Honoree MaryEllen is surrounded by Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, left; Lori Ulrich, the parish and school marketing and event director, and Kevin Donahue, school principal. Courtesy photo
Honoree MaryEllen is surrounded by Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, left; Lori Ulrich, the parish and school marketing and event director, and Kevin Donahue, school principal. Courtesy photo

Honoring the rich, 60-year history of St. Benedict School, Holmdel, more than 400 guests – including current and former school staff and faculty, alumni, clergy and parishioners – gathered Nov. 4 for a joyful anniversary celebration in the Jacques Reception Center, Middletown.

In his opening prayer, Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, reflected, “We are here . . . to celebrate the establishment of St. Benedict Catholic School in 1962. While there are some here this evening with fond memories of those early days as a new parish stretched its wings and opened its doors to welcome 400 students that first year, most of us have a much shorter memory of this school. But our affection and affiliation is no less profound.”

Father Koch noted with pride that the current school enjoys an increasing enrollment, financial stability and a growing number of available programs. “So tonight, we celebrate, we party, … and we … walk out of here confident that we can look forward to many years ahead for St. Benedict Catholic School,” he said.

A highlight of the event was honoring parishioner MaryEllen Harris for her generous contributions to both St. Benedict Parish and School. In addition to the baptismal font that she and her husband gifted to the parish in the 1990s, Harris was also acknowledged for her recent donation of two new state-of-the-art preschool mobile classrooms, a gift which Father Koch described as being “impactful and transformative.”

The classrooms were dedicated in memory of her late husband and named “The Dr. Robert H. Harris Early Learning Center” last September. Since the opening of the new facility, 48 preschool students have been added to the growing St. Benedict Catholic School family.

“It is the commitment of MaryEllen Harris to Catholic education and, in a special way to St. Benedict School, that has helped us to o?er new programs and to be well-poised for the future,” said Kevin Donahue, school principal.

Attendees were able to browse the full collection of school yearbooks, ranging from 1962 through 2022, and review a display of press clippings, articles and photos of historical events and milestones for the parish and school. The event was a collaborative fundraiser engaging all parent organizations for the first time in the school’s history.

Among the special guests was 95-year-old Kay Woods, former first grade teacher in the school, who remembered her alumni students present for the evening, and even greeted them by name. Woods recalled her time as a teacher when Father William Anderson, now deceased, served as pastor and Father William Bausch, a retired priest of the Diocese, as parochial vicar.

“They both appreciated education and always brought in materials and speakers for the teachers,” said Woods, who added that their efforts both enhanced teachers’ education as well as morale.