fall and the advent (no pun intended) of the holiday season each year.  And what better iconic fall symbol to celebrate than the pumpkin?  On its own it’s a harvest symbol, carved it’s a Halloween one and for those of us who look to see the gift of God in the world around us, it can call to mind our own selves and how His hand helps to shape us daily.

For me, and for you, believing in God’s presence in your life is a little bit like being a pumpkin. He calls to you from the patch, picks you, and brings you into His presence.  His love washes away all the dirt and His grace helps you to open your heart and let go of the seeds of doubt, hate and greed.  During this autumn season, this season of pumpkin spice, allow God to carve in your soul a  new, smiling face, and allow the gift of His light to shine inside you for all the world to see.

Happy October!

The “Great Pumpkin” Time of Year

As September moves rapidly into October ( a favorite month of mine), our nightly televisions will soon be full of Halloween themed episodes, movies, and specials. A favorite each year for me, ever since I was a little girl is the classic “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”  Of course, parents when you and I were younger, we got to watch it ONCE a season when it was on network television. (Do our kids even know what network tv is? Hmm…network, is that like Netflix I can hear them asking!?) Thanks to Netflix and other wonders of technology, it can now be watched as many times as little minds want to see it. So, in my house, it has been on more than once a week since the 1st week of September, and what Abigail watches, Mommy watches too!

As such, I have become quite an “expert” in Great Pumpkin lore, as presented by Linus and his blue blanket, but today that is not what I want to talk about with you for a few moments. Today, after having watched Lucy yank that football away, call her brother a blockhead, boss the neighborhood children around on Halloween night, I want to talk about sisters; especially big sisters and what it means to be a sister! During my first viewing (this season), I thought to myself “Wow, what an awful sister that Lucy is.” And then, as I watched (and watched and watched), while I still thought she was pretty mean most of the time, I noticed a better side to her as well.

Being a big sister myself, I do know how it is possible to get frustrated by little brothers at times.  Do I recall, with some tinge of regret, yelling at my brothers during our childhood, making fun of them, bossing them around?  Yes I do. (I also recall numerous grievances heaped upon me by the two of them, but that is perhaps a tale for another time.)  And so, I can understand this cartoon girl’s frustration- she does not want her brother to get mocked for sitting in that pumpkin patch. She does not want him to miss out on trick or treating or the Halloween party. (In fact, she asks at each house for an extra piece of candy for him, calling him a blockhead while she does it!) But, because it is sometimes hard to express one’s true feelings; how does she try to ensure that he does not miss the fun of the season?  By harassing him until he sees things her way; which he never does.  Is her approach the right one? No, but it is the one she is most comfortable with, the role she knows best and so, that’s how she “cares” for him.

For those of you who have not had the chance to watch it this season, (you can message me I will give you our DVD GLADLY!), let me remind you of the end of the cartoon. It’s 4am after the fun of Halloween is over and big sister Lucy gets up to check her brother’s room.  His bed is not slept in. And so, she dons her hat and coat (and scarf…where does the Peanuts gang live if they need scarves on the first of November?) and goes out to the pumpkin patch to guide her little brother into bed. She takes off his shoes, tucks him in, and leaves and he never wakes up long enough to notice this gesture of kindness and love. I am sure most of the kids watching don’t really notice it either- they  just laugh at the idea of a kid sleeping in a pumpkin patch. But it has caught my eye again and again. This big sister really loves her brother; she cares for him but cannot fully express it.

At Saint Dominic Academy, we have worked since 1878 to build up that sense of sisterhood; that every girl who walks through the doors of the school is connected to every other girl- “spiritual siblings” to each other as they journey through high school together.  Does every girl always treat every other girl with kindness and compassion 100% of the time each and every day?  Sadly no, but as a sister, I know how much of a challenge that is.  However, in our school, there is always that sense, that feeling that every girl truly cares about every other girl’s well being. Every young lady at SDA would head out to the pumpkin patch at 4am if another girl was left there. Every SDA alumna would trek out there too to retrieve an SDA sister.  The sisterhood encompassed, not only inside the four walls, but inside the hearts of every member of the SDA family is what allows each young lady to be a big sister to every SDA girl who comes after her and a little sister to every SDA alumna who has walked the halls before her.  It’s tough to be a sister at times, isn’t it? But, I know too it is also one of the nicest things in the world to be as well!

Purple Ink…Think Positive

On our opening day of school, I had the chance to talk and share with the administration, faculty and staff my overall “theme” for the 2017-2018 school year.  This year, we are all, adults and students- making a concentrated effort to “Think Positive” and to be positive in all we say and all we do. If you will indulge me briefly this week, I will share the origin story of where I received this inspiration.

This past summer from June 25 to July 30th, Abigail was in a theater camp, putting on Willy Wonka Jr. Not my favorite show by any means(although I much prefer it to the new version on  Broadway…we saw that and were horrified by the violence depicted!)  and she played Grandma Josephina, which was interesting in and of itself.  After listening to the music daily and running lines with her each evening, the story began to grow on me.

By the time the weekend of the 4 shows ( yup FOUR with a cast ages 5-12) arrived, I was excited and sat back in my front row seat ready to listen and be entertained.  And during each show, one song and one particular line within the song kept standing out to me.  “Write your thoughts down in purple ink…think positive!”  That just stuck with me and I kept turning it over and over in my head during the month of August.

What a wonderful theme for us here, at SDA as we begin our Middle States Evaluation.  All of us, all day, every day, for this entire school year should think positive, be positive, and embrace all of the wonderful things that will happen at SDA during the next 10 months.  Let’s see how many positive thoughts we can accumulate during the year!

And, today, I am asking parents, alumnae, and readers of this blog, if you have a wonderfully positive memory or thought or story about Saint Dominic Academy, then type it out in purple ink and send it to me via email!  I will do my best to be your positive inspiration if you will be mine!

September 11, 2017

Today, I ask all of you who read this blog to take a quiet moment and read this prayer in memory of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.  For those of us who remember it well, our lives will never be the same.

Lord of Mercy, Prince of Peace,

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory. 

This day does not pass in the calendar without our remembering.

We remember images of death. Images that human eyes were never meant to see.  We remember words our ears were never meant to hear, the tender last words of husbands and wives who would never embrace again.

We imagine the feeling of emptiness in the arms of children who at the end of the day could not find mom or dad for their welcome home hug. We remember our own feelings of emptiness as our sense of security, as our own confidence in the predictable order of life and work was radically shaken.

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory. 

We remember the heroism of the many that lost their lives in saving others. We remember all those who suffered and died, we grieve for them still, friends and strangers alike, along with their families and friends.

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory.

And it is right that it should not pass from our memory. But today and in this prayer, along with our remembrance of profound loss, it also seems right that we give voice to our deep longing for peace, and with this prayer, commit ourselves to those actions that will draw us closer to our most ancient and most holy desire, peace among all God’s children.


New Beginnings 2017

Sitting at the shore during my time away, I watched the sunsets almost every night.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with family and/or friends, but I did my best daily to stop and take a few moments as day turned to dusk to just sit, stare and gain a sense of perspective and peace.  For, with each passing sunset, I knew in my heart that summer was one day closer to ending and school was one less sunrise away.  For many of us who work in education or who have children in school, we know that our “new” year each year does not begin on January 1st, but rather on a Tuesday in September, the day after Labor Day, when a new school year kicks off.

This year is no different for me; my new year, my 2nd as Head of School will truly get under way on September 5th.  For the parents of our beloved SDA students, that new year for you and your daughters begins that same week. Whether they are joining us as 7th graders, 8th graders, 9th graders or transfers, or whether they are returning for another year with us, I know each young lady has a sense of both excitement and disquiet at what the next 10 months holds for them.  Parents, I imagine you have that same sense; although you’ve been sending your daughters’ to school much longer than I have been doing it. ( I have a 1st grader heading off on September 6th and I am not sure who is more nervous, she or I!)  You are excited for all the events and experiences that the new year will have to offer and at the same time, are nervous for those unexpected challenges that may and often do spring up, catching each of us off guard at one point or another.

And so, what can we do, you and I together, as summer draws to a close for another year?  Well, we can have faith in each other; you can know in your mind and heart that when your daughter walks into SDA this September, she will be treated with respect, compassion and understanding. She will learn to lead, she will learn to make a difference in the world.  You are entrusting me, as Head of School and all members of the SDA community with your greatest gift and we will do our best daily to make her year a wonderful one.  You can reach out, at any time, to me, to the administration, to the teachers if you have question or a concern or just want to touch base about the progression of the year. We are here for both parents and students and I hope to get to know each of you even better this year.

Most importantly, the one thing we can do to prepare for this upcoming school year and ensure its success is to pray.  And what better time to do it, (for me anyway), then at the close of each day?   I will try my best, even with the hustle and bustle of the school year, both mine and Abigail’s, to take a moment each day to stop, look, and gain a fresh perspective on all that tomorrow will offer the both of us. I encourage you and your daughters to do the same.  For, if we reflect daily on the beauty and wonder of God all around us, our days will be filled with a sense of peace, of faith and of love.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!

Summer Magic

August already!?  Where has our summer flown?  With the exception perhaps of those short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, I find that summer is the time of year that moves most quickly and leaves us longing for more time in its wake.  The month of August is a favorite of mine, (perhaps because it is Abigail’s birthday month!) and as such, I have always during my career in education, worked for most of July and taken some time during August to relax and regroup my senses for the upcoming school year.

This August is no different and, as such, I am taking a (very brief) hiatus from my weekly blog! I had no idea when I started this last September that I would have so much to say on a weekly basis. (Although, I think those who knew me well concurred I would have no trouble having a lot to say on a regular basis!)  However, the part of my brain that is always on the lookout for a new blog idea needs a bit of a rest- and from August 14-August 28, this blog will be silent and I hope that all of my weekly readers will tune back in on September 4th to hear my thoughts on starting the school year.

Before I go however, I wanted to share with you just a little of what I plan to do during my downtime in August. I know many of my readers have children and / or grandchildren and so, if there is something on my August Bucket List that inspires you, I hope you will snap a quick photo and send it to me at sdegnan@stdominicacad.com  so that I can work with our Advancement Office to create a collage of  SDA Summer Memories for our website!

And so, here is my list…


  • Walk on the boardwalk and watch the Ferris Wheel.
  • Play miniature golf (and let Abby win!)
  • Win a prize at the boardwalk
  • Visit a water park
  • Roast marshmallows over a fire and make s’mores
  • Make lemonade from scratch
  • Buy fresh produce at  a farm stand.
  • Eat a soft-serve vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles
  • Watch the sunset from the beach
  • Swim in a lake
  • Collect seashells/sea glass
  • Enjoy getting caught in a summer rainstorm
  • Find a shooting star
  • Read a story together each night.

If I cannot meet all of these small but highly important August goals, I can assure you that Abigail and I will work to meet as many of them as possible! It is my belief that time with family in the summer sunlight creates some of the best memories life has to offer. Happy August everyone and I will see you in September!

Reserve a Seat…Named Chairs in ELAN!

This November, when the curtain rises in ELAN, audience members will be transported back to the pre World War II days of Austria, to meet a family in desperate need of a new and loving mother. For those not familiar with this brief description, the timeless show “The Sound of Music” will be brought to life over the course of two nights by the talented young women of Saint Dominic Academy and the talented young men of Saint Peter’s Prep.

In the past few years, ELAN has been home to many a varied and magical setting; from the far off realm of OZ, to the 1930’s streets of New York City, from a wildly competitive spelling bee in Putnam County, to the island paradise from “Once On This Island.”  As we continue to expand our Dramatics program, adding a Drama class this year in addition to our Dance class that is partnered with the Jersey City Ballet Academy, it is ELAN itself that is in need of some “magic” in order to grow with our growing program.

For those who hold Saint Dominic Academy near and dear to their hearts, ELAN will always be a special and magical place; one used for assemblies, for classes at times, and for beloved gatherings with classmates during one’s time at the Academy. And, at this time, we would like to invite you to partner with us to make ELAN an even more beautiful and welcoming space, not just for our Arts programs, but as a space for all who visit SDA.

Our wonderful Parents Association spent the past two years working toward a fundraising goal to air condition ELAN.  That goal was met, and by September of 2017, the room will have air conditioning!  With that major accomplishment completed, we partnered with a generous parent volunteer to have our sound system and microphones brought up to date.  And now, we have committed ourselves to a “beautification” of this classic room; new flooring, new paint and trim, and we hope, new chairs for all of the events held in ELAN.

Today, it is my hope that you will consider making a gift toward this renovation project, as we are fully committed to seeing it through to completion by September of 2017. Any donation amount would be most gratefully accepted.  You are also invited today to consider being a “Named Sponsor” of this project. Donors of $1,000 or more will have a “named chair” in ELAN, which will be placed in the first two rows for any performance event held in our venue.

Today may be the day when you choose to leave your legacy at SDA and have a chair in our performance space named for you, a generous benefactor to your beloved school. Our Advancement Office is available to answer any questions you have about this new way to get involved and give back to SDA.

Please…make your gift to ELAN today and work with us to see the stage light up in beauty for many future performances!  

Character Counts!

Within the past 15 years, many schools, public, private and charter have spent time and resources into implementing and publicizing their “Character Education” programs.  What exactly is “character education?” may be the question in many parents’ minds.  In short, school-based character education programs are programs implemented in elementary, middle, or high schools that involve deliberate, proactive attempts to foster positive character development. Character education programs focus on instilling, teaching, or promoting a range of core values; also known more commonly as  ethical values, moral values and virtues. Character education programs are primarily designed to promote values that may be generalized across contexts.

As I read and re-read that definition, I am always surprised by how much promoting goes into a school wide “Character Education” program. Having worked for a period of years at an elementary charter school, I know well how much emphasis we put on our character education program and how much the parents valued and appreciated the program. It was indeed, a selling point of the school.  With my heart and my mind rooted in Catholic education, I cannot help but wonder: Isn’t Character Education what Catholic School has been about since its inception?

From research, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the most successful character education programs are the comprehensive ones. Comprehensive character education programs are aimed at affecting the school as a community by integrating character education into the full spectrum of school activities and school life through such means as  involvement across curricular topics, discipline practices, after-school activities, and other such school functions;  participation by teachers, principals, school staff, parents, and especially students in program design and implementation; and  multiple approaches to teaching character.  That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?  And while the definition uses a lot of buzz words and educational terms, isn’t what it’s really saying is to teach kindness, compassion, and concern for others?  Hmmm….very interesting…

Saint Dominic Academy, and all other Catholic educational institutions on both the primary and secondary level are doing this on a daily basis and have been doing it for as long as they have been established as schools.  Not only in our religious studies classes, but within the entire climate of the school, an emphasis is placed on good character, on compassion for others, on assisting the less fortune, and on the foundation that kindness does indeed count and that honesty is always the best policy. We, and indeed all Catholic schools are the “inventors” one might say of character education, because we build our educational programs around that goal, rather than incorporate that goal into our already established educational program.

I am of firm belief that parents are children’s primary moral educators. What Catholic schools have always worked to do is to ensure that the young people who pass through their doors emerge as the best they can be by creating a school environment where religious values are taught, civic virtues are expected, and good character is modeled, celebrated, and continually practiced. We have always been partners with parents on the development of moral character and that will continue to be the goal of Saint Dominic Academy and of all Catholic schools far into the future.

And so, when parents are looking for a school that teaches good character; they need look no further than Saint Dominic Academy for a strong foundation in morals, virtues and good character. We do not have a “character education program”. Rather we, at Saint Dominic Academy, develop the moral character of our young ladies at all times, in every classroom and in every aspect of our school community. Character does indeed count at Saint Dominic Academy!

Last Call for Bets!

If much of this blog looks familiar this week, it’s because it was, in part, published four weeks ago when SDA started accepting reservations for our SDA DAY AT THE RACES at Monmouth Park.  At last, our event is here; this coming Sunday, July 23rd, we are hosting our first annual racetrack event.  We are hoping to see alumnae, families, friends of the school and anyone who loves a day at Monmouth Park.

Want more information? Then read (or re-read) onward and when you are finished reading, visit the alumnae tab of our website: www.stdominicacad.com and purchase your racetrack tickets today! I’ll meet you there!

The place to be this summer opened in 1870, only 8 years before Saint Dominic Academy opened its doors. Whether you’re a fan of horse racing or not, there is no doubt that a day at Monmouth Park is an experience that every New Jerseyean has to undertake at least once in his or her life. So, if you have not yet come down to the track, make your inaugural visit this summer as part of our SDA Day at the Races.  If you and Monmouth Park are “old buddies”, then please come and celebrate with us this summer. (And, if you are a horse racing expert; find me and help me place my bets please!)

On Sunday, July 23rd, we will host our First Annual SDA Day at the Races at Monmouth Park!  We will celebrate this day with family and friends; children are welcome.  There will be bounce houses, clowns, pony rides, face painting and a playground for the future generation of SDA little girls (and their brothers too of course!)  Food is always available for purchase at the Park, or you can pack a cooler and picnic with friends as the ponies speed by!   Our goal for the day is a simple one; to come together and enjoy each other’s company in this historic and picturesque New Jersey setting.

The SDA Alumnae Association is organizing this event on behalf of the school. The cost is $15.00 and children 18 and under are free.

“Face” Lifting at SDA

With my 40th birthday less than 10 days away, I have become the “go to” person about skin cream, sun protection, water to stay hydrated, hand lotion, and the like.  Perhaps many of us women cannot help it; when we wake up and 40 is staring us in the face, we suddenly appreciate how young we truly looked at 25 or 30.  And, no matter how many people tell me that “life begins at 40”, I am still stockpiling Oil of Olay every time it’s on sale. I am smart enough to realize in my mind that when I look back later in life what I will remember most is how much I enjoyed this time, not how stressed I was over one eye wrinkle or the first strand of grey year. Time does move quickly (as evidenced by the fact that my “little” daughter is going to be SIX…talk about time flying!), and although I joke often these days about dreading turning 40, I know it is, like every other birthday, a time of celebration and of giving thanks for another successful and happy year! That’s the positive mindset I am working to keep in the forefront this July.  After all, I am determined to age gracefully, and with a smile all the time!

Walking through the halls of SDA these days is what made me think of both face-lifting and graceful aging. For there is no doubt that the school is getting a bit of a face lift this summer; fresh paint in classrooms, new floors in the front hall, a new look in ELAN for both floors and walls and, very exciting-  air conditioning in ELAN thanks to the effort of a two year fundraising drive from our SDA Parent Association.

Even our beloved Madonna Hall is being touched up ever so slightly; cleaned, re-stuffed cushions, re-hung drapes. ( And a big thank you to Kathy Barnitt for helping to make that happen!)  Once that is all finished, on the outside,  SDA will still be the same beautiful building it has been for decades; a grand dowager of a school, sitting on her tree lined corner and waiting to welcome her “daughters” back in September of 2017.  It is only  the few of us who are here on the inside,  who see how much work it takes to maintain our beloved SDA, to keep her up to date, looking stunning and serving as a welcoming beacon both for current students and our beloved alumnae, should they have time to stop “home” to visit.

What we do here during the summer; our “face lifting” of SDA as it were, could not be possible without the support of all who give so generously to the Saint Dominic Academy Annual Fund.   Every single gift made to the Annual Fund is a testament to those who love this beloved school and who want to help move it forward into the future.  As I celebrate this month, not only the (dreaded) 4-0 but also the conclusion of my first year as Head of School and the start of what I hope will be an even more exciting and eventful second year, I would be most remiss not to use this weekly space to say THANK YOU!

Our generous donors, alumnae, parents, and friends of SDA, I thank you from the entire current SDA Family for your gifts to our Annual Fund this year. You are helping to shape the lives of future generations of empowered women- ones who will embrace each monumental event in their own lives, confident that they are successful, strong, and spirited young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy!