By Henry M. Holden
The Holy Spirit School (PreK- 8) was established in 1957, under the auspices of the Diocese of Paterson. “Over the past 60 years, the school has grown in many ways but has remained true to its mission: to nurture our students spiritually, academically, and emotionally,” said principal, Sister Marie Antonelli, Religious Teachers Filippini (MPF).
“I was a very young teacher at Holy Spirit School in 1957. I spent six years here, then moved around, and came back as principal in September 1984.”
Sr. Marie Antonelli earned a B.A. degree in education from Seton Hall University, an M.A. in administration and supervision from Fordham University. She has spent more than 40 years as either a teacher or administrator (principal) in Catholic education, including more than 34 years as principal at Holy Spirit School.
Placing Holy Spirit’s school into a religious context, Sister Marie quoted the Filippini’s founder, St. Lucy Filippini, who said, “The Church of God is not a restful garden, but a working vineyard.”
“We have evolved with the times, going from a paper and pen environment to the high-tech world of iPads,” said Sister Marie. “There have been so many changes over the years. We went from no technology to so much technology. Technology has really come alive here. All our classrooms have smart boards, Chrome books, laptops, computers, and we have iPads for all the children. All the devices belong to the school and they stay in the school. The children may not take them home. And, cell phones are not permitted to be used during the school day, or in the classroom.”
The school continues to grow spiritually and academically. “We have the same challenges as any other Catholic school.”
“The greatest challenge is having people realize the importance of a Catholic education. The challenge is also the financial aspect. Parents today are not looking for a catholic education primarily because of the high taxes they pay. The result is some schools are closing.”
“Then there is the school keeping up with an increasing budget. For example, salaries for teachers and other personnel, benefits, maintenance of the building, and insurance. All these things come with a high price tag.”
“If you don’t have the money you can’t pay the bills. If you don’t have the enrollment which is where the budget money comes from then you must raise the tuition, and then, when you do that you lose students. It’s a real challenge.”
“But we have succeeded because of the strong support of our faculty and staff; pastors, both past and present; Holy Spirit parishioners; parents; alumni; and benefactors,” said Sister Marie.
Eight pastors and six principals have been a part of the school and Sister Marie, has been a continual presence and influence over many of those years.
“We have adapted our curriculum to educate and support those entrusted to us with knowledge and understanding of our ever-changing world.”
“Holy Spirit School accepts the challenge of fulfilling our mission as a Catholic school. Our aim is to educate the children’s mind, strengthen their God-given intellectual powers, satisfy their soul with knowledge of their faith, and strengthen their body with organized physical activity.”
“In the 1960s, I had 66 children in my fourth grade,” said Sister Marie. “Today we have 23 to 24 per classroom, and that’s ideal. When I came back as a principal, we had 135 students. While that number has fluctuated over the years, in this current academic year, there are 226-students.”
Sr. Marie has been the recipient of many major awards and honors, including Distinguished Principal by the National Catholic Education Association. In addition, Sr. Marie was the recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope John II, an honor through which she also was conferred by the late Bishop Frank Rodimer, the title of “monsignor”.
Sr. Marie received the Vivere Christus Award in 2015 from Bishop Arthur J Serratelli for personal contributions to the mission of Christ and His Church. She received the Caritas Award for Advocacy, granted to a very select few individuals in recognition of their embodiment of the spirit of stewardship in our Diocese. Sister’s award presentation described her as “a legend in our Diocese for her fierce commitment to Catholic education and a most significant witness to the presence of Christ”.
“This ability to integrate our curriculum continues to create an environment of love and understanding deeply rooted in our faith. It is in this way that we enable our students to gain the self-confidence and esteem so needed by the youth of today. Our primary goal is to give each student a solid moral and academic foundation so that they will be prepared to make a difference in this world. We feel that as a strong Catholic school we serve as a cornerstone in the total growth of our students.”