The 14 members of the Holy Innocents School’s final graduating class stand before the altar of the Neptune church June 7. The school is closing this June.  John Batkowski photo
The 14 members of the Holy Innocents School’s final graduating class stand before the altar of the Neptune church June 7. The school is closing this June.  John Batkowski photo

By Georgiana Francisco, Correspondent and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor

Nathan Pogorzelski couldn’t contain his excitement about his June 7 graduation from St. Paul School, Burlington. After all, he will be moving another step closer toward his education goal.

Photo Gallery: Holy Innocents School Graduation 2019

Photo Gallery: St. Paul School, Burlington 2019

“Now I get to go to a tech school that I’ve wanted to since forever,” said Pogorzelski, who ultimately wants to study electrical engineering and career design.

Pogorzelski was one of more than 1,050 eighth-graders from around the Diocese to receive a grammar school diploma during the beginning of June, with families, teachers and staff reflecting on accomplishments and changing times.

Eighth-grade teacher Christine Fiorillo smiled as she watched her class of 14 students from Holy Innocents School, Neptune, receive their diplomas June 7 in Holy Innocents Church. She was especially reflective with this being the last graduating class, as the school is closing at the end of the academic year due to declining enrollment and financial difficulties.

“Our faculty was a family, and we all worked together to educate our students in the Light of Christ as well as integrating  both the Diocese’s standards along with the academic state standards,” Fiorillo said. “We served our Neptune community by teaching the children not only the 3Rs, but respect, love and compassion for their fellow neighbor.”

A Proud Legacy

The day’s events began with the Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Father H. Todd Carter, pastor, who, in his homily, reminded the graduates that “everything we have in this life is a gift from God: the Church, family, the Sacraments – even this school is a gift.

“When we recognize that, we can receive the gift with thankfulness. There is a lot of pain out there over the school closing. Many people are disappointed and may even fear for the future,” Father Carter said. “But, that’s not what matters now. Every moment is a gift, and we should be thankful that we ever had this school that has meant so much to you over these years. Nothing can take away your experience or the joy of having been here.”

The commencement ceremony that followed included an introduction by Cynthia A. Reimer, principal, Charlize Kepler’s salutatorian address, and Savannah Isacson’s valedictory speech. There were lots of hugs and tears as each of the students presented a rose to a family member or loved one, and cell phones were recording full steam as the class sang their graduation song, “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars.

“Catholic education is truly a gift to the Church and the nation,” said Reimer, who served as the school’s principal for eight years. “We are proud to have graduated many students who have gone on to become outstanding participants in the world. In that way, this year is no different. Our graduates carry the legacy of our school and its community every day of their lives, and this makes all of our hard work come to fruition.”

“I hope that all of you look back on your school years fondly,” Father Carter said. “I hope you remember it as a place of love and generosity, of friendship and learning, and I hope that it has helped you grow in so many ways. This is a place where you have learned about God and your Catholic faith, and that is what makes Catholic education so unique. For the faith is what makes life worth living. In the end, we are all made to be friends of God.”

Next Chapter

St. Paul School, meanwhile, bid farewell to 12 graduating eighth-graders during its June 6 Baccalaureate Mass celebrated in St. Paul Church, a worship site of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, and the commencement exercises held the next day in the school.

Highlights of the commencement included an invocation given by Father Christopher Picollo, pastor of the Burlington parish, and address by Alexandra Oshidar, National Junior Honor Society president and student council president, who recounted a grade-by-grade journey of her time in grammar school during which she acknowledged teachers along the way.

“How grateful I am to have been part of the wonderful, caring environment St. Paul School has provided,” Oshidar said.

Following an emotional “Thank You” speech given by graduate Justine Rogers, recipient of the Alumni Association Scholarship and the Partners in Faith Scholarship from Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran, the 12 new graduates presented their parents with a plaque and carnation symbolizing their gratitude and love for having the opportunity to receive a Catholic education.

“Over the past year, I have watched you grow, learn and become responsible individuals,” said Kimberly Cioci, school principal. “Every day I saw you mature a little bit more and get ready for the next chapter in your life – high school. As you continue your educational journey, don’t forget to take us with you.”

Robert DeDea, father of graduate Katelyn, expressed pride for his daughter. “I’m happy for her and excited about her future, but also a little bit sad that she’s growing up.”