Students in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, take part in filming a commercial for #GivingTuesday Nov. 15. The diocesan Department of Multimedia Production recruited seven students and a teacher to be part of the taping.  Rose O’Connor photo

Students in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, take part in filming a commercial for #GivingTuesday Nov. 15. The diocesan Department of Multimedia Production recruited seven students and a teacher to be part of the taping.  Rose O’Connor photo

By EmmaLee Italia, Contributing Editor and Rose O’Connor, Correspondent

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton broke new ground Nov. 27 with #GivingTuesday, offering proponents of Catholic education the opportunity to show their financial, volunteer or prayer support online, coinciding with a global day of generosity.

“It has been so much of a team effort,” said JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, expressing delight with the results of the first-time campaign. “It was a matter of conceiving the idea and blending talents to bring about a phenomenal finished product. This is just the tip of the iceberg – we’re going to go deeper.”

Through hard work by the individual schools, innovation and design by the diocesan Department of Development, and social media marketing and video by the diocesan Office of Communications and Media Production, funds as of Nov. 28 totaled more than $19,300, Tier noted.

“Many of [the schools] met the goal they set,” she said, confident that the effort will grow in the coming years.

Though the opportunity to give through #GivingTuesday may have passed, Christine Prete, market research analyst with the Department of Development, explained that donating to a particular school or to Catholic schools across the Diocese in general will still be on for the long term.

“Any Catholic Alumni Program (CAP) donations offline that are sent in, we will continue to add,” she said. “This way, the message is out and about. We are pleased so far. A lot of the schools were engaged.”

Overwhelming Generosity

Diocesan staff and school principals alike admitted to being inspired by the amount of people in the community who remembered their Catholic schools on #GivingTuesday.

“It was really unexpected, and really a testament to our community and parents, how committed they are to our school and to Catholic education as a whole,” said Kevin Donahue, who began his first year as principal of St. Benedict School, Holmdel, in September.

The school, at press time, was in the lead for donations received, more than doubling its original goal. A new outdoor classroom is already being worked on, which Donahue said will benefit from the fundraising.

“When families saw some of their friends giving and talking about it, they decided to [donate] as well, and it just added up. It’s going to go a long way,” he said.

St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, exceeded its financial goal by more than 60 percent – a success that principal Sister of St. Joseph Mary Helen Beirne attributes to Prete herself. Sister Mary Helen, too, is a first-year principal at her school.

“The experience was wonderful because of the support we received from [Prete and] diocesan personnel,” she explained. “She was helpful in getting [our] information on the diocesan [web] page ... our people responded to the way that the coordination helped.”

The most important project, Sister Mary Helen attested, is making Catholic education available to all families who desire it, in diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Our funds will go toward financial support,” she said. “It helps us to be more universally Catholic in our service to everybody.”

Cynthia Smith, principal in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Maple Shade, said the funds given for her school would likely go toward increased technology, particularly for the lower grades. “The campaign really helped our school.”

Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, exceeded its fundraising goal, which thrilled principal Kathryn Besheer. This will give the school a jumpstart on its internal goal to establish an annual fund to offset tuition costs.

“It was wonderful to see the community come together to show their support of our school,” she reflected. “We received generous donations from graduates, staff, parents, grandparents and friends of SHS ... to see the love our community has for our school was the best part of this program.”

Collaborative Spirit

One school community was especially thrilled to be part of #GivingTuesday when the diocesan Department of Multimedia Production showed up Nov. 15 to film a campaign video.

Trenton Catholic Academy second-grader Janiya Anderson was among seven students featured from both the Upper and Lower School in Hamilton who were filmed for the  commercial, which appeared on and across diocesan websites and social media platforms.

“I was so excited!” she said, “I couldn’t wait to say my lines. I was super surprised and happy that they picked me! I was a little nervous, though.”

Along with sixth-grade teacher Melina Stern, the students shared how others could support Catholic schools in the Diocese, by donating financially, through volunteering and by offering prayers. While the commercial was filmed at TCA, the students wore nondescript uniforms, thus representing all Catholic schools, both elementary and secondary, in all four counties in the Diocese.

“Being asked to film along with the students was very exciting,” Stern said. “It’s always a joy to share the things that make Catholic schools special. I was impressed by the care and attention on the part of the crew, and the energy of the student performers kept the set buzzing with excitement.”

The “stars” received their lines the day prior to production and spent the day filming with the crew. 

“It was amazing to see how much work and preparation goes into the filming,” said Anne Reap, Lower School director. “While the commercial was only a minute long, it was a whole-day process to be sure everything looked perfect and was done correctly.”

Eighth-grade student Arthur Huggins said, “I like how it was all set up and looked like a movie set.  I felt good to be a part of this, and I felt appreciative that I was chosen to represent all of the students in the Diocese of Trenton.”

Marianne Hartman, director of the Department of Multimedia Production, expressed unreserved gratitude for the TCA students and teachers who participated in the filming.

“It was a long day for the kids – a lot of waiting – but they never lost their enthusiasm or energy. I can’t thank TCA and Anne Reap enough for their graciousness to pull that all together,” she said.

There is still time to add your support to the Giving Tuesday effort.  Go to to view the video and consider a pledge.