Dear St. Mary’s High School Community,
As we approach the conclusion of another school year, there is a Bible verse that often comes to mind: Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I feel this is a fitting point considering the very challenging year we faced, operationally and emotionally. I would like to take a moment for a bit of a year in review, and to share with you some of the efforts for next year.
This past year was like no other in the history of education. We were challenged to make our teachers and students “essential workers,” and we returned to our home at St. Mary’s amidst a global pandemic. As your principal and as a parent, I carried great concern at the start of the year. The fear quickly dissipated after our Freshman Orientation. I remember walking up the hill and frantically thinking, “Did I remind the senior helpers that they have to wear masks?” yet there they were, masked and following protocol. Throughout the year, I often shared how proud I was of this student body and their willingness to adjust so that we could be on campus. Never have I seen a student body so responsive and committed to fighting the good fight as were our students. I again thank our students for that commitment.
Of course, the year was also one that brought us severe loss. Together we grieved for two of our beloved teachers: Mr. Kevin Dillon and Mr. Paul Lindner. A look at the comments on social media would tell you how very influential both of these men were in shaping the hearts, minds, and souls of generations of students at our school. We are honored that the Dillon Family chose to establish a scholarship in Mr. Dillon’s name so that he may be remembered for years to come. Similarly, the Lindner family generously donated books and even a billiards table to the Campus Ministry Room, so we are now forming a bit of Lindner’s Corner.
I am beyond excited by the drive and ideas coming from our Campus Minister, Mr. Anthony Cannatella. While adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols, we were able to bring back our underclassmen retreats, Masses, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Mr. Cannatella is planning retreat programs for our upperclassmen this coming year. This summer, Mr. Cannatella will be inviting students to join us at the 5:00 PM Mass at St. Mary’s, followed by pizza and games. In fact, it was our students who requested that they gather for Mass in the Church of St. Mary. It is wonderful to see our Catholic faith alive in our youth!
We will also be blessed by the addition of another religious order. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, have chosen to join the St. Mary’s Family. The Sisters are a booming order with over 150 active congregants. In selecting a school, they were drawn to St. Mary’s by our commitment to our Catholic faith and the joy they felt from our faculty and students when they visited our campus. The Sisters see St. Mary’s as a place that has had great success, and want to be part of the team to grow further in our achievements in Catholic education. This is the Sisters’ first foundation on the East Coast, and we are honored they chose St. Mary’s.
I want to thank Dr. McCleary for his leadership and vision over the past four years. While he will be missed, I am thrilled to begin working with Fr. Elias Carr as the new president of the Schools of St. Mary. Our Pastor, Fr. Bob has worked closely with Fr. Elias for over a decade. Fr. Bob knows the skill set that Father Elias possesses as an institutional leader, and Father Elias’s involvement in Catholic education within the Diocese of Rockville Centre makes him the perfect fit as our next president. I know details have already been shared about Fr. Elias and his qualifications as a leader in a Catholic school, but I would like to share my personal impressions. Fr. Elias has a clear commitment to bringing our faith to all our students. He shared with me that during his tenure as president, developing the Catholic values of the faculty and students will be a very strong focus. He believes in doing this in a manner that is both reverent and joyful. Fr. Elias wants to continue to see smiling faces from your children and our faculty each day. We both see your children as a gift from God, and it is our calling to educate them in His Word. So yes, I am VERY excited to begin working with Fr. Elias.
As you know, admissions in Catholic education has been a challenge for ALL Catholic high schools in our Diocese, the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, the Archdiocese of New York, and across our country. In fact, it has been so challenging that a simple check of any of the websites of our fellow brother and sister Catholic schools will show they are still looking to enroll students, a clear need to fill their classes for the upcoming school year. As of this email, our Office of Admissions continues to receive new applicants for the coming year. Our incoming freshman class is up almost 20% from last year, and we have adjusted to a healthy size for our student body. I firmly believe the good word is out there, and that we will see further growth in our student body in this academic year ahead. We will be undertaking some new initiatives this summer and fall to attract more students, and your help will be needed, so please stay up to date with our summer communications.
In our Office of Development, we have seen the most significant financial support for St. Mary’s in over a decade. Dr. McCleary, Fr. Elias, and Mr. Edward Short, our VP of Development, continue to meet with major donors, and we are already seeing the fruits of those meetings in the enhancements of our campus this summer. Clearly, our constituents see St. Mary’s as a worthwhile investment, and for that, we are truly grateful.
In student activities, we are committed to bringing the campus to life for our students in a number of ways. Certainly, the traditions such as Spirit Week, Senior Week, the Christmas Tree Lighting and Carols, October Rosary Assembly, and the like will continue. Our National Honor Society Induction will now take place in the fall and include our Language Honor Society members. We are looking to bring back student dances, monthly dress-downs, pep rallies, and we are very open to recommendations from our students for fun initiatives at our school. The Senior/Faculty Basketball Game will return; seniors - Mr. Buckley is calling the game now, so you’d better bring your A-game! This summer, I will be bringing back “What’s Brewing with Buckley,” which will provide updates to the community and opportunities to meet some of the wonderful new members of our school.
Two and half years ago, I committed to greater communication with the school community. I believe the weekly newsletter has been a good first step in that process. I know communication can always be improved, and I will continue to keep families informed and notified of events and changes in our school community in a timely fashion. Student schedules will become available this summer, and we are in discussions to see how we can make next year a student-centered experience throughout the school day.
So I return to Timothy 4:7. This past year we witnessed our faculty fight the good fight in their classrooms, teaching simultaneously in-person and remotely, we saw our custodians work tirelessly to clean our buildings each evening, we saw our students take on the challenge of returning to school under all these restrictions…and we ALL finished the race. We did this through our Catholic faith and our commitment to St. Mary’s. So next year, a new race begins. In my time at St. Mary’s, I have never been more excited and hopeful than I am for the year ahead. In education, there is a concept known as in loco parentis. It’s the idea that as a teacher we take parental responsibility for our students. Please know as the principal and a father, I take that calling to heart and consider each of your children a blessing. It is an honor to serve you and them. Under the leadership of Fr. Bob and Fr. Elias, I look forward to a joyful and wonderful year.
Gerard J. Buckley