Showing appreciation, a student of St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, displays a thank-you picture for a first 
responder. Courtesy photo
Showing appreciation, a student of St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, displays a thank-you picture for a first responder. Courtesy photo

As Catholic schools across the Diocese of Trenton joined the 2021 national observance of Catholic Schools Week, three took time to visit with The Monitor about how their school was marking a rewarding, though different, year in Catholic education.

Maria Sobel, principal of St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford, believes the significance of Catholic Schools Week this year cannot be understated.

“We’ve been here every day in person,” said the first-year principal, “and we have a lot to celebrate – the fact that a lot of our Catholic schools have children learning in person every day, while many of our neighboring public schools don’t. There’s just such joy for all of us to be here … celebrating our faith … and pushing the pause button.”

Photo Gallery: Medford students make thank-you notes for first responders

St. Mary of the Lakes’ marketing and events manager, Kimberly Tabler, said that CSW is “a wonderful time for students to give back to their community, to celebrate themselves and the school they’re so lucky to attend.”

Lizanne Coyne, principal of St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin, said that “Catholic Schools Week provides the children and schools [an opportunity] to focus on the benefits of a Catholic education and have some fun doing so.”

Fourth grader Julianna Bak, who attends St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, finds CSW important “because it gives me a chance to appreciate my wonderful school and my faith … I look forward to Catholic Schools Week every year.”

“I think that a national week-long celebration of Catholic schools is so important to allow everyone to see what we do within our walls,” said Merry Socha, PreK-4 teacher in St. Ann’s. “It’s not just a submersion in our faith, but also top-notch academics, competitive sports, community outreach and so much more.” 

Typical CSW celebrations involve parents and the wider community coming to school campuses and participating in various activities; the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Catholic schools to creatively reimagine plans. The snowstorm at the beginning of CSW also caused some event rescheduling to the following week.

“There aren’t the large gatherings or events to which they have become accustomed,” Coyne reflected. “But the children have learned to accept the changes because they are still together, sharing these experiences, working through the disappointment.”

This year’s celebration has changed in means, but not meaning, says Kelly Meyer, St. Ann’s integrated language arts teacher for fifth through seventh grades. “Although we can’t have the traditional activities … as a Catholic school we adjust,” she explained. “This year we will continue to send our thoughts, prayers, hope, and thanks to our community as well as our first responders, and we will celebrate our awesome students and their creativity through safe, fun activities.”

St. Ann School seventh grader Jessiah Stephenson said that during CSW, “our bond with Christ becomes stronger through our experiences in learning about the Catholic faith … It’s important to celebrate the mission of Catholic education … because it teaches the love of Christ and good morals that will help you to build your integrity, develop healthy family values and care for others.”

Jude Tabler, a second grader in St. Mary of the Lakes School, said that Catholic Schools Week is important “because we are celebrating how lucky we are to be a Catholic student.” He enjoyed a break from homework and said that he and SML schoolmates viewed a video featuring their pastor, Father Daniel Swift, speaking about vocations. His class’s service projects included making coupons for their parents, helping to make breakfast bags for first responders and singing a song for them.

“It’s important because the first responders work almost every day, and we’re repaying that job,” he said. “This is the best school community!”

Meredith Daniel, middle school science teacher in St. Ann’s, said that “by giving students opportunities to participate in good works, such as making cards for first responders, students learn that showing appreciation for those around us should never be in short supply. … It’s through working together and through God’s grace that we can overcome any obstacle.”

“This year, I know things will be different,” said St. Ann’s seventh grader Aubrey Davis, “but as part of St. Ann School, I also know we will adapt and make the best of it. Our faith teaches us to look for opportunities to shine in the darkness.”