By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
“Welcome back” may not have been the main theme during the Mass celebrated in Notre Dame High School the morning of Sept. 22, but the sentiment was certainly in the air as students finishing their third week of school and 17 Mercy Sisters, many of whom are alumnae and former teachers, gathered to celebrate the school’s 60thanniversary.
“Thank you very much for helping us continue the Mercy spirit,” school principal Mary Elizabeth Ivins said to the sisters, who were seated in the front row of the school auditorium for the Mercy Day Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Father Jason Parzynski, the school’s chaplain, and Father Michael Wallack, priest secretary to the Bishop, concelebrated.
Photo Gallery: Mass at Notre Dame High School
“Well gang, the summer is over, and here we are back in school,” Bishop O’Connell said lightheartedly before sharing his personal experiences in attending Catholic education throughout his life.
Explaining that he has met popes and presidents, been interviewed on television programs and testified before Congress, he said, “The most important of all – I was a son of good parents, a brother in a good family, a priest, a bishop.”
“I do not believe I would have done most of these things if it weren’t for Catholic school, the sacrifice of my parents and faith in God,” he said, continuing to also credit the sisters “who taught me.”
“Education makes the difference,” he continued. “You can get a good education in many places, but there’s something here … that gives all the rest of what we learn a purpose, and you know what that is – faith and hope in God.”
Quoting from the morning’s Reading, 1 Timothy 6:2, Bishop O’Connell discussed the advice given about how being an educator means pursuing devotion, patience, righteousness and kindness.
“This is great advice for a teacher in a Catholic School,” he said, explaining that educators are only half the equation. “The teacher teaches only when the student learns.”
“I ask you to make up your mind and be convinced you’re here for something special, to grow in your faith,” he told the students.
Of the virtues of faith, kindness, devotion and mercy, Bishop O’Connell said, “That’s the legacy of all those who have gone before you for the past 60 years.”
“A wise philosopher once said, ‘Life can only be understood by looking backwards but it must be lived by looking forward to what can be’ – that’s what Notre Dame is all about,” the Bishop said.
“What can be” was certainly the case for Sister of Mercy Carole MacKenthun, who graduated from the school in 1962. Sister Carole, who said she knew she wanted to be a nun since the second grade, remembers getting the book “Bernie Become a Nun” from the school’s library as a young student. That book, coupled with her education, “helped form me and cultivated my vocation,” she said.
“It feels wonderful to be back,” said Sister Carole, who teaches in St. Catharine School, Spring Lake. “There are all these stories in your heart, but something special happens when you come back again. What impresses me, this school continues to carry on the charism of the Sisters of Mercy.”
Sister of Mercy Joanmarie McDonnell, a recently retired Red Bank Catholic High School English teacher, was just starting out as a sister in 1957 when the school opened its doors for the first time.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said, explaining that it was a blessing to be working among experienced and knowledgeable sisters for her first assignment.
Years later, she would leave the school, only to return as its vice principal. “That tells you the school did something for me,” she said with a smile. “There’s a spirit here, values, and my hope is that it will last and last and last.”
Ivins said having the sisters attend the Mass for Mercy Day, which is Sept. 24, was a learning experience for the students.
“Children don’t see nuns anymore, so when you bring 17 religious women into the building who are artists, psychotherapists, administrators … it’s wonderful for them to see these powerful, faith-filled women.
“They are the ones who gave birth to this community, and it’s wonderful to be infused with their spirit,” she said.