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Making Connections: Navigating the Kennedy Event Calendar

Fred Compton is the Director of Advancement for Kennedy Catholic High School and if that makes him sound like a drum major leading a parade, there are certainly way worse metaphors for what he does.

“Advancement” at Kennedy is an umbrella term that feels like it includes just about everything except academics and sports. Fundraising, the Golf Classic, the President’s Dinner, reunions, the Auction, public relations, marketing, press relations, alumni relations, social media – anything that moves the needle and “gets the word out” is advancement.

Fred-Compton, Kennedy Catholic's Director of Advancement

Fred-Compton, Kennedy Catholic’s Director of Advancement

On this particular day, Compton is working to get the word out about the annual Golf Classic. The former information technology project manager has been strategizing with school technologist and teacher, Mr. Jacob Bergmeier and Events Coordinator, Virginia Vettoretti on an improved marking plan that includes new graphics, flyers, emails, and social media postings, all needing to sail out the door immediately if Kennedy friends, family and alumni are going to be notified in time.

“The Golf Classic is fun! The people who come just love a day out on the course,” Compton said. “Most of the attendees are male, so you get that whole thing of guys razzing each other, guys having a good time at other’s expense. It’s just fun!”

The biggest challenge for Kennedy Catholic High School, as it is with any perpetually under-funded organization, is getting friends and family to take out their check books. But in Kennedy’s case, the fundraising efforts may be uniquely hampered by some old misconceptions about where the money comes from.

“We are not subsidized by the Archdiocese anymore, short of the fact that they are our landlord. They own the property and the building, but we are responsible for everything else,” Compton explained. “There are generations of alumni who have never been asked to support the school because, at that time, the need didn’t exist.”

It surely exists now, and reaching those alumni, engaging them, educating them, has become Job One for Compton, Advancement Associate Gina Marie Cantarella, and the aforementioned Ms. Vettoretti who make up the entirety of the Advancement Department team. In fact, one of Kennedy Catholic’s overall main goals, as determined in the wake of its recent Middle States Association accreditation, is to improve alumni connections with the school. Kennedy has set as a goal to carve deeper and more enduring connections with its former students, and Compton has a few ideas on the topic.

“One of the things we hope to make happen is a connection with alumni if they want to be moderators for clubs. For example, let’s just say it’s a cooking club, and there’s an alumnus who now owns a restaurant. Maybe that alumnus could be a moderator, and welcome that club into his or her restaurant,” Compton suggests. “If alumni have something they are passionate about, that’s really important to them, that they want to share back with students who have a like interest – that’s a connection just waiting to be made.”

The Golf Classic, held at Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, is already a huge alumni magnet. It’s also the traditional kick-off fundraising event of the school year. The roster of events has been fairly stable the past few years, and Compton, with Ms. Vettoretti, spend a better than fair amount of time making sure each event continues to pull its weight. After all, it costs money to raise money.

What makes an event successful? It needs to bring in desperately needed funds to the school, sure, but Compton believes an event’s success is also measured by how large a segment of the Kennedy community it engages. By either yardstick, the Annual Auction is Kennedy Eventdom’s Big Kahuna.

Up until last year, the problem with this big event was just a bit too much engagement. Attendees had to juggle time spent mingling with time spending money at the actual auction. The more they mingled, the less they bought.

How to keep guests sipping and bidding at the same time? As it does with so many modern dilemmas, Kennedy threw some technology at it and fixed it.

“This past year, one of the things we tried new was online bidding,” Compton explained. “We register your mobile phone, and you can actually bid from it while you are enjoying the night. You’ll be notified when you have been outbid, instead of constantly having to refer back to a paper list and see where you stand.

“It was very successful. We really saw an increase in the amount of money we earned from the silent auction, but more importantly the people who attended absolutely enjoyed it. Plus, we had people who were able to participate in the event who couldn’t attend, who could still monitor from their remote location.”

Innovative use of interactive technologies has been a recurring theme in the Advancement Department under Compton’s guidance. He has become deeply invested in electronic marketing and is in the process of doing away with those lux formal invitations many parents and alumni have come to expect in the run-ups to big Kennedy gatherings.

“We find that most people will respond just as well to an electronic invite as they would paper,” Compton observed. “So let’s save that money for the school.”

Like, maybe, for a Kennedy Catholic community fitness center…?

“There is some talk about an athletic center,” he acknowledged. “Converting some area in the convent to be a fitness area that not just athletes but the whole community could use for the improvement of health.”

The last big initiative – lights for the artificial turf field – was a success, and everyone is looking forward to Kennedy “Friday Night Lights” beginning this football season.

The next big initiative is a bit less tangible but no less significant.

“I think the biggest challenge we have this year is building alumni relations, establishing an actual alumni organization together with some actual leadership,” Compton told The Gael. “Get a team of people together to really start fostering that alumni awareness and alumni connection – that’s our next biggest challenge.”

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All In: Athletic Director Tassone in His War Room

When he took on the job as head coach of the Kennedy Catholic varsity football team in 2016, Dominick Tassone took over a struggling program. The Gaels had won just one game the year before, and zero the year before that. From a high of around 50 kids in the program during the 2011-12 season, the head count had dropped to about 30.

Coming off last year’s turning point 4-4 season, Tassone has managed to add 10 more players to the roster. But he makes it clear there is still a rough row to hoe in the season ahead.

“The big challenge is a lack of experience on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “The positive is that our offensive line is all coming back, but we did lose two starters. We got a first year quarterback who is a junior, we lost our leading wide receiver. But we got a new transfer in, a running back. We got some basketball guys coming to play some skill positions, so offensively we’ll be fine.

“Our defense is loaded. We have 7-8 returning guys, we are going to put in some good athletes around them, so defensively we should be better than we were last year.”

Kennedy Catholic Athletic Director Dominick Tassone

Kennedy Catholic Athletic Director Dominick Tassone

The Gaels play in the Catholic High School Football League of Metropolitan New York, which Tassone describes cheerlessly as a “gauntlet.”

“It’s the best league in the state,” he explains. “Every week you are traveling to different boroughs, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, Long Island. So you are on the road a lot, you’re not just facing Westchester. Every week, we’re going to see someone from a different area, ready to beat up on us.”

It’s a familiar kind of bruising for Tassone, as the coach grew up in the Catholic League. Raised on Long Island, he went to Holy Trinity in Hicksville as a student. Later on, Tassone coached at that school, before making the move down to Southeast High School in Bradenton, Florida. Last year he jumped at the chance to come back home.

Over the summer, Kennedy tapped Football Coach Tassone to be new Athletic Director Tassone. When he began to broaden his horizons to meet his new responsibilities, the newly-minted AD liked what he saw.

“Our varsity teams are tremendous!” Tassone said. “Girls’ soccer, boys’ soccer, they are always making deep runs into the playoffs and the state championships. Baseball won the league this year, lacrosse made it to the state finals, won the city championship. Volleyball has been tremendous. So as far as those programs go, we are doing pretty well.”

Even though there is no chess team at Kennedy, Tassone knows he needs to play several moves ahead if the Kennedy varsity squads are going to enjoy continued success past the unforgiving grinder of graduation. Right now, the JV and frosh teams, where they even exist, are a little light in the roster.

The coach reveals that the secret to swelling ranks in a high school sports roster is sincerity.

“As long as the kids know that you care about them, they are going to buy in,” Tassone told The Gael. “If they think you are in it for yourself or some other reason, it’s not going to work. If the kids can see that the coaches are all in, that the school is all in, then it’s something they will buy into.”

The new AD figures his recruiting efforts will get a boost in the wake of the football team’s scheduled trip to Sarasota, Florida. The Kennedy Gaels will take on the Out of Door Academy Thunder on October 13 in a game Tassone set up through his network of Sunshine State coaching colleagues.

“I reached out to a connection I had, and they were loving the idea of having a New York team come down there,” Tassone said. “It just worked out. Fr. Vaillancourt thought the idea was a home run, so we just went ahead and did it. The parents were one hundred percent on board, so we are looking forward to a nice road trip.”

Since becoming athletic director, Tassone has become very active working with the Admissions Department in the recruitment of new Kennedy students. To hear him tell it, it’s not the toughest part of his day.

“As far as a sales pitch, almost all our sports speak for themselves,” he said. “Softball, lacrosse, baseball, volleyball, basketball: All teams playing in championships within the last couple of years. Football’s on the rise. I talk about our facilities, we got top notch fields, we got two football fields, two soccer fields, two lacrosse fields, that’s a big deal. Many schools don’t even have one. Our softball field is beautiful, we just got the brand new scoreboard, our baseball field is by far the best in the league, we got the nicest gym in the league… so I just stress our facilities.”

Those new facilities are lit! – literally, as of later this season. Brand new field lights will illuminate the gridiron when Kennedy Catholic ushers in a new era with Friday night football. Tassone hopes that alumni will use the night games to reconnect with other grads and the school over tailgate parties.

“Everybody loves it, we did it last year for Homecoming, and the whole school came out for it,” he enthused. “Great atmosphere. It changes the culture of the school.”

…but not nearly as much as the new athletic director is changing it. This year the coaching staff is initiating what Tassone calls the “academic playbook.” Athletes will be required to fill it out with all their test scores and homework grades and have it signed by their coach. If the coaches see that the player’s scores are sagging, they will ensure the student receives extra help.

“These kids have to be held accountable, and they are expected to be able to perform in the classroom – number one! – and out on the field. We cannot allow academics to take a back seat, it is just not in our DNA. It’s academics first. We promote the scholar athlete, not just the student athlete.

“That’s another thing we use to attract talent here. We tell the kids, ‘You will be getting a top notch education and playing in a great program!’”

l. to r.: Ayden Sanchez '20, Athletic Director Dom Tassone, Mikeala Jennings '20 and Katelyn Agro '18

l. to r.: Ayden Sanchez ’20, Athletic Director Dom Tassone, Mikeala Jennings ’20 and Katelyn Agro ’18

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Beyond the White House: by Ava Gallo ’18

Jackie Kennedy Onassis visits John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, NY in May of 1967

Jackie Onassis and John F. Kennedy met at a dinner party when Kennedy was a congressman in 1952. In November of that year, Kennedy was elected United States Senator of Massachusetts. In 1953, the two were married and they later had four children, two of which died in infancy. As First Lady, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was known for the importance she placed on arts and culture and for her widely broadcast restoration of the White House, giving her one of the highest rankings as First Lady. She was riding with Kennedy in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 when he was assassinated. After Kennedy’s funeral she and her children withdrew from the public eye and she later married Aristotle Onassis in 1968.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the dedication of the school in May of 1967

This past November 22nd marked 54 years since the namesake of our school was assassinated. The forerunner of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, St. Mary’s High School, was founded in 1924 in Katonah. However, in the 1950s, with an increase in the demand of Catholic education in Northern Westchester, the Archdiocese of New York announced plans for a new co-educational high school. Upon John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Cardinal Spellman decided to name this new school after Kennedy. The first graduates of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School walked down the aisles of St. Mary’s since the building had not yet been completed. In October 1967, the building and transition into the new school and convent in Somers had been completed.

First Lady of the United States and widow of John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Onassis, attended the dedication of the high school in 1967, fifty years ago this year. Our beloved Sister Barbara recalled her visit saying “She made a point to stop into each classroom on that day and spoke with the students.” Both Sister Barbara and Sister Janet recollected Jackie Onassis’s visit to the school. She carried herself with poise, acting the way a lady should and she was composed, yet friendly. Although she didn’t give a speech, she sat up straight on the stage with her legs folded and her hands rounded in her lap. Even with the lack of a speech, Onassis was impressed with the school’s presentation and her presence was felt throughout the school.

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Kennedy Introduces “Friday Night Lights” at 2017 Homecoming: by Annie Burns ’18

Homecoming− a pivotal event to every high school’s football team and overall community. This night provides an opportunity for families, teachers, and, of course, students to display unity as they root for their boys and cheerleaders in an exhilarating game. In Kennedy’s past, the homecoming game has traditionally been held on a Saturday afternoon. While a Saturday filled with friends and football is certainly nothing to scoff at, our team has never had the opportunity to have a so-called “Friday Night Lights” game due to our lack of field lights. Last year, we were able to break this streak of a daytime homecoming with lights that were rented for the event. It was a night to remember and left the Kennedy Catholic community wanting more. Everyone had the same question in mind: Why not make the field lights permanent at Kennedy Catholic?

Kennedy's new main athletic field lights

Kennedy Catholic football player, Miles Proctor runs for a touchdown during our Homecoming win

This goal has finally been achieved in the 2017-2018 academic year. The permanent field lights were installed just in time for Kennedy’s 2017 Homecoming Game.

Running with the football

Team Captain, Greg Brann, runs for first down.

The evening we so exciting, there was a real energy in the air that night,” said Kennedy Director of Advancement Fred Compton. “I had the great fortune to meet with a great many of our alumni that evening. Overwhelmingly, they we so happy for our students, and wished they could have enjoyed them as students themselves.  The support from the community has been so humbling and we are so grateful for the love and support they have shown.”

This groundbreaking addition to the Kennedy Catholic property will allow the school to make a nighttime homecoming game an annual event. Athletic Director Dominick Tassone said, “The football program has great gratitude to all who donated to the light project and to Father ‘V’ for Quarterbacking this thing through. We’ve been working on changing the culture for the last two seasons and now with our state of the art LED lights we can take it to another level. The school, community, and our league will all be affected in the best possible way. It will add to our home field advantage and give our school community something to look forward week in and week out. Once again we are grateful to all who contributed to this light project and making this a reality!

Go KC Gaels!

Coach Tassone celebrates the win with his teammates

 

 


This article was originally published for THE GAEL, Kennedy’s Parent and Alumni Magazine.


Getting There From Here: Ms. Carnevalla Maps Out the Path to College

Kennedy Catholic has tripled its number of guidance counselors beginning with the 2017-18 school year. Freshmen and sophomores each get their own mentor, and shepherding the flock during the crucial college-focused junior and senior years is new hire Meaghan Carnevalla. She comes to Kennedy from the White Plains school system, after getting her Masters at Long Island University and doing her undergraduate work at SUNY Albany.

September finds Ms. Carnevalla knee deep in her college rep rolodex. She has scheduled Kennedy’s first college fair for October 19, and estimates there are about 60 schools pledged to attend – which she notes will mean it will overflow out of its normal gymnasium confines and into the hallways. During the fairs, sophomore through senior students get to meet one-on-one with college admission counselors and get a feel or what their college is like. A second fair is being scheduled for the spring.

Ms. Meaghan Carnevalla, Guidance Counselor | Grades 11-12

Ms. Meaghan Carnevalla, Guidance Counselor | Grades 11-12

Carnevalla is also scheduling many college visits (for colleges who want to meet Kennedy students but can’t make the fairs), some instant decision days, application days, and common app clinics.

Wait, what…?

“That’s where kids can come in and work on their applications,” Carnevalla explained. “Basically, kids come to the library for an hour after school and work on their common apps. If they have questions, I sit down with them and show them how to do it. Most kids will actually finish a big chunk of the common app, if not the whole thing, during the clinic.”

Another of Carnevalla’s initiatives is what she is calling an “admissions panel.”

“We are putting together a couple of counselors from each school: financial aid people, admissions people, and we will have a question and answer session. This will give students and parents a point of view that is different from mine. On the panel will be the people who actually review college applications.”

The panels are designed for juniors, and are scheduled to begin in January 2018. In addition to the new stuff, continuing “instant decision days,” a long-standing Kennedy Catholic tradition, is at the top of Carnevalla’s priority list.

“I am in the process of scheduling those now,” she told us. “What happens is, the school will come in and sit down with the student. We’ll provide them with the student’s transcript and test scores, and anything else they want. The colleges will decide – that day, while they are sitting with the student – if he or she has been accepted or not. So you would know in November if you were accepted to a school. And most of the time they will also offer a scholarship. Last year, Siena gave out scholarships to a ton of students.”

Siena hasn’t regretted its decision, apparently. The school is already on this year’s instant decision day calender, along with St. John’s, Dominican, Mount St. Mary, and a few more. If that seems like an awful lot of money is flowing to students without an awful lot of research on the part of the college, Carnevalla has an explanation.

“What I have heard from the reps is that Kennedy has a very good reputation, that we have very high achieving students,” she told us. “If they don’t do instant decision, they might do interview days, where they will come in and speak with interested students and weigh that into their decision. Some schools will do an ‘application day,’ have a kid apply and waive all the application fees. They may then come back and do an instant decision day.”

Carnevalla notes that the college admissions landscape is in flux. She perceives that many are stressing the SAT and ACT less, and taking a more “holistic” approach to making their decisions.

“They’re like, ‘let’s look at the kid as a whole. What are they like in school, what are they like outside of school, what are they doing in their free time, what extracurriculars do they have, are they heavily involved in community service?’ The fact that Kennedy has kids doing as much community service as they do really stands out.”

The number of Kennedy students’ service hours is not just a statistic that impresses college representatives. Kennedy students’ dedication to their communities wowed Carnevalla herself when she first came on campus this past summer.

“Every single kid has to do community service to graduate. But *these* kids actually enjoy doing it! I had several students coming here telling me over the summer they go and volunteer here, or they go over there, ‘I want to be involved with Habitat for Humanity.’ They are constantly wanting to help out in their community, which is wonderful!”

The elephant in the room during any happy and hopeful conversation about college education is its growing cost. Carnevalla noted that, in the past, most schools’ tuition have been in the neighborhood of $50K per year. Now she sees them inching up to $60-70K. She is recommending students take a look at New York State’s new Excelsior Scholarship program. Instituted in April 2017, it provides tuition-free college at New York’s public colleges and universities to families making up to $125,000 a year.

“Any time a scholarship comes across my desk, I send it out via email and post it on Naviance,” Carnevalla said. “I tell kids they should start looking at scholarships as soon as possible because there are specific ones they will qualify for, based on their interests, their major, their community service — there is a ton of local scholarships!

Carnevalla reckons that the biggest obstacle facing many students on their path to college is one they may not recognize until it has passed them: social media.

“Kids don’t realize that something they put out there stays out there forever,” she said. “Colleges do check it. They want to know what you have been posting on Instagram, what you have been posting on Facebook and Twitter. And they will search for a kid, they want to see if he or she is doing something they shouldn’t be doing.”

Carnevalla sees her own biggest challenge as less insidious, but no less daunting:

“Just getting to know all 160 seniors, and making sure everyone stays on track.”

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Passion and Discipline: The Arts Program at Kennedy Catholic

Johann Sebastian Bach famously chalked his success up to sheer effort, opining that “anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.” But for Ines Boston, it’s less about perspiration and more about passion.

Mrs. Ines Boston, Chair of Kennedy Catholic's Arts Department

Mrs. Ines Boston, Chair of Kennedy Catholic’s Arts Department

“Passion is the key. I am passionate about the kids. I am passionate about the arts in general,” Mrs. Boston explained. In her 7th year as Chair of Kennedy Catholic’s Arts Department, her passion has translated into an advocacy that permeates Kennedy’s curriculum and after-school activities, and has contributed to the music and performing arts program’s wild growth. The school, once known primarily for its rigorous college preparation and science/technology programs, has begun to attract new students by the sheer virtue of its arts and music curriculum.

Before her arrival at Kennedy, Mrs. Boston’s passion led the German-born music educator throughout Europe. A classically trained opera singer with a master’s degree in voice from Dresden University, she made her living training other professional singers. Upon arriving in the U.S., Mrs. Boston discovered her true calling: training – and inspiring – high school kids.

At Kennedy Catholic she found a school with a robust after-school theater program but otherwise in need of a shot in the arts arm of its curriculum. So, as J.S. Bach would have appreciated, she got to work.

The chorus numbered 7 voices when Mrs. Boston arrived in Somers, and now boasts 54 singers. The concert band, under Mrs. Martha Belardo, has nearly doubled in size. The string ensemble – a rarity in any high school music program – didn’t even exist at Kennedy. Now, under 37-year music education veteran Mr. William Ostrovsky, it’s become a sensation. No longer confined to their own individual arts silos, each of the programs are more integrated, with greater collaboration among all the singers, musicians and artists.

Mr. Frederick Ostrovsky conducts Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble

Mr. Frederick Ostrovsky conducts Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble

The performing arts are not for every child, but the arts program at Kennedy Catholic most assuredly is. Those not enrolled in chorus, string ensemble, concert band/jazz ensemble, or theater/acting in their freshman year find themselves in an Art/Music Appreciation course.

But make no mistake, the emphasis is on performance. As the ex-diva explained, “You can appreciate music in your home and living room, but going up there and performing for other people? That builds up personality. It takes courage to do that, trust in yourself, belief in yourself. It takes a lot of effort, discipline and willpower to be a performer.”

“It’s not simply about talent,” Mrs. Boston said, echoing Bach’s – her favorite composer’s – sentiment. “There are a lot of talented people out there. They will never make it because they are not disciplined enough or they do not put enough work into their field.”

For Mrs. Boston, that means a good decade of dedication. “It takes about 10 years to develop a strong competency on a musical instrument, with daily practice of 3 hours,” she explained.

For Kennedy students, 40 of those 180 minutes daily are covered by focused instruction in the classroom. But the remaining time is at home, and there is a lot of competition for it. “It is becoming harder for everyone to focus because the distractions – phones, iPads – have become bigger,” Mrs. Boston said.

Of course, if you can’t beat ’em, you join ’em, and the Arts Chair has a strategy for that as well. The music program at Kennedy Catholic is one of the very few among local schools to be using the SmartMusic app. The iPad-based software allows instructors to listen in on, and grade, their students’ music homework.

Mrs. Katie Glembotzky preparing for the Annual Kennedy Catholic Art Show

Mrs. Katie Glembotzky preparing for the Annual Kennedy Catholic Art Show

Here’s how it works: Students are assigned a section of music as homework, and the app allows them to record their work and submit it to their music teachers as if it were just another page of trigonometry problems. The program also provides its own evaluation, letting the students know if they failed to hit the correct notes. Teachers decide, lesson by lesson, how many tries their students are allowed for each assignment to get it right.

The technology has been liberating for Kennedy music teachers because, as Mrs. Boston explained, there is never enough time within one class to teach all the music parts. Every group of instruments in the band, every range of voices in the chorus, has its own drill. By planting the SmartMusic app into their pedagogy, educators can spend more time teaching sight reading, introducing music theory and just building better musicians.

Earlier this year the work of Kennedy’s Advanced Visual Arts students went on tour locally, exhibited at the Katonah Arts Museum and Garrison Art Center. Now Mrs. Boston has plans to enter the school’s music arts groups into competitions, both domestically and internationally. After all, no rock star worthy of the name is happy until she has taken her show on the road, and Kennedy’s own Meistersinger is no different.

“We want to go where the music was composed,” she said with a twinkle, assuring for perhaps the first time in American high school history that a chorus would be thankful for its predominantly classical European repertoire.

But before any plane tickets are purchased, there is more work to be done, Ines Boston told us, to ensure the students have met the “right standards.” The gold standards.

Her standards.

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From the Stage to the Seminary: By Katie ’17 and Maggie ’17 Kennon

 

From the stage to the seminary, Michael, “Mickey,” Connolly has had experience on the field playing football, on the stage as an actor, but finally found his calling on the altar. However, the Kennedy Catholic graduate from the class of 2010 has not always known or accepted God’s plan for him. In this article, Mickey shares his journey that led him to accept God’s call to the priesthood.

 

Since Mickey is a KCHS alumnus, we asked him what his favorite part of Kennedy was. Having been a thespian, Mickey shared he loved performing in Kennedy musicals. 

Father Michael Connolly

I honestly loved everything about being at Kennedy. I felt like I was part of a family; I really felt at home in school. The absolute best part for me, though, was performing in the school musicals. I learned so much through Kennedy’s musical theatre program. I learned about singing, acting and dancing. I also learned about myself. I found performing to be a real passion of mine, and I gained so much confidence from my experience with theatre at Kennedy. I also learned that a person can’t be defined by any one thing. I didn’t audition for the school musical in my freshman year because I was on the football team and had the mistaken notion that a person couldn’t be involved in sports and the arts. The next year, though, after having seen how amazing the show was freshman year (Seussical the Musical) and how much fun my friends all had putting it on, I had to try. So, I auditioned for Footloose and had the time of my life! That experience gave me the confidence to branch out, and I started performing at Yorktown Stage as well as a few other places. Despite my freshman-year fears, a lot of my teammates came to the school shows and were very supportive! I will never forget performing in Footloose, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Fiddler on the Roof when I was at Kennedy.

 

We asked Mickey when and how he realized he was being called to be a priest.

Mickey as he was called in high school, was a member of the football and track teams.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a sense that God might be calling me to become a priest. I have been very fortunate to grow up with just about all the right elements in place for me to listen for God’s voice telling me what He is calling me to be. My parents have a beautiful marriage, an excellent example of what it means to give your life completely for someone else. I have always had amazing parish priests who have shown me what it means for a man to give his life completely for the Church. I have also grown up with two incredibly supportive brothers. My brother John has had a very special influence on my faith, let alone my discernment of the call to priesthood. My brother John has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He has had to suffer so much throughout his life, but he has done it with the utmost humility and joy. He has really shown me a glimpse of the suffering of Jesus, endured joyfully and with love. So, all the pieces have been in place for me to ask God, “What do you want me to do?” He has shown me in various ways over the years that the answer is priesthood. I have not always been faithful to Him, though. Many times, I have strayed from the close, personal relationship He so desires to have with each of us. I have, at many times, sought happiness and fulfillment in worldly things, my own plans, ignoring God’s plan. Eventually, though, in my junior year in college, I just felt too empty, too lonely to continue living so selfishly. God mercifully called out to me again and set me back on the right path. I really felt His love completely fill me up, and I vowed I would live for Him again and stop living for myself. He showed me that He was still calling me to be a priest, and I entered college seminary that year! I am now at the end of my third year at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, about to begin my final year of seminary formation.

 

Because Mickey mentioned that his family inspired and encouraged him to enter the seminary, we asked him to tell us more about them.

Michael, pictured with his parents at his college graduation from Fordham University

I have such a wonderful family. My mom and dad have been married for thirty years. They are a beautiful example of the gift of marriage in a current social climate which is very hostile to marriage or really, any kind of commitment. I have two brothers, John and Brian. John is the oldest. As I mentioned before, he was born with cerebral palsy. He has always been and continues to be a great inspiration to me. Brian is the youngest. He has also been a huge inspiration to me. Not only did he earn a college scholarship to play football at Bucknell University, but his perseverance through his career ending shoulder injury has taught me a great deal about patience and fortitude. My brothers are my best friends!

 

 

We wanted to know if there was anyone who influenced or inspired Mickey more than others. He told us about Father Dunn, who, like Mickey’s brother John, is wheelchair-bound.

Michael, pictured with Father Dunn

So many people have inspired me, but the biggest influence I have had is a priest named Fr. Dunn. Fr. Dunn was at my home parish, St. Augustine’s in Ossining, for eleven years. He has always been the most joyful priest I know. As a kid, I was always so attracted to and inspired by Fr. Dunn’s preaching. Fr. Dunn is a master at preaching an incredibly intelligent, spiritually enriching homily which is also bursting with his own unique sense of humor. Fr. Dunn taught me that it is possible to preach an edifying homily using references to The Simpsons! Fr. Dunn has always been there for me. He has been a spiritual father and a true friend. He has always supported me in discerning my vocation without ever making me feel pressured to consider priesthood. Furthermore, despite his Multiple Sclerosis rendering him wheelchair-bound, Fr. Dunn’s enduring joy continues to inspire me to accept whatever cross God gives me with humility and humor. Fr. Dunn continues to be my biggest priestly inspiration and one of my best friends.

 

 

On the flip side, we wondered if there was anyone who tried to influence Mickey not to become a priest.

Thanks be to God, no! No one has tried to dissuade me from pursuing the priesthood.

 

Next, we wanted to know what Mickey felt now that he has entered the seminary. What really interested us was what was Mickey’s favorite part of the seminary.

Michael, pictured with his brothers

I have been really grateful for the relationships I have developed since entering seminary. I have made some really great friendships with other seminarians, priests, and parishioners in different parishes. Ultimately, the best part, is that they have all helped me to grow in my relationship with Jesus.

 

 

 

 

After learning his favorite part of the seminary, we were intrigued as to Mickey’s least favorite part of the seminary, so we asked Mickey what he has found to be the most challenging aspect of becoming a priest.

Being patient! It has been so exciting to be in formation for the priesthood. With each year in seminary I am getting more and more excited to be ordained and get out there in a parish as a priest. It has been very difficult to be patient as I go through the formation process. Some very wise priests have been helping me to slow down and accept every day, appreciating every moment of the process as the gift it is!

 

Knowing that it can’t be easy to dedicate your life to service of God and others, we asked Mickey if he ever regretted his decision to become a priest.

Not once! Seminary formation is not easy, but I have not had a single regret about entering. I truly believe that God is calling me to be a priest, and I am so grateful. I have never been more joyful than I have since I entered seminary.

 

Even though we just established that Mickey, since entering the seminary, never considered becoming anything other than a priest, we were still interested to know what he thinks he would be doing now if he hadn’t entered the seminary.

Teaching at Kennedy!…assuming Fr. Vaillancourt would hire me, of course! I would be a teacher. I’m not sure where exactly, but, before seminary, I was working towards a Master of Science in Education degree at Fordham University. I would have loved to teach at the elementary level, or be a Spanish or music teacher at the high school level. God-willing, as a priest, I can do a little of all of that!

 

 

 

 

 

We are very grateful and appreciative to Mickey for giving such thoughtful responses to our questions, but we felt we would be remiss if we did not ask him for advice for anyone discerning the priesthood.

Be open to whatever surprises God will throw your way! Discernment of one’s vocation is a journey, especially discernment of the priesthood. God will surprise you! You will learn so much about yourself on the way. Be open to it, and let go of any expectations you have of how it should go. I’m working on this myself- it’s easier said than done! But God is always there to help us.

 

Mickey told us he is in his fourth and final year at St. Joseph’s, so his journey from the seminary to the priesthood is almost finished. Being parishioners and altar servers at the same parish as Mickey, we are lucky enough to be able to see his faith and devotion to his calling almost every week at Mass. Being so devoted to Christ, Mickey is an inspiration to everyone. We are all excited to learn where God will send him next year after his graduation and ordination into the priesthood!

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Celebrate Excellence with us at the 2017 President’s Dinner

On May 24, 2017, Kennedy Catholic will hold its annual President’s Dinner at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown. Choosing the honorees each year is a nearly impossible task because so many wonderful people give so much of their time and money to the school and its mission. This year Kennedy has chosen to honor Dr. Alfred Tinger (Parent of Justin ’13, Christopher ’15, Mark ’16, Nicholas ’18, Luke ’20) with the Lux Christi award. The award is given to a member of the Kennedy Catholic community for their dedication to Catholic Education. Father Vaillancourt says, “Dr. Tinger, a radiation oncologist in Mount Kisco, is a long time supporter of Kennedy Catholic. Not only has he chosen to send all five of his children to Kennedy, but he also is a part of our esteemed faculty in which he teaches Medical Technology as part of our S.T.E.M. learning initiative. Kennedy is certainly a better place because of Dr. Tinger.

2017 Students of Excellence pose with their college/university sweatshirts

Kennedy will honor Mrs. Joyce Ferraro (Parent of Justin ’17) with the Divine Compassion award. “Mrs. Ferraro is the epitome of altruism“, said Fred Compton, Director of Advancement. “She volunteers tirelessly at for major Kennedy event, is a leader of the Parents Association, she makes sure that the monthly Teacher’s Appreciation Breakfast is held to the highest standards, and helps in so many other areas of Kennedy Catholic life.

Each year, Kennedy honors some of the top students in the graduating class by crowning them, Student’s of Excellence. These students are models for future students by reaching to the top of the academic charts, by becoming leaders in the school, and giving generously of their time through community service. This year’s students are: Kelsey Baron, Sophia Brennan, Catherine Brennan, Kerry Brosnan, Tara Cooney, Alana Dinelli, Isabella Dinelli, Jiayi Fan, Justin Ferraro, Julia Gayanelo, Erin Glendon, Nicholas Goebelbecker, Juliet Hoinkis, Meenu Johnkutty, Kathleen Kennon, Mairead Kennon, Nicholas Kralik, Hannah Langley, Alyssa Moylan, Miraj Patel, Nicholas Quartironi, Anna Santini, Erin Sullivan, Justin Szpindor, Lauren Telesca

Additionally, Kennedy awards a Teacher of the Year award to a Mr. Brian Bruder and Mr. Robert Santini, both of whom are members of the Social Studies department.


Previous honorees of the Lux Christi Award are Sister Barbara Heil, Mr. John McAvoy, Rev. Joseph D Fessio, Cardinal O’Brien, and Cardinal Dolan

Previous honorees of the Divine Compassion Award are Mrs. Maura Devey, Mrs. Patricia Clair, Rev. Robert M. Dunn, Dr. Christina Araujo, and Mrs. Linda M. Troani.

No Free Swings at Bat: Mrs. Gerrity Breaks Down ‘College Prep’

This week Kennedy Catholic students will be attending their third in-house college fair of the school year. During their time at Kennedy, students will attend eight college fairs. With nearly 50 college admissions counselors per fair, that’s a lot of college representation and preparation.

It is a philosophy,” acknowledges Christine Gerrity, Kennedy Catholic’s Director of Guidance. “It is an attitude in the school. When I meet with freshmen and their parents at orientation, I like to stress that ‘college prep starts now.’ We just don’t start talking about college in junior year, it starts as a 9th grader.”

Mrs. Christine Gerrity, Director of Guidance at Kennedy Catholic High School, seated at desk

Mrs. Christine Gerrity, Director of Guidance at Kennedy Catholic High School

Mrs. Gerrity is in her third year at Kennedy Catholic, having joined the school from Good Counsel’s guidance department. Since then, she has increased the number of fairs held each year, and has boosted the number of college reps attending each one, considerably.

But still… do we really need to start this whole ‘college prep’ thing in 9th grade?

It may sound ridiculous,” Mrs. Gerrity conceded, “because 9th graders are busy being 9th graders. But it’s the little things: the little pieces in the Kennedy climate, the way we put the onus on our students to engage their teachers directly, start talking to adults, learn how to talk to adults, have an email relationship with their teacher – college is not going to snapchat you! – all that is very collegiate behavior.”

Although she doesn’t have freshmen filling out FAFSA forms, Mrs. Gerrity does believe that it is never too early for them to be proactive about building a strong high school transcript.

It is a complete fallacy to think that you can become an ‘A’ student in junior year and that it is going to matter,” Mrs. Gerrity warns. “The college admissions climate is so hyper-competitive – it has been on a trajectory straight up! We are seeing alarming numbers of applicants in huge pools, and the priorities in a landscape like that are GPAs and test scores. I hate to say it, but that’s what is going to keep you on the table in a heavy and aggressive admissions review. Your cumulative GPA is going to be born in early July after your junior year closes, and that number consists of freshman, sophomore and junior year grades. There really are not any free swings at bat any more for these students.”

This is why Kennedy Catholic students take a PSAT exam in 9th grade. They’ll take it again – “practice assessments,” Mrs. Gerrity calls them – in sophomore year, before taking the “real” PSAT in the beginning of junior year. All of this is a warm-up for the main event, the SAT, taken the following spring.

When we turn the corner for January of junior year, that’s when we have our College Information Night for parents, a really comprehensive presentation. Next, I start meeting with each and every junior individually, I start asking about where they are in the process,” she explained.

But we do a very good job of not over-serving the details. I know parents really want to get their hands around every little detail, but they don’t need to know how to take the engine apart until senior year. So I try to measure what I deliver, I ask them to hold my hand, ‘we’re going to get through it,’ and get the student to buy in.”

That student “buy-in” is essential because success requires that the student step up.

It’s the student’s voice that these counselors like to hear,” she said. “They are very impressed when the student makes the phone call, engages the adult and asks the tough questions.”

More and more, these tough questions are being asked at a local Starbucks or Panera Bread. Although colleges are conducting fewer interviews with candidates in recent years, many of them are being conducted at coffee shops near the students’ high school, and not on the college campus. Duke, the University of North Carolina, Providence, Yale, Georgetown and Notre Dame are among the colleges who have been favoring these local interviews.

One notion that Mrs. Gerrity is quick to disabuse is that all academics are anti-climactic after junior year.

We do not support our students weakening their transcripts for senior year. We encourage them to take advantage of any rigorous work that they can, to keep the trajectory going. The colleges are going to ask, ‘This is great, what you did in 9, 10 and 11, but let’s see what you are doing senior year,’ and they don’t want to see basket-weaving and bed-making after you have taken three APs in your junior year.”

This makes especially good sense at Kennedy, where electives in computer science, bio-technology and robotics programming are available to seniors – many of whom go on to pursue these subjects in college.

“A lot of engineering programs, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) are trending, pre-med, bio-medical, and the humanities is still huge,” Mrs. Gerrity ticked off the college majors most popular among Kennedy graduates in the past three years. “There has also been a big spike in nursing, we saw it start last year. The whole health sciences field, which exploded 4-5 years ago, is continuing to trend.”

That’s not to say there is any homogeneity among the college paths Kennedy students are taking. They are, quite literally, all over the map.

As demonstrated by where our students do end up going, the message is, ‘you can get there from here,’ Mrs. Gerrity points out. “You can get to an Ivy from here, you can get to a service academy (we do that every year), you can get to a fine arts school. We are starting to get some acceptances in California, we have an international acceptance, we are going west of the Mississippi more, we are going south more.”

Which brings us back to all these college fairs. Now, the typical college fair is held at some central location (the Westchester County Center in White Plains is a popular choice locally) and students from around the region all file into the same hub, making it a very convenient and efficient exercise for the college admissions counselors involved.

So why would as many as sixty of them flock to Somers three times a year just to see only Kennedy students?

When the college representatives realize the quality of the student they are coming to see, that’s why they are coming,” Mrs. Gerrity explained. “They know they are only seeing one school’s worth of students, but it’s worth their morning to see Kennedy students.”

Giving Back: By Sophia Brennan ’17

Giving back is a Kennedy Catholic tradition; it is central to who we are and an essential aspect of the Kennedy experience. It is no surprise that charitable drives take place frequently throughout the school year and are strongly supported by the students. This past year alone many drives were held such as the blood drive, toy drive, Thanksgiving food drive, and the ongoing leukemia fundraiser. Currently, there is a Lenten food drive going on to support our local food pantries.

Participating in these drives gives students a very accessible opportunity to give back to our community. Most importantly, they give the Kennedy Catholic student body the opportunity to live their Catholic identity through allowing them to help those in need. The two cornerstones of the Kennedy Catholic philosophy are Courage and Compassion. Through giving alms and developing empathy for the needy, they strengthen their compassion and by having courage to acknowledge that there are problems facing our society, we can take steps to help ourselves and then help others. Through the courage and compassion that the students of Kennedy develop during their time at Kennedy Catholic, they become Christian leaders that make a difference in the lives of our classmates, teachers, and community.