By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
The familiar phrase “strength in numbers” took on added meaning Jan. 29 when some 1,300 students from St. Joseph Grammar School and Donovan Catholic converged in St. Joseph Church to begin their celebration of Catholic Schools Week.
Together, all of the students from kindergarten through 12th grade, their pastor, Father Scott Shaffer, respective school principals and teachers, prayed, presented skits and witness testimonies and sang songs of praise, all of which centered on the theme of “Building a Foundation In Your Life Today, Making A Difference In Your World Tomorrow.”
Photo Gallery: Catholic Schools Week in Toms River
“Today we celebrate Catholic Schools Week as one community,” Dr. Edward Gere, Donovan Catholic’s principal, said at the start of the prayer service, at which Father Shaffer presided. “We gather with Catholic schools [from] all over the country to celebrate the freedom we have to worship and to give thanks to God for the opportunity to learn in a community of faith.”
The prayer service began with Donovan Catholic students presenting a brief, mimed and narrated skit about a lone traveler who was in search of people who really felt like they were making a difference in the world. It wasn’t until the traveler met three bricklayers who, although were doing the same work, shared very different perspectives.
The skit continued with seven St. Joseph School students building a brick wall as a way to show each student could, in his or her own way, bring about a positive change in the world that would ultimately lead them to help build the city of God.
One of the examples the reflections included a student who enjoys English who hopes to one day use his public speaking skills to write speeches for the United Nations. A student who reflected on religion said it’s his hope to one day be the Pope and to share God’s Word. A third student said he would like to use his knowledge and interest in history to become president of the United States. As president he would to protect the rights of all those who have no voice, especially the unborn.
After the witness talks, each student built a sturdy foundation using handmade red- painted bricks with their favorite subject printed on one side and a Corporal Work of Mercy printed on the other. The congregation was encouraged by Father Shaffer to perform good works as they, too, are ways to build God’s kingdom.
The prayer service also provided an opportunity for both Toms River schools to show how they recently carried out the Corporal Works of Mercy by helping Sacred Heart School in Rockford, Texas, which was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. In St. Joseph School, students collected $1,370 for supplies while the faculty made care packages for the teachers. Donovan Catholic seniors made Sacred Heart Rosary Chaplets and prayer cards. Donovan Catholic religion classes also collected $1,325 for playground equipment.
“One of the most meaningful things I learned today was the importance of one’s attitude and outlook on everything they do,” said Eric Dodgson, a Donovan Catholic junior. “I believe the purpose of today’s service was not only to raise awareness of the importance of a Catholic education but also how our education pushes us toward fulfilling God’s plan.”
Junior Katherine Uffer and Logan Cioffi, an eighth-grader in St. Joseph School, both noted how they appreciate all that a Catholic school offers.
“I learned that doing well in my studies will not only help me in the future but help others as well,” said Cioffi.
“Catholic Schools Week is important because it helps unite all Catholic schools around the country and shines a light on us to show how great we are,” Cioffi added.
Uffer said the week “is an important time to remember that we are rooted in faith and that foundation allows us to grow to be faith-filled young adults. A Catholic education brings all core subjects together to be expanded by our Catholic understanding of the world around us.
“Education is just as important as faith, and I am able to nurture both at Donovan Catholic. Catholic Schools Week is a perfect time to give thanks for this this gift.”