Clad in their school uniforms, St. Mary Academy students pray during the Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell.
Clad in their school uniforms, St. Mary Academy students pray during the Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell.

As Jack Malek reflected on witnessing the Sept. 7 blessing of St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin, by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., he couldn’t help but talk about all the good things his new school can offer students.

Photo Gallery: View more photos from the Mass in St. Mary Academy.

Along with the school’s receiving a new principal and teachers, Malek also noted that students can expect to have more advanced subjects that can help them get into college and hopefully earn scholarships, and he also spoke on the importance of Catholic education and how students are prepared to receive the Sacraments and deeply understand what they mean.

“We all have great opportunities” here at St. Mary Academy, Malek said.

The official opening of St. Mary Academy was celebrated by the students, faculty and families of St. Mary Academy during the Vigil Mass held in St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, with Bishop O’Connell as principal celebrant.

“I spent my whole priesthood in every level of education,” said Bishop O’Connell at the start of his homily. Since his arrival to the Trenton Diocese in 2010, he spoke of how Catholic education has always been a priority and that he values “all that is accomplished in Catholic education.

“I will pray for this parish and all parishes who send their children here,” the Bishop said.

The newly established St. Mary Academy opened in July after it had been announced in December that the former All Saints Regional Catholic School would move away from its regional school model at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. ASRCS had been in operation since 1997 and was supported by five area parishes: St. Mary, Barnegat; St. Pius X, Forked River; St. Francis of Assisi, Brant Beach; St. Theresa, Little Egg Harbor, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting. With the restructuring into St. Mary Academy, the new school now operates under the administration of St. Mary Parish.

“This is a special and historic time for our parish,” Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor of St. Mary Parish, said as he extended appreciation to the congregation for their support to open St. Mary Academy. Among those in attendance were Sister of St. Joseph Jeannette Daily, the first principal of ASRCS, as well as Lizanne M. Coyne, the academy’s new principal, and Barbara Vidal, a fourth grade teacher and director of religious education in St. Mary Parish.

“As we see many Catholic schools closing, thanks to your faith and generosity, we are breaking the mold and swimming against the tide, we open St. Mary Academy, an exceptional school with a warm, family environment where children are challenged with the latest and best in education and firmly grounded in the tradition of Catholic faith,” said Msgr. Tuzeneu.

Msgr. Tuzeneu and school officials acknowledged how St. Mary, as a parish school, has benefitted from the generosity of parishioners, including one parishioner, Robert Mickiewicz, who redesigned and built the chapel to create a sacred space for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and reflection. A procession to transfer the Blessed Sacrament from St. Mary of the Pines Church to the school chapel was to be held Sept. 8, and followed by a picnic.

“St. Mary is a giving church. It is wonderful that we are strong enough to support this school,” said Pat Trebus-Freehauf, a parishioner since 1971. “I’m very proud of the way we participate and share our gifts.”

“SMA reinforces Catholic identity,” said Vidal. “It’s excellent academic program builds faith formation. Having parishioners behind us sharing their talents will build the Body of Christ.”

Parents expressed joy about the school’s new future.

“It is so reassuring that the parish banded together so Catholic education could continue,” said Valerie Moody, a member of St. Mary Parish, whose two children, Ava and Colin, attend St. Mary Academy.

“I was raised in Catholic schools from kindergarten through grade 12.  I wanted the same for my kids. This school has a family feel and is a safe, protected environment. Faith life is important. Morals, ethics and values are taught. It is how I want [my kids] to live. The school reinforces the values of the home.”

Fellow parishioner Suzanne Carrarra, whose son is in seventh grade, agreed. “Because of the changing pace of the world, it is important to have values, morals and traditions we were raised with in our family. There is no other choice for us other than Catholic education.”

After the Mass, students joined Malek in sharing similar sentiments about their school’s new possibilities and its importance in their faith lives.

Seventh-grader Hannah Terzian, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, commented on how special it was to witness the beginning of a new school with new activities, new science labs and new sports, like wrestling and maybe soccer.

And what makes St. Mary Academy extra special, Terzian added, is that students “”get to pray and learn about God and Jesus.”