The Empowered Lady of the Harbor

As I sat, reflecting on the generations of empowered Saint Dominic Academy alumnae who will come together at the end of this week, either at the Biergarten in Jersey City or at The Breakers in Spring Lake to celebrate our Alumnae Reunion weekend, it occurred to me that both of these events will be celebrated in view of the water. And what better backdrop then than sparkling blue water, catching the light of the sun and the reflection of the sky (or the skyscrapers) to showcase the beauty and devotion our alumnae have shared with Saint Dominic Academy throughout the years. That thought, as thoughts often do, led me to reflect on images of women that come to mind when we think of the word empowered. And I realized, that in writing this blog weekly since September, I have neglected to give focus to one of the most welcoming, strong and empowering women ever to venture to Jersey City; and we at SDA were here to welcome her when she arrived. shares the following: The Statue of Liberty was a joint effort between France and the United States, intended to commemorate the lasting friendship between the peoples of the two nations. The French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the statue itself out of sheets of hammered copper, while Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the famed Eiffel Tower, designed the statue’s steel framework. The Statue of Liberty was then given to the United States and erected atop an American-designed pedestal on a small island in Upper New York Bay, now known as Liberty Island, and dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. Over the years, the statue stood tall as millions of immigrants arrived in America via nearby Ellis Island; in 1986, it underwent an extensive renovation in honor of the centennial of its dedication. Today, the Statue of Liberty remains an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy, as well as one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks.

Look carefully at the years in the description; she was dedicated in 1886…and our women were here in Jersey City!  We had a presence in Jersey City before Lady Liberty herself!  Eight years prior to her arrival in the harbor, Saint Dominic Academy was established in Jersey City and had, for eight years, served the young women of Jersey City well.  Imagine the excitement in the school building when she arrived. The community of women at Saint Dominic Academy were here to welcome her and it must have been quite a welcome!  What a breathtaking sight she must have been to behold.

And again in 1986 (and this I remember from my childhood), when the centennial celebration was held, Saint Dominic Academy was present, vibrant and alive and joining in the celebration of Lady Liberty; she who welcomes “your tired, your hungry,  your poor…”, she who “lift(s) my lamps beside the golden door.”  One has to wonder in awe, how many young women, following the arc of light from her torch, followed a path from the Jersey City waterfront to Saint Dominic Academy?  How many lives did we shape, how many hearts did we touch, as the children of immigrants passed through Ellis Island and settled in this area?

Today, still within the daily presence of this monumental woman (literally), we at Saint Dominic Academy celebrate the generations that have gone before us and spread wide our doors to welcome those who are seeking an enlightened, enriching and empowered education for young women. Our tradition is a strong as her pedestal, our devotion to educating women as welcoming as her gilded torch and as our alumnae gather to celebrate this weekend, let us all, wherever we are join them in a toast to all who enrich the lives of Saint Dominic Academy each and every day!

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to the entire Saint Dominic Academy community! Yesterday we celebrated the miracle of Christ’s resurrection! As we reflected on the sacrifices that Christ made for each of us, let us also call to mind the daily sacrifices we make for each other, as parents to our children, as educators for the students who sit before us, as alumnae who work to support their alma mater. Each of us is blessed daily by all the gifts we are given from God and each of us is a daily representation of God in the lives of others. As members of The Saint Dominic Academy community, let us rejoice in this season of Easter and continue to celebrate the joys that God’s love brings to each of our lives.

Each member of the SDA community is a gift from God to us and each of you will be kept in our daily prayers all throughout the Easter season and the spring.  We celebrate our new life in Christ, the joys of spring, and the many blessings each member of our family brings to SDA this year.

I wish you and your family a Happy Easter, a warm and rejuvenating spring, and all the warmth and love that blossoms during this time of year.


Sarah Degnan

Head of School

The Road to Easter Sunday

This week, the Catholic church enters into the most Holy Week of the year; a final meal among friends, a reflection and betrayal in the Garden, a trial, a death sentence, and the long, painful walk to death on the Cross. These days commemorate the suffering of Jesus Christ and ask each of us to pause and reflect on His sacrifice for all mankind. It is important for us all to reflect and repent during this darkened time so that we can truly embrace the Light and Life that comes forth in Joy on Easter Sunday.

Jesus knew, when He traveled to Jerusalem for the final time, that the end of his life was drawing close. We know, from Church readings that while Jesus was committed to His Father’s plan for the salvation of humankind, he still carried within His own heart great fear. We would expect nothing else; the fear of dying in such a painful manner, the fear of betrayal by a close friend, the fear of being mocked, ridiculed and beaten for His words of love would cause even the bravest of us to perhaps turn and flee the fate that awaited in Jerusalem. However, we also know from the Gospel that Jesus did not turn and flee; His presence at the Last Supper, where He washed the disciples’ feet, where He shared with close companions His Body and Blood were actions that signified His acceptance of the plan His Father had in store for Him. And although He asked in prayer to have the cup “pass from my lips”, Jesus turned His cheek to accept Judas’ kiss of betrayal and walked willingly toward His fate at Golgotha.

This week, each of us should take comfort in the suffering of our Lord, for it is that very suffering that should give us hope in difficult times. Whether we are mourning the end of a relationship, the loss of a friendship, a physical illness, the death of a loved one, or even a small sadness that touches our heart only and leaves other hearts unmoved, our sadness is not unnoticed by God. We must remember, this week and always, that the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus and His agony on the cross give all of us hope for a better tomorrow. When we offer our individual sadness, our silent pain, our tearful mourning to God, we are reminded that if we trust in our Father, His love will sustain us, not just during the trials of Holy Week leading to the Easter celebration, but always, for His sacrifice for us is continual.

As we wait this week for the stone to be removed from the tomb early on Sunday morning, let us be thankful for the sacrifice God has made for each of us and keep each other in prayer daily. We may not know the sufferings of others, but together, we can offer our sadness to God and receive the gift of joy on Easter Sunday.

In prayerful anticipation for Easter…

What Are YOU Reading?

The month of March was full of opportunities to encourage young children to read. Read Across America, the program that celebrates Dr. Seuss’ birthday allowed the young women of SDA to visit both All Saints Catholic Academy and P.S. # 23 to read to students in grades ranging from Pre K 3 to 3rd.  I myself had the chance to do some reading to the kindergarten at All Saints, both as a chaperone for the NHS trip there and as the class parent for my daughter’s class.  It was wonderful for our young ladies and the chaperones who attended to be able to experience the excitement that comes with reading a story out loud to interested, inquisitive, and yes, at times chatty, youngsters.

I am sure many of my fellow parents who read this can fondly recall nights curled up in bed or on the couch under a blanket, reading to your daughter as she first discovered board books.  Was Good Night Moon a favorite bedtime story for your daughter?  Or was she more of a Where The Wild Things Are fan?  And as they got a little bit older and chapter books came into play, did you read aloud nightly from classics such as Little House on the Prairie or James and the Giant Peach?  I see our young ladies in the halls today, carrying novels with them, novels that we are not currently teaching in any of our English classes and that fills me with joy.  I am still lucky enough to have that little one to read to each night and although I dread the book choices some evening (I am NOT a Peppa Pig fan…book or TV show), other nights I dedicate to chapter books (currently on the bedside table is Beezus and Ramona) and it is my hope that this habit of reading together daily will inspire a love of reading that will carry far into the future. (So far, I have observed that math comes easier for my daughter; a source of sadness for this English major mommy!)

And I put this question to the moms and dads of the girls of SDA; now that they have been given the gift of reading, the ability for years now to read on their own, do you miss those “read aloud” days where you watched their smiling faces as you recounted the tales between the covers of a beloved childhood book?  I do get to see some of those smiling faces still, when it comes to reading for pleasure; we have implemented a Book Club here at SDA this year and I am the moderator.  We meet every 6-8 weeks and I am always pleased, both with the turnout and with the level of discussion I observe amongst the young ladies who attend.  It’s very informal, some snacks, some talking, and some laughs (or tears) about the book.  Different students choose to attend at different times, depending on what is being read and the books selected vary greatly in plot and theme.  I am so glad this club has come into existence this year! (Thanks Francesca and Margaret!)

As I think about what books I would love for SDA Book Club to read, it occurs to me over and over again that there is just not enough time in the year or hours in the day or days in the week for students to read every book that some of us adults consider wonderful, inspiring, or even difficult but necessary reads.  And I think to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful if as parents, you with your daughters and me with mine, could continue that tradition of “story time” together.

So, regardless of whether your daughter is an avid reader or you fear that text messages are all she reads these days, I have three suggestions for some books that parents and daughters may truly enjoy reading together this spring! The few I suggest will all leave a lasting impression and will teach an important lesson as well.

  1. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy.  Lucy Grealy was nine years old when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an almost always terminal cancer that she managed to beat and survive. However, her survival came with quite a price, the removal of a third of her jaw, which left her disfigured for most of her school years.  Here, Grealy tells openly and honestly of her experiences, not only with cancer, but with the never ending teasing she faced at the hands of her classmates for most of her life. This book will wipe out any thoughts of bullying your teen may have entertained and is all the more sad for the fact that Grealy killed herself as a young adult.
  2. At Risk by Alice Hoffman.  The story of the Farrell family, mother, father, 8 year old Charlie and 11 year old Amanda, who is on her way to being a world class gymnast. Set in the mid 1980’s, before donated blood was tested, the family faces a harsh tragedy when Amanda is diagnosed with AIDS; a result of a blood transfusion during an appendix operation.  This novel, not a story of death, but a story of how a family learns to live, cope, learn and love each other in the face of discrimination is just as timely now as when it was first published.
  3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  Set in Berlin in 1942, this book tells the story of Bruno, a young German boy whose father has just been placed in charge of Auchwitz. Bruno is too young to understand what is happening in Germany and across the world; all he knows is that he has been moved to a new home with nobody to play with and nothing to occupy his time.  Fascinated by a fence that runs the length of his property, he begins to wonder about the people on the other side and why they are always dressed in striped pajamas.  Exploring the fence, Bruno makes a new friend on the other side, a friendship that will end badly and break readers hearts.