NEW YORK — The Province’s St. Stephen of Hungary School on East 82nd Street here hosted Cardinal Edward Egan of New York on Jan. 27, for Catholic Schools Week. The cardinal, along with several staff members, visited seven classrooms and watched a variety of lessons and performances.
St. Stephen of Hungary School was chosen from 200 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York for this year’s visit.
“We were very pleased,” said Angelus Gambatese, OFM, pastor of St. Stephen of Hungary Church, who, with principal Adele Kosinski and several student ambassadors, greeted the cardinal when he arrived. “We learned just a few days before the visit that we were chosen,” said Angelus.
As the cardinal’s group, including Superintendent of Schools Timothy McNiff, and representatives of the media, walked from classroom to classroom, Angelus described the growth of the student body.
“The school has had a 31 percent increase in enrollment in four years due to Adele,” he said. Among other enhancements, the principal has established a preschool program, broadened the curriculum, and in general, revitalized the school.
Kosinski joined the staff in 2004; she has more than 30 years experience in Catholic education.
St. Stephen of Hungary School has approximately 200 students, coming from the immediate neighborhood and New York City’s five boroughs. It is a school with “a rich heritage of academic excellence that offers a future of promise,” according to the parish Web site, that states: “We are a small school of big achievers.”
Celebrating Service and Values
To highlight the theme of the 2009 national celebration of the role of Catholic elementary and secondary schools, “Celebrate Service”, signs were displayed in the stairways that read: “A call to service; a text to Jesus.” Each one showed an individual message, written by a student.
Catholic schools are proud of their educational network that emphasizes intellectual, spiritual, moral, physical, and social values in their students, according to the Jan. 25 St. Stephen parish bulletin. The annual commemoration recognizes the role that Catholic schools play in providing a values-oriented education for America’s young people.
Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York since May 2000, said, “Our schools are succeeding. These schools are miraculous. They are successful to the point of being outrageous.”
Interaction with Students
During his visit, the cardinal visited kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, second, fifth, and eighth grades, and observed a variety of subjects, including knitting, the attributes of magnets, music, math, and French. Jacques LaPointe, OFM, led a group of students in singing two songs including the beloved “Frère Jacques.”
The cardinal seemed to enjoy interacting with the students, according to Angelus, and mentioned that French “is the prettiest language.” He also told students that he once played the cello. A lively discussion took place in the eighth grade classroom where students told the cardinal which high schools they planned to attend.
Several times, Cardinal Egan mentioned to students dressed in red uniforms, “I’m glad to see you’re all dressed up like cardinals.”
When a student mentioned that he had seen the cardinal in the televised broadcast of last fall’s Alfred E. Smith Dinner, attended by the two presidential candidates, Cardinal Egan described Smith’s background, adding that he was raised in Chicago, the same city that President Obama calls home.
The cardinal’s visit ended with a singing performance in the church, during which he listened intently to the students and looked around the historic church. Parents and staff members gathered in the school, showing school pride.
The students represent a vast array of ethnic backgrounds, said pastoral associate Jayne Porcelli. “I was fascinated recently to meet students who are from foreign countries as far away as Australia and even Malta, in addition to students of Hispanic and African-American backgrounds.” At their homes, students speak a range of nine languages, according to a fact sheet distributed on the day of the cardinal’s visit.
The day after the cardinal’s visit, school students enjoyed a “dress down day.”
On Friday of Catholic Schools Week, St. Stephen of Hungary School celebrated its teachers with a Mass and a luncheon. “Our teachers make a real difference in our world, and it is our turn to make a difference in theirs by honoring their commitment to Catholic education,” according to the bulletin announcement.
Later in the week, Kosinski received a letter from Cardinal Egan in which he offered “heartfelt gratitude for a wonderful visit to St. Stephen of Hungary School, as well as for all that you, the faculty, the administration and the staff are doing to maintain the excellence and success of the school.” Photos of the cardinal’s visit to St. Stephen appeared on the inside cover of the Jan. 29 issue of Catholic New York, the archdiocese publication.
Pictured above are principal Adele Kosinski, flanked by Timothy McNiff and another archdiocesan representative.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.