By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Schools in the Diocese of Trenton have reaped the rewards from the annual Polar Plunge for Catholic Education in the past, and are eager to do so again this year.
The 12th annual Polar Plunge for Catholic Education is slated for Jan. 28 on the beach at Donovan’s Reef, 1171 Ocean Ave., Sea Bright. Registration is from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the plunge time will be 2 p.m.
The event, sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 2 of Monmouth County, had typically been staged early each January in the Monmouth County shore towns of Sea Bright or Long Branch, but was changed this year in order to align with Catholic Schools Week.
The annual fundraiser began in 2007 as a fundraiser for St. Mary Grammar School and Mater Dei High School (now Mater Dei Prep), both in Middletown. The plunge’s size and scope have expanded over the years, and the event now attracts thousands hailing from more than 25 Catholic schools from around the Diocese and beyond.
The Hibernians raise more than $5,000 each year to assure participating schools can take part with no administrative costs. The event has raised a total of more than $1.1 million for its participating schools.
Fun, Faith, Frigid Temperatures
“Be COOL for School” is the challenge issued by St. James School to potential polar plungers and donors. The Red Bank community holds a daylong celebration of faith and fun, beginning with a morning Mass in the church on Broad Street.
“It’s cute – there’s a sea of whatever color t-shirt in the pews,” said Kira Nelsen, St. James School kindergarten teacher and plunge organizer.
Snacks and a pep talk are followed by a 2 p.m. dip in the Atlantic with other faith communities. Corporate sponsorship enable each plunger to dress in a brightly-hued t-shirt, making it easier to find fellow St. James plungers on the crowded beach.
Nelsen admitted the plunge “started small. But we have really pumped it up over the past five years. It’s one of our easiest fundraisers, and it’s fun.”
She said she hopes to equal or surpass last year’s total of about 100 plungers.
St. James School has put their proceeds from past plunges [the amount was not available at press time] to good use. Using last year’s plunge bounty, the Red Bank grammar school was able to refurbish their gym, install new drapes for the stage, refinish the floors, begin a curriculum reading program and renovate the library into a STEM lab.
Making a Splash for the Saints
Craig Palmer, principal of St. Mary School, Middletown, is a polar plunge veteran with more than a few first-hand, funny – and frigid – stories to tell.
“I’ve done it the last seven years,” said Palmer about the wintertime dip into the icy Atlantic. “It’s getting harder to survive, but I lead by example.”
Last year’s plunge was no different. Despite the wintry weather, he and other team members, each wearing a yellow and blue St. Mary School Saints ski cap and one tightly clutching a school flag, braved the cold and charged into the ocean waters up to their waists. The school’s polar bear mascot, appropriately dubbed “Shiver,” cheered them on from the shoreline.
“Last year, it was 20 degrees and windy, and we lost our tent in the ocean,” Palmer recalled of the 2017 plunge conditions. “We went in anyway. There we were, in St. Mary’s ‘swag,’ getting pounded by the waves,” he laughed.
St. Mary School, a perennial victor in the collection’s tally, has been able to complete the installation of Wi-Fi in the building and air conditioning in a wing of classrooms with prior plunge proceeds. Last year’s total of $25,000 in donations enabled the school to convert the media room into a state-of-the-art science lab. Palmer has set a goal to create a two-room media center for upper and lower grades with this year’s collection.
“Make a splash for the Saints,” the school’s website urges, offering potential donors multiple ways to support the plunge. Palmer, a member of the Hibernians himself, noted that all monies are deposited into a separate school account managed by the PTA. On the day of the plunge, the Hibernians learn the totals and present participating Catholic schools with a symbolic check.
The plunge is not merely a fundraising event, but an example of Catholic social teaching, Palmer stressed.
“It’s one of the tenets of Catholicism: community and family,” he said, noting that the St. Mary community leads the second wave of plungers into the surf and later gathers in a local restaurant post-plunge. “It’s what we are all about: the fellowship, the common goal.”
For more information on the Polar Plunge, including registration fees and times, visit aohpolarplunge.com/event-information.