Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, principal, and pastor Father Peter James Alindogan recognized the Class of 2018 students at the St. Jerome, West Long Branch, June 8 Baccalaureate Mass and commencement exercises. Joe Moore photo

Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, principal, and pastor Father Peter James Alindogan recognized the Class of 2018 students at the St. Jerome, West Long Branch, June 8 Baccalaureate Mass and commencement exercises. Joe Moore photo

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

Along with their high school counterparts, this June 1,133 eighth-grade students graduated from the Diocese of Trenton’s 31 Catholic schools. Baccalaureate Masses and graduation exercises were joy-filled opportunities for clergy, school personnel and families to share their appreciation and respect for the faith-filled education their child had just experienced.

Photo Gallery: Our Lady of Sorrows 8th grade graduation
Photo Gallery: Our Lady of Sorrows 8th grade Baccalaureate Mass
Photo Gallery: St. Jerome 8th grade Baccalaureate Mass/Graduation

One such occasion was June 8, when the St. Jerome School Class of 2018 filed into the West Long Branch church of the same name for their Baccalaureate Mass and graduation. Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor, was all smiles as he greeted the congregation and distributed diplomas to the 27 royal blue- and white-gowned students.

As a sign of appreciation for their families’ support, the graduates gave roses and embraces to their parents for allowing them to reap the benefits of a Catholic school education. St. Jerome School principal, Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, recognized the youth and declared their “spirit of giving, compassion, and how kind and gentle they were with the younger students” would make them stand out in her memory.

Noting a report from the Wall Street Journal newspaper found Catholic school students have more self-discipline than their counterparts, the long-time principal gave additional reasons to invest in a faith-based education.

“They have a sense of belonging, a soul that needs to be nourished,” Sister Angelina said. “They live the law of love … gives the energy and ability to forgive others. They share a sense of responsibility.”

Graduates and their parents agreed.

Eighth-grader Gabriella Rose called her schoolmates “like a big family,” while Gabriel Olivera noted the teachers and his friends were like a second family. “I got a lot of life lessons, like to be respectful,” Olivera said.

The adage, “like father, like son” applied to the Monteleone family. Mark, a 1982 graduate from the school under the direction of Sister Angelina, noted, “St. Jerome prepares you well.” He and his wife, Juana, proudly snapped pictures of their son, also named Mark, as Juana declared she was grateful for the “valuable and safe” Catholic education he and their older daughter, Olivia, had received. “They came out excelling,” she said.

Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton, feted their 24 graduates June 8. Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, was principal celebrant of the Baccalaureate Mass and ceremony where the Class of 2018 strode down the aisle bearing small felt banners adorned with symbols of events that marked each year of their school careers. The banners were mounted upon a larger banner that read “Rewatch the Years,” making “a movie reel of their lives,” declared OLS principal Maureen Tuohy.

“These children had extra academic ability, were gifted and talented and showed love for each other,” she continued. “They would push each other along to be a better person.”

Reflecting back upon their tenure at OLS, students shared their favorite moments. Jamie Mersel said she would miss “the friendships formed and the closeness with my teachers,” while Mary Heuisler noted “the small school is my second family.” James Primerano most valued his teachers; “I will miss the out-of-the-classroom talks and their guiding us through life,” he said.

Tuohy concluded that this Class of 2018 was dear to all the faculty and staff. “They love God and Jesus, know the value of service to others, are faith-filled and spread that to the community,” she said.

St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford, bade their Class of 2018 goodbye with a pair of traditional ceremonies. June 7 marked the eighth graders’ “Farewell Walk” which involved the entire school community. After breakfast at a local bagel shop, the eighth grade students rode their bicycles to school for a recognition ceremony where they received over $126,000 in scholarships and awards to area Catholic high schools. Students and teachers then lined the halls as the eighth graders strode down, gathering waves and high-fives to the immortal strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Father Daniel F. Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, served as principal celebrant of the students’ baccalaureate Mass and graduation ceremony the following day. He bestowed blessings on the students as he handed the graduates their diplomas, signifying they were ready to continue their educational journey.

Amy Rash, principal of the school opened in 1954 with the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark, stated, “I am so proud of our eighth grade graduates and the impact they have had here at St. Mary of the Lakes.  They truly embody the values of kindness and leadership and I am so pleased to see them recognized for their achievements in academics and service.  I am looking forward to seeing how they ‘go make a difference’ in their high schools and beyond!”

Photographers Hal Brown and Joe Moore contributed to this story.