By David Karas | Correspondent

“Catholic schools continuously invigorate students ranging from toddlers to teenagers to enrich their faith and express their beliefs. They offer to students an environment in which a shared sense of beliefs enables all people to feel welcome in their community and to practice their faith without judgment.”

Those words, featured in an essay penned by Claire Romanczyk, a student in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, will reach a statewide audience in honor of Catholic Schools Week.

Along with selected posters designed by students in schools across the Diocese of Trenton, her essay will be recognized among similar works from New Jersey’s other diocesan communities at the State House in Trenton Feb. 4, during a special Catholic Schools Week ceremony. The program includes the annual tradition of reading a proclamation from Gov. Chris Christie marking the important milestone in Catholic education.

Continuing a decade-long program, the Network of Catholic School Families and the Catholic Schools Marketing Council, in partnership with the New Jersey Catholic Conference, will host the celebration in Trenton. And for the second year, the collaboration features an essay and poster contest for students in Catholic schools throughout New Jersey.

“The goal is to involve the schools on a grassroots level and to bring awareness to the legislators of the contributions the Catholic schools make, (as well as) to give students a vehicle to be in contact with their elected officials,” said Frances Koukotas, diocesan director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families.

Part of the network’s initiative has been to establish a display at the State House, consisting of selected works created by talented students.

This year, the contest focused on the theme of “why New Jersey needs Catholic schools,” and challenged elementary school students to create posters, and high school students to write essays on the topic. In the Diocese of Trenton, 10 elementary schools and one high school participated.

This year’s essay contest winner was Romanczyk, and poster contest winners include Gigi Pocius (Grade 6, St. Charles Borromeo School, Cinnaminson); Isabella Ermita (Grade 8, St. Mary School, New Monmouth); Elizabeth Piatkowski (Grade 8, St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach); Mary Cate Pilla (Grade 7, St. Catharine School, Spring Lake); and Janique Alexander (Grade 8, Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton).

The winning students will pay a special visit to the State House Feb. 4, to enjoy a tour of the property and to observe a legislative session. They will then attend the reading of the governor’s proclamation and receive certificates. They also might have the chance to hear from a legislator or two if time allows.