Bishop joins SJV community for Mass to kick off school’s 50th year

Bishop O’Connell visits St. John Vianney High School to celebrate Mass as the Holmdel schools begins its 50th year. Jennifer Mauro photo


By Jennifer Mauro, Managing Editor

Knowledge – Commitment – Involvement. Those three words aren’t just the motto for St. John Vianney High School, they are principles all those who have passed through the school’s doors have been encouraged to live by for the past 50 years.

“There are three groups of people who’ve made this school a success – parents, faculty and staff, and students,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said in his homily to the Holmdel school community gathered in the school gym Sept. 10 for morning Mass.

“There are the parents who believed in the importance of the Catholic faith so much that they made sacrifices to put their children on the right path, on the path of faith,” he said. Then, there are the “faculty and staff who partnered with parents in the process of providing that Catholic education.” Finally, he said, “There’s you, students who reached for excellence every step of the way – in and out of the classroom.

“These three groups are the cornerstone – the solid foundation of what this school has been about, of what this school has been able to achieve for half a century,” the Bishop said.

Bishop O’Connell joined students and staff for Mass as the school kicked off its 50th year, a legacy, that is rooted in faith and community, assistant principal Margaret Kane said.

“Every time a student graduates, I always tell them the door is always open for you to come back and share what you’ve done in your life,” Kane said.

It’s that sense of family that students revel in, too.

“It helps to be part of a community of faith every day. You’re in the classroom with them [your peers], you’re in Mass with them. You are connecting with everyone else who is going through the same things as you and you’re able to share. That’s the best thing about going to a Catholic high school,” said senior Riley Dinnell, one of a handful of students who served as official greeters as Bishop O’Connell arrived for Mass.

Senior Brooke DiMarzio agreed. “Education is so important, especially when it’s faith-based. We need to have a connection to our spirituality, and it’s important that we get to experience that here.”

As those in attendance spoke of being honored to have the Bishop celebrate Mass at the beginning of a banner year, Bishop O’Connell shared that the day had a personal meaning for him, too.

 “Today is a special day, it’s special for us to gather to celebrate our anniversary year,” he said. “For me personally, it’s a special day, too. Fifty years ago today, I began high school. I’m that old, yeah,” he said to a room of laughter.

Speaking on how “good things come in threes,” Bishop O’Connell said that in addition to the three groups of people who are key to the school, there are also  three elements that those important groups have built upon – knowledge, commitment, involvement, the high school motto.

“Every school transmits knowledge to its students, but a Catholic school does it in a way that is rooted in the Lord Jesus,” said Bishop O’Connell, who was joined at the altar by concelebrants Father John Michael Patilla, school chaplain and parochial vicar in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel; Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations and chaplain in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and Father Thomas Vala, pastor of St. Clement Parish, Matawan.

“The great scientist Albert Einstein once said, ‘Any fool can know, the point is to understand.’ And that’s what faith provides, that’s what faith gives to our knowledge – an understanding of the world,” said Bishop O’Connell, adding that faith inspires and leads to commitment.

“Commitment is a conviction that guides our knowledge to make good choices,” he continued. “And with the knowledge that we gain in Catholic school, and with the commitment that the knowledge provides and inspires, we take the next step – we get involved. We become part of life, part of the world around us.”

Bishop O’Connell discussed the importance of being mindful of life’s three anniversary moments: the past, present and future. The past is the school’s 50-year history, Bishop O’Connell said, adding, “The present is you, and the future is something you will make. All the gifts and graces that God has given form and shape you during these years at St. John Vianney.

“We remember the three groups, we remember the three elements, we remember those three moments. There are three other things we in Catholic school must never forget – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said.

That message wasn’t lost on junior Grace West, who sang in the choir during the Mass. “Having Mass with the Bishop at the beginning of the school year is very grounding. I feel more connected today.”

Jeff Johnson, campus minister and theology teacher, said that having Bishop present for the start of the 50th anniversary year “says to the students that it’s not just a number, it says there is something very significant about who we are and what we do.”

Reflecting on the day’s First Reading, Colossians 2: 6-15, which speaks about receiving Christ and walking with the Lord, Johnson said, “We do our best to help students see that the Gospel message really is Good News, that is has something real and important to say to students here and now and that it can transform their lives.”

“St. Augustine always said, ‘Put God first and everything else falls into place.’ That, I think, is rooted in what St. Paul is saying – walking with Christ, rooted in Christ, built on Christ. It’s a spiritual message.”

The day’s Reading and the Bishop’s visit, he said, was the perfect start to the new school year. “It’s like giving everybody a goal – let’s orient ourselves the right way. We want to make sure that this school year, we are facing the right direction, walking in the right direction.”

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