Fifty years ago, members of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill heard about a new Catholic school opening up in New City and decided to help establish the school by serving as both teachers and staff.
“I think at that time when the request came, [for a] Catholic school in a parish, if we had the sister personnel, we were glad to do it,” said Sister Mary Murray, president of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. “Our mission at that time, we had years and years ago worked with children and immigrants in the late 1800s, so we have a history of working with children and poor people, so it just was a natural fit when education began to grow in this area.”
Today, that school still stands as St. Augustine on Main Street in New City, and members of the Dominican Sisters, along with three community members, were honored Thursday night at the school’s 50th anniversary gala at the Pearl River Hilton. The gala also served as a fundraiser for the school.
The other three honorees were long-time supporters of St. Augustine church and school and leaders in the community: New City residents Joseph R. Holland, Frank J. Borelli and Frank DeCicco.
“The Dominican Sisters were an obvious choice for an honoree because they’re the founders of the schools and they have been based in Rockland County […],” explained BethAnn Rooney, one of the organizers of the gala who is also president of the Home School Association and a parent of a third-grader at St. Augustine. “Most of Senator Holland’s children came to our school and are graduates of our school. While he was in the New York State Senate he was a large proponent of Catholic schools and Catholic schools getting the same benefits as the public school children are getting. And then Mr. DeCicco and Mr. Borelli have been longtime parishioners of our church, and the church, the parish community supports the school community. So in their support of the parish they by extension support the school, and they’ve been extraordinarily generous supporters of the school.”
St. Augustine began as a mission church of Saint Paul’s Church in Congers in 1896 before becoming a mission parish of Saint’s Anthony’s Church in Nanuet in 1901. But after the building of the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955, many residents of New York City began migrating to Rockland County, creating a need for more churches in the area. So St. Augustine’s officially became its own parish in April 1957. The school first opened four years later in 1961, with the Dominican sisters remaining present until the 1980s. Today St. Augustine contains 192 students from pre-kindergarten up to eighth grade, and the school was recently nominated for a Blue Ribbon award. In order to get this nomination the school’s students had to perform within the top 10 percent in the country on standardized tests.
Rooney said the goal for the gala was to raise $50,000, which would then go toward updating the computer and science labs for the school. She added that these labs have not really been upgraded in more than 20 years.
The gala is the culmination of a year of celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. There have been various events honoring the anniversary since September, including a special mass earlier in the year and 1950s-themed activities for the students like a dance and an ice cream social. The theme for the year is “Celebrating Our History- Sharing Our Future.”
St. Augustine’s motto is “Faith, Family, Future,” which calls for a closeness among the students, parents, and faculty. As Katharine Murphy, who has been principal of the school for 11 years, points out, this relationship attracts students and families to the school at a time when other Catholic schools in the area are struggling with enrollment.
“Because our school is a smaller size, there’s an intimacy between our faculty and our parents and our students,” she said. “We’re an extension of their family. We live the values that the parents want their children to have at home, and we’re just one family.”
Holland served in the state Assembly from 1989 to 1990 and the state Senate from 1991 to 1999. He also previously served as Rockland's longtime County Clerk and as the county’s commissioner of Social Services after leaving the Senate. Holland has been involved with many community organizations as well, including the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Historical Society of Rockland County, and he was the past president of both the Downtown New City Corporation and the New City Rotary. He made sure to accept his award in honor of his late wife Sally, a former teacher at the school.
Frank Borelli has lived in Rockland since 1967 and is the former chief financial officer and director of Marsh and McLennan Companies. He retired from this position in January 2001 but still serves as the director of Express Scripts Inc. He is the father of Clarksotwn Town Board member Frank Borelli.
Like Holland, Borelli has also been involved in many local organizations, including serving as a member of the Finance Committees of Good Samaritan Hospital and a trustee of the Rockland County Youth Bureau. Currently, he serves as the chairman emeritus of Nyack Hospital, ehairman emeritus of the New York City-Southern New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and a trustee of St. Thomas Aquinas College.
Frank DeCicco, along with his two brothers and their children, own seven grocery stores in Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam Counties, including one on Main Street in New City. The DeCicco Family Markets was named one of the top 50 privately owned companies in Westchester for two straight years. They also support local organizations, schools, and sports teams in the communities where their stores are located, including St. Augustine’s in New City.
Many local government officials were on hand to honor the award recipients and the school itself, including Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, state Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and Rockland County Legislator Ed Day, R-New City.
“St. Augustine’s is a block and a half from where I live, so it’s always been an essential part of the community,” Day said after the awards were given out. “I think that even creates a bit of a sense of additional community spirit. [….] Religious organizations serve as beacons in our communities, so this is one of these nights where you can see that special convergence of spirit, community, of a sense of debt to what people will do in service to other people. So that’s where I think it’s very special.”