Faithful in the Diocese of Metuchen touched by new statue

2 Sept 2015

PISCATAWAY, NJ – The Diocese of Metuchen has announced that Cardinal McCarrick/St. Mary’s High School in South Amboy will not reopen in the fall. Current and incoming students will have the option to attend the Bishop Ahr High School in Edison, also a diocesan school.
Once an academic institution with close to 500 students at its full capacity, according to the diocese, only 210 students are registered for the 2015-16 academic year, and that is not enough to keep the high school open.
The closing of Cardinal McCarrick will not impact Sacred Heart Elementary School, part of the Raritan Bay Catholic Prep campus, which currently has enrollment of 220 students in pre-k through grade eight.
The decision to close Cardinal McCarrick/St. Mary’s High School was made by the diocesan Office of Schools, in consultation with the diocesan Department of Temporal Affairs and the Diocesan Catholic Schools Commission, and was accepted by Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski.
The Diocese of Metuchen, which oversees the administration of the school, cited a number of factors that influenced the closing including diminishing enrollment, ongoing need for capital improvements, and changing demographics, resulting in fewer area families who are choosing to send their children to the high school. There also is a growing need for new technology and other academic advances.
All of these factors have resulted in a continually growing subsidy – amounting to about $1.8 million annually – that the diocese is unable to sustain. According to diocesan officials, over the past five years alone, the diocese has invested over $7.3 million in operating Cardinal McCarrick High School.
“This is a very difficult and emotional decision and was not taken lightly by anyone involved,” said Ellen Ayoub, diocesan Superintendent of Schools. “It was not just one factor that led to the decision. The accumulated weight of so many issues indicated that there was no option but to close the school.”
Ayoub emphasized that, “The Schools Office is committed to helping ensure a smooth transition as possible for all those affected.” She said, Cardinal McCarrick students who choose to attend Bishop Ahr this Fall are guaranteed that their agreed upon tuition for the 2015-16 academic year will remain the same.
The superintendent noted that because of a larger enrollment – currently around 750 students – Bishop Ahr can offer more educational opportunities and extracurricular activities for students including a larger campus; updated facilities; onsite athletic fields; more advanced technologies used in instruction; and expanded academic programs. Bishop Ahr’s campus ministry program is well regarded, she said. The school’s more than 50 afterschool activities, “give the students more opportunities to serve in leadership roles and to explore their interests.”
Ayoub said Cardinal McCarrick/St. Mary’s High School administration and the diocese have worked closely together over the past eight years, at least, to find ways to help the school to grow and prosper. About five years ago, a task force made up of diocesan personnel, school administrators, faculty and staff, was formed to focus on key areas including student enrollment and retention, curriculum development, finance management, facilities management, fundraising, marketing and advertising, and college placement.
“It was a true partnership between the school and the diocese. Everyone was fully committed and wanted to see it work,” said Ayoub. “Despite our best attempt, our collective efforts have not yielded the results we all had hoped for given the long history of the school and its significance in the surrounding community.”
Bishop Ahr will hold open house information sessions for Cardinal McCarrick students and their parents on May 28, June 3 and June 8. Parents can call 732-549-1108 for more information.

By Anthony Salamone
Correspondent, The Catholic Spirit

EAST BRUNSWICK – Josie Taddeo attended the Aug. 15 blessing of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Cross Cemetery with a heavy but hopeful heart.

Her brother, Frank DeFina, had been laid to rest at the diocesan cemetery in Middlesex County just two weeks earlier -- and few feet away from a newly dedicated marble figure of Mary.

“It was just like a miracle [for him] to be buried so close,” Taddeo said of her brother, a faithful Catholic devoted to Mary who died unexpectedly at 61. “It’s very touching.”

She and her family members were among 200 people who attended a morning liturgy – held intentionally on the day of the Feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven – said Mary Ellen Gerrity, director, diocesan Office of Cemeteries.

“I chose this day, because it is symbolic to our mission,” said Gerrity, “that is to serve our families who have lost your loved ones and have chosen a Catholic cemetery for their final resting place.”

During the 30-minute service, Gerrity and Msgr. William Benwell, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, removed a white cloth that unveiled the 6-foot, white-marble statue of the lovely Madonna. Msgr. Benwell then blessed the statue with a branch dipped in holy water.

In his reflection, Msgr. Benwell, noted there was no better day in the Church calendar to dedicate a statue of Mary than the solemnity of the Assumption.

“We come here for hope, comfort and peace,” he said of the cemetery, “and this particular feast day is a feast of hope.”

Msgr. Benwell spoke about how Mary was not assumed into a special section of heaven, but she was taken up, body and soul, into the “heavenly bliss, the heavenly joy, the identical bliss and joy that we have been invited to share.”

Catholics also can get to heaven, he said, “if we persevere to be people of prayer, to be people of charity, in ordinary, simple ways. We don’t have to do overwhelmingly heroic deeds. God doesn’t ask a lot of us. He makes the heavenly destination within reach, within the potential reach of each and every one of us.

“May this statue … inspire us not only to be people of hope but people of love. Hope and love – may those be the two themes that we celebrate today and every time we are in the presence of this beautiful statue.”

Afterward, people went to be near the statue. Some touched the Blessed Mother figure, which shows her with outstretched arms. Others placed roses at Mary’s feet.

Gerrity said she purchased the Italian-made statue from Biondan North America Inc. The statue rests on a granite platform. Rosebushes in a horseshoe configuration and three granite benches surround the statue, offering people a place to pray, reflect and memorialize loved ones.

The ceremony and display affected those who attended.

“I came here, I’m different now that I’m leaving,” said Dalma Lipari of East Brunswick, whose parents, Sally and Russell Lipari, are buried at Holy Cross. “It emotionally stirred me without a doubt in my heart, especially when they sang ‘Ave Maria.’”

Soloist Christina Leslie performed “Ave Maria” and led those gathered in the hymn “Immaculate Mary.”

Kristen Silwoka, who is Holy Cross’s office manager, read the Gospel from Luke, 1:41-55, regarding Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, a passage that includes her song of praise to the Lord, The Magnificat.

Gerrity acknowledged those involved in the liturgy or its preparation leading up to the ceremony. They included Ed Czuba, an architect and planner, who assisted with the design and layout, and Anthony Agliatta, cemetery superintendent, along with his staff.

Many, including Taddeo, held back the tears of remembrance for loved ones who have been placed at Holy Cross, which opened in 1970 and is one of two diocesan cemeteries. Resurrection Cemetery in Piscataway is the other.

“To be able to be here and to know that he’s here in such a beautiful place, and with the Blessed Mother, you can’t ask for anything more,” she said. “That he can see her every day … it’s just amazing that it happened the way it did. And we’re very touched. This place is beautiful.”

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NOTE: This message was also published in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, on August 27, 2015.