By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Students, staff and faculty in St. Benedict School might sense the presence of a group of very special saints looking down upon them in love and support of their academic pursuits each day. The walls of the Holmdel Catholic elementary school are adorned with new wood and metal plaques bearing the likeness and biography of nearly four dozen saints, mounted in each classroom, hallway and office.
“To some extent this was an accidental project,” admitted St. Benedict pastor, Father Garry Koch. Noticing that many of the original classroom icons, installed while Father Leon Buni was administrator in 2003, were now hidden under other classroom wall art or missing entirely, and dovetailing with the addition of the school’s new science lab and pre-kindergarten room, “I thought new icons would be nice,” he said.
Father Koch’s intention to write short biographies for a few different saints, “took a turn when the school guidance counselor requested St. Louise de Marillac [patron saint of social workers] for her office,” he continued. “The entire project kicked off from there.”
The project, once intended to merely replace damaged classroom icons, soon grew in size and scope to include plaques for the offices, cafeteria, kitchen, wings and library media center as well, Father Koch revealed.
“Many of the saints were simply those copied from what was already in place, [but] in some cases we included those saints who are patrons associated with specific places,” he said, such as dedicating the school’s kitchen to St. Martha and deeming the science lab to be an appropriate home for St. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists.
“I also wanted a representation of the American Saints John Neumann and Elizabeth Ann Seton” Father Koch continued, “along with saints that represent different racial groups [such as] St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Martin de Porres as well. It became a fun project to work on,” he concluded.
Joann Mertz, St. Benedict art teacher, continued, “It was my challenge to find an attractive, cost-effective way of displaying them. Father Garry … approached me in late August to discuss the project and asked me to have all the saint icons ready by the school Mass on All Saints Day.”
Mertz created the plaques using recycled wooden shelving, specially stained in a color which would complement the artwork. A local vendor designed the saint pictures and biographical information onto brushed-metal, and Mertz assembled the parts of nearly four dozen 9” x 14” inch plaques in time for their big debut on Nov. 1.
During the school’s All Saint’s Day Mass, a child from each homeroom held aloft their room’s icon for blessing by Father Koch, then the entire student body processed from the church to the school with the finished plaques.
“They were all hung at eye level to give students the opportunity to see the saint icons and be inspired by the role models in our Church,” Mertz said.
Two eighth grade student council members, who bore icons for the special classrooms and offices, reflected upon the responsibility given to them.
“Seeing the saints in the hallways makes me feel like there is more of a religious atmosphere present in our school every day,” said Faith Montagnino.
“I was honored to be chosen to hang St. Luke on the wall,” added Fiona Macchia. “I knew of all the hard work that went into creating these plaques and the significance of their meaning.”
In a bulletin letter to his congregation, Father Koch noted the plaques would be mounted “as a reminder to the students of our Catholic identity and to offer to each classroom a patron to whom to pray.” He added, “The teachers noted very quickly how many students stopped in the hallway to read the plaques of the saints. Each class will be invited to celebrate the saints feast day, if it occurs during the school session.”