St. Augustine School of New City marks its 50th anniversary this week by acknowledging the contributions of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill and longtime parishioners Joseph Holland, Frank Borelli and Frank DeCicco.
The theme of the gala dinner on Thursday is “Celebrating Our History – Sharing Our Future.”
In 1957, St. Augustine was raised from a mission parish to a parish and four years later the school was founded. The Dominican Sisters played important roles in the school’s history from the beginning. They founded the school in 1961 and four nuns have served as principal with others filling teaching and staffing positions through the years. When the school opened the first principal, Sister Helen Francis Curnan, O.P., managed 10 classrooms all taught by Dominican Sisters.
“It is their vision for excellence in faith-based education that continues to guide us 50 years later,” said BethAnn Rooney, a gala organizer, president of the Home School Association and parent of a third-grader.
The three men being honored are all New City residents.
Borelli is the former CFO and director of Marsh & McLennan Companies. DeCicco holds the position of president of DeCicco Family Markets. Holland is a former New York state senator and assemblyman and was well-known as Rockland County's longtime county clerk.
Eight of Holland’s 10 children attended St. Augustine School. As head of a local seven location supermarket chain, DeCicco regularly donates food and beverages for school events and programs.
The three parishioners have been generous supporters of the school through their church affiliation and “actively engaged in the well being of the school,” said Rooney.
"It's really nice we are honoring parishioners. We are indebted to the parish, the parish helps support the school," said St. Augustine Principal Katharine Murphy. The school is dependent upon financial support from the parish because its tuition does not cover all expenses.
The gala at the Pearl River Hilton will be a major fundraiser with hopes of 300 people coming together to raise $50,000 for upgrading technology in the school. Rooney, who leads the school's Strategic Plan for Development, explained the money raised will be used toward the purchase of new computers and Smart Boards, updating the science labs and forming a tuition assistance program and development office.
The school currently has 192 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Murphy said that number has remained consistent for the past decade.
Rooney said St. Augustine School is fortunate to occupy a unique position among Catholic schools in the region, where many are faced with increased expenses and shrinking enrollment. Murphy attributed the school's longevity to its welcoming atmosphere and its ability to attract new generations of students.
Monsignor Edward Weber, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Nyack, is the vicar for St. Augustine. He thinks a combination of factors contribute to the school's stable enrollment — particularly its open house for prospective students and curriculum.
"Whatever they see there they like," he said. "It must be the friendly atmosphere, the principal's welcome."
"Our motto is Faith, Family, Future, and the school is a family," Murphy said. "The school is an extension of the students' family and the parish is part of the family. I think the grandparents feel very proud of the fact that not only their children graduated but their grandchildren attend."
“In the past decade or more, the state of catholic schools has changed dramatically and they have been faced with overwhelming economical and societal challenges that make survival difficult,” said Rooney. “In areas where property taxes are so high and the public school systems are good it is particularly difficult for Catholic schools to compete. The result is that in 2008, two Catholic schools in Rockland County were forced to close."
Monsignor Weber noted St. Augustine's students are not just from the parish but come from all parts of Rockland, some of them from areas where the local parish school has been closed.
Several characteristics make the school stand out. Rooney said St. Augustine School is known for its small nurturing environment where children develop into compassionate, intelligent and responsible citizens. In 2009, the school received a Blue Ribbon School nomination placing it in the top 10% of the nation's public and private schools. It provides a faith-based education, full range of academic courses and computer, physical education, foreign language and arts programs.
The evening gala begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception and live musical entertainment, followed at 7:30 p.m. by dinner and presentations to the honorees. Tickets prices start at $100 for the "Parishioner" for parish members, students, families, alumni and friends; $500 "Individual Ticket with dinner seating" and $1,000 "Individual Ticket with prime dinner seating."
For more information, go to www.staugnewcity.org.