Mater Dei Prep graduates exhorted to journey with God
Pride-filled faculty, families and friends of the 2012 class of Mater Dei Prep, New Monmouth, gathered June 7 to witness the conclusion of four years of Catholic education for the school’s 83 seniors. The annual commencement, held in Mary, Mother of God Church, marked the Monmouth County high school’s 51st year of fulfilling its motto of “Fide Et Fortitudine,” or “faith and fortitude” in its quest to educate the young Catholic men and women of the Trenton Diocese.
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Candid photographs of the seniors and their families, projected upon large screens hung near the sanctuary, soon gave way to the sight of blue-gowned boys and white-gowned girls processing up the center aisle of the church. The students, marching to the strains of the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” were led by Father Douglas A. Freer, vicar for Catholic education; Msgr. Michael J. Walsh, pastor, St. Mary Parish, and staff members of Mater Dei.
Senior Shaun Timothy Nerney delivered an energetic, humorous farewell to his fellow Mater Dei graduates during his welcoming remarks. Singing the opening lines from “Seasons of Love,” the theme of Broadway musical Rent, he reminded the group the number of minutes in a year, then quickly multiplied them by the hours, days, and years the students had spent as a Mater Dei student. “Over 2,102,400 minutes, or 720 days,” the senior reminded his classmates, then laughed, “Hey, I’m good at math!”
Nerney, winner of a medal of academic excellence for service to the New Monmouth high school, beseeched his fellow graduates to “take chances, enjoy every day. Even if you fall on your face, you are moving forward.”
Father Freer delivered a message of congratulations to the seniors on behalf of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. He urged the students to express gratitude to both the staff who were so influential in their academic lives and to their parents who sacrificed to send them to a Catholic school. “Your learning was founded in a place where faith is in all conversations and inquiries; your days began with prayer,” Father Freer reminded the seniors. “Now it’s going to be up to you… the gift of your faith will make whatever endeavor you choose more successful. God is with you on that journey.”
Following Danielle Marie Tarantino’s salutatory address, which reminded the students to have confidence in themselves to achieve great things, awards for academic excellence and service were presented to the graduating seniors. Principal Steven Sciarappa then rose to address the faculty, staff and students of the Class of 2012.
“Thank you for choosing Catholic schools and all you did to make a special time in the children’s lives,” Sciarappa told his staff. He reminded the students, “Catholic education is more than academically rigorous. It calls you to live the Gospel day in and day out. Give your own children every opportunity you were afforded and then some.” Sciarappa looked towards Msgr. Walsh, attending the last Mater Dei graduation before his reassignment to St. James Parish, Pennington. “And thank you, Monsignor, for being a great spiritual leader,” the principal said.
After the students sang the Mater Dei Prep alma mater, Msgr. Walsh, Father Freer, and faculty members stood before the altar to confer diplomas to the graduates. Family members thrust cameras and cellphones aloft, eager to snap a photo of their loved one at this life-changing moment. When the last name was announced and the students flipped their tassels to the left, the congregation cheered as mortarboards ascended to the church’s rafters.
Mater Dei Prep families echoed principal Sciarappa’s faith in Catholic education. Parent Cathy Mara, on hand to witness her daughter Jessica Lynn’s graduation, had ties to the New Monmouth high school which spanned two generations. “I’m one of 13 kids, and all of us went through Mater Dei Prep; I have seven kids, and Jessica is the fifth one to graduate from here,” Mara revealed. “I felt [Catholic education] was very important. The kids receive a quality education, and it’s money well spent.”
The Devine family also was present for the milestone event; mother Kathy perused her program for daughter Allison’s name, as the graduate’s older sister Katelyn adjusted the stops on her camera. “I was a product of Catholic schools on Staten Island, and Allison is the third of my three to graduate from Mater Dei Prep,” Devine said, noting the span of her children’s tenure at Mater Dei covered twelve straight years. “Catholic education is important for the discipline, the community feeling, the family orientation… there’s no other place like it.”
A Baccalaureate Mass for the 2012 graduates was held June 3 in Mary, Mother of God Church. Msgr. Walsh delivered the homily in which he recalled a conversation with an inmate during his tenure as a chaplain at New Jersey State Prison: “George” was once angry for his limited vision of the world seen only from a small window high in the wall of his cell. Over time he realized that this small view could help him concentrate on the particulars, and appreciate the things of heaven and the things of earth.
“Faith provides us with a window to the beyond, the world of God,” said Msgr. Walsh, who encouraged those gathered to see the day, and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, as a transition in life, a window of faith, realizing “the moment beyond here and now” is the great beyond.[[In-content Ad]]