By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated All Saints’ Day a bit early as he joined students and guests in marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of All Saints Regional Catholic School, Manahawkin.
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Excitement filled the air Oct. 31 at St. Mary of the Pines Church, where students joined by parents, alumni, parishioners and guests representing local and state governments waited for the beginning of the Mass to honor the school, which many in attendance praised as a happy, faith-filled family. The Manahawkin church is a worship site of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat.
With the school choir leading the congregation in song, Bishop O’Connell and the pastors of each of the five parishes whose children attend the school processed into the sanctuary, including Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, St. Mary Parish, Barnegat; Father K. Michael Lambeth, St. Theresa Parish, Tuckerton; Father James Scullion, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach; Father Richard J. Basznianin, St. Pius X, Forked River, and Father Pasquale Papalia, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting.
“This is a beautiful day to be together to celebrate the Feast of All Saints and to celebrate our school,” the Bishop said in his homily. “We love Jesus so much, don’t we? That’s why we are in Catholic school, so we could say and feel and express that.”
“Today we heard the Beatitudes Gospel, and Jesus gave us a description of how to be a saint and live our lives,” he continued. “Saints took the Word and put it in practice in their lives. Jesus is calling all of you to be saints. You are part of the Church, and you must grow as Jesus calls you to share His love.”
After an 11-piece handbell choir performed a meditation hymn, state Sen. Christopher Connors and state Assembly members Dianne Gove and Brian Rumpf, who all represent District 9, presented the school with a framed proclamation from the state Senate and Assembly honoring the anniversary and citing the contributions the school makes to the community.
Prior to the final blessing, Bishop O’Connell addressed the parents, saying, “I was excited and eager to come here because I know how you value Catholic education and how you sacrifice to send your kids to our school. Kids, let’s hear it for Mom and Dad!”
The students cheered heartily, which increased even more when the Bishop asked Principal Kathleen Blazewicz to find a convenient time to give the students a day off.
“The anniversary provides a time to reflect for All Saints,” Blazewicz said. “Here parents are provided with a quality education that builds character, Catholic identity, values and morals in a safe environment. Students build lasting relationships, are taught in a safe environment, are cared for by the staff and practice their faith where there is a sense of family. Our teachers and staff are role models. It is a ministry, not just a job, to teach in a Catholic school.”
Msgr. Tuzeneu, school chaplain, reflected on the history of All Saints Regional, which now boasts having a preschool, 190 K-8 students and 25 faculty and staff.
“The phrase that comes up is ‘against all odds,’” he said. “The school opened at a time when many schools were closing and started as a regional school, which was rare then. The parishes involved were building and facing challenges, and then there was Superstorm Sandy. But here we are, 20 years and counting, thanks to the support of the Diocese, the sending parishes, the great staff and the parents committed to the school – and of course, God.”
“It is wonderful that Bishop O’Connell led our celebration, continuing the special support given to All Saints beginning with Bishop John C. Reiss, who had a desire for a Catholic school in southern Ocean County,” Msgr. Tuzeneu said. “Bishop Smith followed through on Bishop Reiss’ mission, pledging financial assistance from the Diocese.”
Alumnus Jerry Gambino, a member of the school’s first graduating class, the Class of 2004 reflected on when the school broke ground, when it was nothing but woods. “Up until then, we had our classes in trailers on the site of the old parish center.”
Gambino is now the school’s music teacher, director of Liturgy and director of the vocal and handbell choir, perhaps a legacy of the encouragement he received from Sister of St. Joseph Jeanette Dailey, the school’s first principal, who recognized his musical talent.
As a graduate who returned to give back to his alma mater, Gambino noted that the school’s values and gifts still prevail. “Like my class, the students still internalize respect for each other and Church and what the school stands for.”
Parents also discussed the significance of the day. Maja Meighan, mother of sixth-grade student Hunter and parishioner of St. Mary, who took the day off from work to attend, repeated what was heard from a number of parents attending.
“This school is a family. Here a child is willing and open to talk about their faith. It is wonderful how priests and teachers interact with the students. We are celebrating each other and this school,” she said.