A St. Joseph School first grader doing school work with her iPad shows how times have changed in 90 years. Courtesy photo
A St. Joseph School first grader doing school work with her iPad shows how times have changed in 90 years. Courtesy photo
It is a time for celebration as St. Joseph School and Donovan Catholic High School observe and honor a combined 150 years as a center of Catholic education in Ocean County.

Founded in 1932, St. Joseph School, the county’s oldest Catholic school, shares 16 acres with the parish church and high school – the county’s only Catholic secondary school – in Toms River.

When Father Scott Shaffer took the helm as pastor of the parish and director of the schools in 2012, he visualized establishing connections between both schools and the parish to make them a family.

“While the leadership of the schools is different,” said Father Shaffer, “all realize they are on the same team, encouraging each other and collaborating for the betterment of the schools and the children they serve.”

Collaboration finds expression on the St. Joseph/Donovan Catholic campus in shared faith experiences, community activities, and academics. 

St. Joseph School principal Madeline Kinloch explained, “We share joint liturgies and prayer services, where the high schoolers become role models to our kids. Our middle schoolers attend programs at the high school, like the live streaming of Pope Francis’ visit.

“Seniors, especially those who anticipate majoring in education, intern in our classrooms. Both schools share the same performing arts director. School bands perform joint concerts twice yearly. Seniors on the high school stage crew teach our kids those skills. The PTAs of both schools collaborate and support each other’s efforts.”

“We pray together as faculty, high school body, grade school.  It is a powerful experience to pray with those you live and work with. That’s good for young people to see,” said Maribeth Di Blasio, campus minister and teacher of religion at Donovan Catholic.

Such student participation creates powerful evangelization.

“When they see the power of liturgy and passion in other youth serving as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, singing in choir, they become interested in pursuing it,” said DiBlasio.

The schools also put faith into action through service, giving back to the community.

Jillian Kelly, principal of the high school, shared an example: “Every Thursday a bus takes a religion class to Seeds of Service (SOS) in Brick, to unload trucks, stock shelves, fold clothing,” as an aid to families in crisis.

“Our middle schoolers have a chapter of Habitat Junior Club,” said Kinloch. “After school, they volunteer at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore nearby.”

“Service changes them,” said DiBlasio.  “It challenges them to see life from another perspective by working with people of different backgrounds with different challenges.”

“We tie our life and experience to our faith,” commented Father Shaffer, noting that the schools’ service projects “are grounded in the Gospels. When we feed the poor, it’s a Work of Mercy.”

“The spirit of education is here at Donovan Catholic,” said Kelly.  “We provide students with a road map, so they acquire tools – life skills, faith formation, problem solving, decision-making, seeing different perspectives – to prepare them to go into the world.”

With the majority of the student body college-bound, the high school seeks to provide state-of-the-art educational methods and opportunities. 

“We work to enhance our academics by creating new programs for what students want to pursue,” said Kelly. “Through extra-curriculars students can develop as artists, actors, and athletes if they choose.”

One key to promoting innovation lies in professional development for teachers to keep pace with latest technological advances and seek out state-of-the-art teaching practices. 

In the elementary school, three teachers received a fellowship towards Notre Dame University’s STEM Teaching Fellows to amplify the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math schoolwide. An after-school engineering program is now offered in grades six through eight.

“Family” and “community” are words used frequently by parents and former students when asked about the schools, where their lives were grounded, and lifelong friendships were forged. Those connections bring them back to teach and/or enroll their own children.

Nikki Kappler, a graduate of both schools, teaches English in Donovan Catholic and has enrolled her own children at St. Joseph School.  “There’s no conflict in values between home and school,” she said.

William Dudley, a graduate of both schools, is a seventh-grade social studies teacher in St. Joseph School with two sons in the school.  “Teachers here do their best to help kids learn and grow. I made important connections here. This tight-knit community is full of support.  I want that for my sons.”