A police dog with two students.
A police dog with two students.
A hero is more than just a title. It is an honor someone earns through his or her service to others, the community or the country.

Teaching students about what it means to be a hero was the goal of the annual Heroes’ Day celebration held Oct. 22 in St. Jerome School, West Long Branch. The occasion drew some 50 women and men who serve as police officers, fire officials, first aid responders, active military and veterans from West Long Branch and numerous neighboring towns who spent the day visiting with the students, sharing their stories and experiences. 

“Hearing from these incredible Americans and learning about their experiences will create a lasting impression on our children,” said Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio.  “It is also an incredible way to honor these individuals for all that they do,” adding that the Heroes’ Day tradition began in the 2019-2020 school year but was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

PHOTO GALLERY: St. Jerome School Heroes Day

“Heroes’ Day is an event in which we celebrate our brave local and state citizens,” Sister Elizabeth Seton said. “We recognize all our heroes for their special achievements. The faculty, staff, student body and SJS community celebrates Heroes’ Day to pay homage to those heroes of our town, state and country who sacrifice so much and continue to shine because of their outstanding good deeds.”

Heroes’ Day opened with a Mass concelebrated by Father Sheldon Amasa, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, and Father Peter James Alindogan, former pastor, who was the homilist. Also participating in the event was Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, who said he saw “three important elements” about the Heroes’ Day celebration.

“It’s important to set aside a time to honor people who help the school community; it sets a high bar to teach students that service does not happen just at Thanksgiving and Christmas but that service should happen every day and that they should lead lives of service, and it was an event that brought the community together for a common cause in a positive way,” he said.

Father Alindogan spoke of heroes in terms of the Beatitudes, saying, “As we honor our heroes today, with men and women who are peacemakers, who brought order and not chaos into our lives, who were catalysts for unity and not division, we can say that we are indeed blessed to be in their company and blessed to be in their midst,” he said.

“Our men and women in uniform, active and retired, have served God by serving those whom he loves, our fellow brothers and sisters,” said Father Alindogan. “They are heroes in the truest sense of the word because they have given what was deeply essential on their part to duty, commitment and service, their very selves.”

Following the Mass, as the guests enjoyed breakfast, the students went outdoors to participate in more service-oriented activities, watching demonstrations and engaging in conversations with the New Jersey State Police Aviation, Mounted and Marine Units and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit. They also saw the NJSP helicopter and had an opportunity to meet Col. Patrick J. Callahan, the 14th Colonel of the New Jersey State Police, and his parents.

“Seeing the heroes in church and talking to them gives me so much hope for the future,” said fifth-grader Euniece Semira. “I hope to emulate their courage, determination and honor when I grow up. Heroes’ Day is a blessing because teachers and students alike are able to show their appreciation and kindness to others I am beyond grateful for Sister Elizabeth Seton for incorporating this annual tradition at SJS because I aspire to become a hero one day and the only way I will able to do so is to learn from a real-life hero.”

“All of us should model the ideals of the NJSP and all our heroes,” added Nicholas Silva, co-president of the school’s student council.