A group of St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, graduates smile for a photo. Vic Mistretta photo
A group of St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, graduates smile for a photo. Vic Mistretta photo
In ceremonies joyful and bittersweet, heralding the next steps on a journey of faith and hope, graduates across the Diocese of Trenton celebrated the successful completion of their Catholic high school education.

Their eyes on the future, the 1,367 graduates from 11 parish, diocesan and independent schools in the Diocese were saluted for their accomplishments and encouraged to continue the good work they had begun with the help of their families and teachers, and the support of their peers.

Recognized for all four years, they were especially commended for their dedication and determination during the 15 months of the pandemic.

In Commencement ceremonies and Baccalaureate Masses, speakers and homilists praised the graduates for overcoming the difficulties of those months, noting how the Class of 2021 completed their course work in hybrid settings, filled out college applications without being able to visit their schools of interest, and practiced strict social distancing protocols before crossing the finish line in triumph.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., referenced their achievements and extended his blessings on the graduates throughout the season.

In his homily at the St. Rose High School Baccalaureate Mass, which he celebrated May 27 in the school’s MAAC Center, Bishop O’Connell reminded the graduates of the role the Catholic faith played in their success and urged them to continue to rely upon it in the future.

“Tonight is a rite of passage,” he said, “a transition marking the end of four years, of leaving behind childhood to strike out on your own.”

For years, the Bishop said, students, parents and teachers have “told you what to do. You’ve received many words of instruction. Now, there will be no more bells,” to tell you when to wake up, he cautioned. “You must take on this responsibility.”

Their parents had first taken that responsibility when they brought them as infants or small children to the church for Baptism, he reminded them.

“Your parents believed the Lord’s words, as spoken to you, would come true,” he said. “They made a witness statement to the promises that this is your faith.”

Bishop O’Connell urged the graduates to keep true to the baptismal promises their parents made in their name and those they themselves made at Confirmation. “Never lose sight of all the great things you learned at St. Rose and of the sacrifices your parents made” in enabling them to study there.

“Pray that the Lord will stay with you,” he said. “The world is a big place where the future is uncertain. But But your future is not uncertain. God goes with you and faith makes you strong. As your Bishop, I urge you, don’t forget God and our faith, for any reason.”

“When you go to college...take your faith with you.,” Bishop O’Connell implored the graduates. “Go to Mass….You will meet people along the way who tell you, ‘why are you bothering.’ Believe the Lord’s words will be fulfilled.”

“Graduation means now it is up to you!” he said.

Passports to the Future

In high school auditoriums, arenas and playing fields throughout late May and early June, graduates rejoiced with tassel and ring turns, cap tosses, warm handshakes and radiant smiles.

The teens hailed from: Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton; Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville; Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran; St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel; Mater Dei Prep, Middletown; Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank; Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft; Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Princeton; Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing; St. Rose High School, Belmar, and Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River.

During their years of study, the graduates grew in their love of learning and Catholic faith, excelling not only in academics and sports but also in art, theater and the military. Some were recognized with notable awards and prizes, while others worked quietly and diligently to achieve their personal best.

Their efforts were rewarded in many ways, not the least of which were grants and scholarships totaling more than $207 million.

Teachers and administrators said that among the exceptional qualities of the graduates was their love for their school families and their dedicated service to the community at-large and those in need over the four years. Those they reached out to help included veterans, children, seniors and the disadvantaged among others, which continued as much as possible during the pandemic.

Diocesan superintendent of schools Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt got a closer look at those efforts on June 6 when the Notre Dame High School Class of 2021 presented him with its traditional commemorative poster compiling all their service projects.

Receiving the large, four-fold poster, Dr. Schmidt noted that the class had performed a total of some 20,000 hours of service for the elderly, poor and marginalized.

Dr. Schmidt, who presented the diplomas, commended the students for their “awesome service” just before delivering a speech which included thanking them for “sticking with us” through four years of school where service to others is a core element of the curriculum.

“You have not only survived but, based on what I’ve heard of your college acceptances, you have thrived…,” he said.

“...You have developed your social consciousness, and your faith is going to continue to develop into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember everything you were taught. Go out and make the world a better place tomorrow than it is today.”

In his homily at the Baccalaureate Mass for the graduates of Christian Brothers Academy on May 14, Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, advised the young men seated before him to listen to the challenges St. Paul issued to his followers, and to “have strength and courage to follow the path to life and not the road to destruction.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things,” Father Koch said. “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of Peace will be with you.”

Similarly, Msgr. John K. Dermond reflected on the theme of new beginnings in the homily he preached during the Baccalaureate Mass he celebrated for the Villa Victoria Academy community June 6, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

“We use the word ‘commencement’ for the graduation ceremony at almost every level of education, and the word ‘commencement’ contains the meaning of both an end and a beginning,” said Msgr. Dermond, who is a retired pastor and continues as a judge in the Diocese’s Tribunal. “Our Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi marks the gift of himself that Jesus gave at his Last Supper, at the end of his public life and the beginning of his greatest act of love.” 

Looking to the day’s three Readings, Msgr. Dermond noted how each had words “to sustain us in the beginnings and ends, and the ends and beginnings of our lives.” 

The First Reading, Exodus 24:3-8, tells about the covenant that the Lord had made with his people. “Those words confirmed the end of slavery and a new beginning of freedom for God’s people in ancient times,” Msgr. Dermond said. “In the beginnings and ends throughout life, it helps to remember God’s covenant of love with us and strive to heed and do all that God asks of us.” 

The words from the Second Reading, Hebrews 9:11-15, he said, “give us hope that in ‘passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,’ Jesus has assured us of beginning a new life beyond this creation when our life on earth ends.”    

“May God bless and sustain our graduates as another end yields to new beginnings,” he said.  

Following the Path

On June 5, Madison Andris, Class of 2021, joined her mother, Susan, Class of 1985 as an alumna of Delran’s Holy Cross High School. Honoring legacy families was part of the itinerary in many of the graduation events, with parents who were alumni even presenting their children with their diplomas.

Both Madison and Susan shared that Holy Cross was Madison’s choice as a high school from the start. “I chose Holy Cross after hearing about all the great things there,” said Madison.

Her mother shared some of the good points of the school, especially its ability to maintain continuity throughout the pandemic.  She explained that before the novel coronavirus hit, Holy Cross already had cyber school, adding, “They never lost a day of school because of the pandemic. There was never a loss of education.”

Throughout her four years there, Madison said the Holy Cross experience was consistently friendly and helpful. “There were a lot of great students and teachers who helped me transition from eighth grade to high school,” Madison said.

Expressing sentiments undoubtedly shared by many graduates this year, Madison says that she feels ready to leave and well prepared for university. But, “I’m also sad to leave,” she said, adding that she is comforted by the fact that her teachers have told her, “If I ever need them, they are here to help.”