Big turnout as community joins celebration of St. Peter School’s National Blue Ribbon

By Lois Rogers | Trenton Monitor Correspondent

Green may be the official color of St. Peter School, but on Nov. 14, deep blue was the predominant hue as the Point Pleasant Beach community turned out in force to celebrate the institution’s designation as a 2016 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

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The brown-shingled church on Forman Avenue reverberated with joy as students, parents, faculty and staff, town officials, corporate supporters and the community at large gathered for a Mass and social that followed in the school gymnasium.

The Blue Ribbon award recognizes elementary, middle and high schools nationwide that have demonstrated high levels of academic achievement. Of the 329 schools to receive the 2016 Blue Ribbon designation, 10 are in New Jersey, including six public schools and four private.

The school joined the ranks of six other schools in the Diocese of Trenton that have earned the Blue Ribbon distinction in recent years including St. Ann, Lawrenceville, honored in 2010; St. Paul, Princeton and St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, both named in 2012; St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, recognized in 2014 and Holy Cross, Rumson, and Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown, in 2015.

St. Peter School was recognized with all of the 2016 winners at a Nov. 7 ceremony in Washington, D.C., but everyone seemed jubilant that the honor was being recognized on home ground.

Take eighth-grade student Anna Valente, for instance, whose remarks before Mass began set the tone.

“Not many kids get to say that they go to a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Pretty snazzy title, right?” Valente said, as she spoke from the ambo.

“I’m one of the lucky kids who gets to say that I go to a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. St. Peter is one of the best schools in the country, academically and spiritually,” said Valente. “At St. Peter School, you grow to be a wise, responsible, respectable young adult. … St. Peter School shapes you by integrating our faith into all that we do.”

She had particular praise for the way the innovative STREAM program has boosted the skills of students in science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics and noted that “every grade in school enjoys having a religion class every day of the week,” and attends a school-wide Mass each month.

The students served at Mass as readers, altar servers and raised their voices in song throughout.

Their obvious devotion clearly touched the hearts of Conventual  Franciscan Father Robert Benko, pastor of St. Peter Parish, parents and family members and JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

Tier called the celebration the “happiest of days” and expressed joy in the way the youngsters exemplified the school motto of “reverence, resilience and responsibility.”

In his homily, Father Benko spoke of what a “great day this is to be here for a great liturgy” at the oldest Catholic school in the county, where many of the alumni serve as a strong support system for current students and parents.

“As I walk around town, I (encounter) many graduates who remain an integral part of our community.” He spoke of the comfort that comes from knowing “our school does not stand alone. It is part of the Diocese, it is part of the community of faith, it’s part of the community at large.”

He noted the generosity of the business community – particularly Jersey Mike’s, which donated $300,000 toward technology upgrades, and entrepreneur Joe Leone, who donated $150,000 for a new gymnasium floor.

Father Benko asked the children to focus in on the day’s Scripture reading in which “Jesus says your yoke is easy.”

A yoke, he explained, is something that is put on an ox when it is plowing the fields.  “It is designed for two oxen so that no ox has to do the work by itself,” he said.

“Consider,” he continued, “that none of us has to do this on our own. There are (so many people) to help.”

14121aExcellent Day • St. Peter School students were looking at the world through rose colored glasses Nov. 14 as the oldest parochial school in Ocean County celebrated its designation as a 2016 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.  John Batkowski photo

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