HIGHLANDS, NJ – Because student enrollment in the religious education program at Our Lady of Perpetual Help St Agnes parish has soared by 54 percent since August, CCD Director Carol Mulkeen is looking for
substitute teachers who can fill temporary vacancies as needed.
In addition, preparation for Christmas, collecting glass bottles and jars and celebrating the visiting torch of Our Lady of Guadalupe have kept the students in the first through eighth grade classes held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School busy in recent weeks, Mulkeen reported this week.
The director, who assumed the position in August, said enrolment at that time was fewer than 165 students. Enrollment rose slowly but steadily over the next month or so, she said, and by Nov. 1 there were 295 students enrolled, a 54 per cent increase in student population. This means there are three classes in grades one, two and eight, she said, and two classes each for grades three to seven, she said, with all class sizes ranging from 15 to 20 students.
Admittedly, there have been challenges with the opening of the program in September, the director said, including parking conflicts because Sunday morning classes are within the same time range as the regular 9:30 a.m. mass at the church. Safety issues with students crossing the street were resolved, thanks to cooperation and efficiency of the Highlands Police Department, she said.
However, there have been no problems in classes, Mulkeen said happily, with students participating in a number of community projects in addition to receiving their religious education.
In celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, on Dec. 12, the Rev. Joseph Donnelly Council of the Knights of Columbus, in union with councils throughout the diocese, has hosted a traveling Torch commemorating the Mother of God’s significance under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A Knight visited each of the classrooms with the Torch and gave a presentation inviting students to ask questions and give comments. Teachers had also offered special classes to prepare the students for in-depth discussion, and upper grade students viewed a documentary film on the subject.
The Rev. Fernando Lopez, pastor, also presented special classes on the celebration of the Mass to second grade students preparing for their First Holy Communion in May, and third grade students who received the sacrament last May.
With Advent beginning this Sunday, the four weeks or preparation for Christmas, third through eighth grade students received the Sacrament of Reconciliation during class time at St. Agnes Church with the pastor assisted by four other priests.
“Having Father Fernando visit classes, explain the Mass as only a priest can, and taking such an interest in all the students has certainly made the program not only educational and complete, but also entertaining and fulfilling for each student, “ Mulkeen said. “His interest in everything the students do and learn is deeply appreciated.”
Members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of the parish make regular visitors to people in need in the area, Mulkeen continued. To participate in this ministry, she noted students have been collecting bottles and jars for a local artist, who then paints the glass items to create unique vases. Whenever the St. Vincent de Paul volunteer delivers food to a person or family, a vase of fresh flowers and notes of love are also included.
Students are also developing additional projects, both to become more involved in the community and with those who may not have frequent visitors. They are writing letters and sending cards to residents of nursing homes, and also sending necessities and notes of appreciation to a particular troop of US Marines who have experienced a difficult year.
Students are also preparing for the annual Christmas Pageant, when they re-enact the Nativity Scene during the 4 p.m. Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve. This is a highlight for Mulkeen, who said she will be experiencing this for the first time as Director, and “I’m really looking forward to it. The students are all heavily involved, practicing and enjoying their participation in what has become an annual tradition.”