Bishop O’Connell visits communities of faith during Catholic Schools Week

Pre-kindergarten students in St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, shared their faith with song and stick figures to a pleased Bishop O’Connell. Christina Leslie photo

By Jennifer Mauro, Managing Editor; Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor, and Christina Leslie, Correspondent

The unique, faith-driven learning experience of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton was showcased during Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27 – Feb. 2, and their chief shepherd, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., paid a series of visits to celebrate Masses, admire student achievements, field well-considered questions … and sing.

Most definitely, to sing.

“Have you heard the song, ‘Baby Shark?’” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., asked dozens of youngsters gathered Jan. 28 in St. Veronica Church, Howell.

“Yes,” they said shyly but enthusiastically as the Bishop led them in song: “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo.”

“Alright,” he said with a smile. “We’re going to change the words. ‘Catholic schools, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Catholic schools, doo doo doo doo doo doo.’”

He was met with giggles and applause as two school communities – St. Veronica, Howell, and St. Aloysius, Jackson, which will undergo a merger at the end of the school year – joined for a Catholic Schools Week Mass on the campus of what will become Mother Seton Academy. The pastors of both parish communities, Father John Bambrick of St. Aloysius and Father Vincent Euk of St. Veronica, were among those who concelebrated.

“Catholic school is cool,” the Bishop said. “There is no better place for us to be as we grow up. There’s something special about what we learn in a Catholic school. We learn about God. We learn about what we believe. We learn how we should live together.

“Our family really becomes bigger and includes all the boys and girls who are sitting with us here,” he said, looking over the pews, youth from St. Aloysius and St. Veronica schools sitting side by side. “Catholic school teaches us more about just today. It talks about what happened yesterday … Our Catholic school takes the best of our past, in Jackson and here in Howell, and our present and begins a new future.”

The Bishop also celebrated Mass in St. Leo the Great Church, Lincroft, Jan. 29.

The excitement in 143-year-old St. Rose of Lima School was palpable Jan. 31 as the Freehold academic community welcomed the Bishop. Sister of St. Joseph Mary Helen Beirne, principal, said, “A lot of these students have never met the Bishop. They have lots of joy and energy, and you can feel the hospitality.”

That hospitality was evident on every grade level as Sister Mary Helen and Father James Conover, pastor, led the Bishop on a tour of the school and its new STEAM lab. Sitting in a large armchair as if delivering a fireside chat, Bishop O’Connell smiled broadly as a class of three- and four-year-olds serenaded him while holding up brightly colored stick figures of the Savior. Kindergarten and first-graders giggled happily as he joined them in the “Floss” dance; other young students performed skits on classic Christian principles such as kindness, sang for the Bishop in English and Spanish, and reassured him in song, “No matter what we do, God loves me and God loves you.”

Bishop O’Connell moderated a question-and-answer period with several of the older grade levels, sharing with them facts about his background of Catholic education, his elevation to the rank of bishop, his clerical garb, even his artificial leg. He reminded them about the importance of prayer in their daily lives, the graces of the Holy Spirit and the value of the Sacrament of Penance.

Learning that a number of eighth-grade students planned to attend a Catholic high school in the Diocese, the Bishop advised them, “Wherever you go, always remember what you learned in Catholic schools, the values, to work hard. You are never alone, God is with you all the time.”

In St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford, principal Amy Rash said of the noon Mass that Bishop celebrated Feb. 3, “He is such a strong supporter of Catholic schools and our children.”

Following the Mass, students and their families enjoyed taking photos and sharing conversation about all that took place during Catholic Schools Week this year.

“It was wonderful to be able to celebrate our Catholic school, and we are so proud to support our children,” said Gina Giegerich, who noted that she and her husband, Joe, are the parents of six children, three of whom are St. Mary of the Lakes School graduates and three who currently attend the school.

“It is clear by [the Bishop’s] words and actions that he is supportive of Catholic schools and that he loves the children. It validates the sacrifices that many families make to send their children to a Catholic school.”

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