Diocesan PTA Board members gather for a photo. Pictured from left are Cyndi Primerano, Burlington/Mercer regent; Lisa Honnig, diocesan PTA recording secretary; Paul Signorelli, guest speaker and advisor to the PTA president; Elia Landino, diocesan PTA president; Linda Anzano, past diocesan PTA president; Roseann Leibrock, diocesan PTA treasurer, and Brianna Starkey, Monmouth/Ocean regent. EmmaLee Italia photos
Diocesan PTA Board members gather for a photo. Pictured from left are Cyndi Primerano, Burlington/Mercer regent; Lisa Honnig, diocesan PTA recording secretary; Paul Signorelli, guest speaker and advisor to the PTA president; Elia Landino, diocesan PTA president; Linda Anzano, past diocesan PTA president; Roseann Leibrock, diocesan PTA treasurer, and Brianna Starkey, Monmouth/Ocean regent. EmmaLee Italia photos
Drawing upon the Gospel of St. Luke, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., principal celebrant of the Mass for the 97th annual PTA Fall Conference Sept. 17, likened the parable of the sower to the environment of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton.

“What we provide in the Catholic Church and in our Diocese is receptive soil – soil that is our system of Catholic education, both in our Catholic schools and religious education programs,” the Bishop said during his homily in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Those institutions, he continued, “allow us to sow the good seed that is God’s Word and our faith, nurtured through the Church’s teachings. Our children are the plants that grow strong and vital from this seed, sown as it is in rich soil… God not only plants the seed but also gives the increase.”

View a PHOTO GALLERY of the 2022 PTA Fall Conference

When parents “make the ground fertile and receptive and rich,” the Bishop pointed out, “especially through their good example and sacrifice, the garden is truly beautiful. You, as the Parent-Teacher Association of the Diocese, do precisely that – not only for your own children, but for those of your fellow Catholic parents as well.”

More than 125 PTA presidents, principals and pastors from 31 PTA school units across the Diocese attended the Mass and luncheon that followed in St. Robert Bellarmine’s Dentici Hall, listening to remarks from various representatives of the diocesan PTA board and administration. This year’s diocesan theme, “Community through Unity,” highlighted the necessity of bringing people together under a common Catholic purpose.

“The PTA … are absolutely as much a part of leading these children to heaven as anybody else,” said Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools and moderator of the diocesan PTA. “We all have one common goal – to make sure our schools are solid, and more importantly, the mission of our Catholic schools comes alive in our schools every single day… The PTA is also a really important part of that team. They’re not just fundraisers – they’re awareness-builders, they’re teammates who literally bring our schools to the point where the community starts coming together. And that’s what the Catholic faith is all about: building our community.”

Diocesan PTA president Elia Landino addressed the luncheon attendees, noting the particular role that dedicated PTA leaders play in supporting the schools they represent. 

“The Catholic school community … cannot survive without our commitment and sacrifices, putting the lessons of our Lord before ourselves,” Landino emphasized. “Over the past few years, we have seen challenges for which none of us were prepared. What has emerged is a fire within to help strengthen our schools, and become more aware and available for our overall community. The Diocese of Trenton school PTA members continue to be a tremendous driving force in building our ‘community through unity.’

“When we come together we share ideas and grow stronger together," she noted after the conference. "It comes from our Lord in Scripture, to grow together and love one another… It was great to see the number of schools represented – I am thrilled with the response.”

Well-prepared by multiple prior PTA executive board positions in [the now former] St. Denis School, Manasquan, and Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank, as well as several diocesan PTA roles, Paul Signorelli offered an enthusiastic reflection as the conference’s guest speaker and advisor to the diocesan PTA president.

“We don’t know how to say ‘no’ – that’s why we’re here today,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “What you get out of Catholic education … is not just the academics – the spiritual is very important. But building the whole self – we have to serve; it’s what we’re here to do.

Of the first PTA conference he attended more than 25 years ago, Signorelli recalled his observation of those in attendance.

“These are all people just like me – they’re parents, they care about their kids, they’re investing time and tuition … they have made a commitment,” he said. “It was a great experience … meeting people from all over the Diocese.”

His children, he said, “were well-prepared, coming through schools of the Diocese … great educations, and they were taught through our schools to serve.

“I’m going to challenge you: make sure you meet with your principal and pastor on a regular basis,” he recommended. “And reach out to someone for an event – someone who isn’t’ at your regular meetings but wouldn’t mind helping. The key is, don’t burn out – we can’t afford to lose you, so please pace yourself.”

Attendees commented on the conference theme and their personal experiences as PTA board members – many of them having already served in multiple capacities.

“I love bridging the gap between the parish and school communities, opening the doors for everybody to participate,” said Jennifer Petrino, first-year PTA president in St. Raphael School, Hamilton. “I love the fundraisers, having people come out and enjoy events together for a common cause.”

The St. Raphael PTA has made it a point to foster Catholic faith-building with First Friday Family Rosary Nights, even through the pandemic, which included prayer and fellowship afterwards – emphasizing the need to “pray and pray together and meet people you might not otherwise have known.”

Cyndi Primerano, PTA regent for Burlington and Mercer counties, found that "being a part of the PTA community and [its] Catholicity gives us the opportunity to live our Catholic faith here on earth, and to share our successes and challenges with other PTA members, both young and seasoned, who can empathize."

Nancy Walsh, second-year PTA president in Holy Cross Academy, Rumson, has found her PTA to be “a really good group of parents with diverse interests and backgrounds, and everybody lends their strengths.” She thought that the Bishop’s homily “gave a really good comparison … and that it’s a commitment to send your kids to Catholic school, paying to raise our children in God’s Light.”

Outgoing president Tracy Boone of St. Benedict School, Holmdel, also appreciated Bishop O’Connell’s use of the sower of seeds metaphor.

“Growing the seeds – that’s our goal, to make sure not just our kids but their friends as well … grow as a person in life and in the Catholic faith.”

Of her PTA experience, she affirmed, “it’s great – you get to know all the students and families; other families see you involved and they decide to volunteer… it’s been a wonderful experience.”

"All PTA school units have their own individual community and grow in different 'fun-raisers' and fundraisers," Landino reflected, "but when we come together as a group we share ideas and build ... On a diocesan level, [the conference] is really about thanking all the PTAs for all they do."

Landino's motivation for her role as diocesan PTA president grew out of "my desire to help build community - it started with the love of my child, grew in to the love for my school and parish, and from there grows into love of the whole PTA community."