Principal Tom Hamilton of St. Mary’s School in Fishkill sounded ready for the opening day of school even before the Labor Day weekend began.
Hamilton, who’s embarking on his fourth year as principal at the Dutchess County school, said faculty members and other staff, students and parents are all excited about the start of the new year, which kicked off Tuesday.
“We’ll get back to a traditional learning experience…There is a huge amount of enthusiasm in the school community,” he said.
School business as usual may have been the expected and customary practice until the Covid pandemic interrupted normal routines beginning in March 2020, so Hamilton was especially primed for the current academic year to begin when I spoke to him late last week.
Appropriately, “enthusiasm” is the value being stressed at St. Mary’s School in September, he told me. Hamilton made time for a chat after completing the first of two teacher conference days. It featured a keynote address by Linda Mele Dougherty, which among other things stressed that Catholic schools should build a community rooted in the Holy Spirit. Ms. Dougherty is the archdiocese’s associate superintendent for Catholic identity.
Calling it a “wonderful presentation,” Hamilton then expressed ways the entire school community is pulling together. One is the school’s Mass of the Holy Spirit this coming Saturday, to be offered by Father Joseph Blenkle, St. Mary’s pastor, who celebrates First Friday Masses for the school community each month. Following the liturgy, all school families are invited to a back to school barbecue sponsored by the Parents Association.
“As a Catholic school, it’s all about community,” said Hamilton, who also served as principal of two other schools, the former St. Mary’s in Wappingers Falls and St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnerville, before coming to the Fishkill school.
Last Friday, Father Carmine Caruso, a parochial vicar at St. Mary’s who was ordained last year, delivered a spiritual conference to the St. Mary’s faculty on the theme of Put Out Into the Deep.
With the archdiocese participating in the three-year Eucharistic Revival being held across the nation, the principal outlined how lessons on the Eucharist are integrated into each grade level, from the preparation for First Holy Communion in second grade to instructional material on the Church the next year, on the sacraments in grade 5 and the Bible in grade 6.
“It’s the heart of who we are and everything we do in religion,” he said of his 220-student pre-K to grade 8 school.
“It’s the center of our faith. It’s always there.”
At the parish’s Eucharistic Adoration on Thursdays, Father Caruso leads Benediction for the school community on the month’s first and third Thursdays, and eighth-graders lead the school community in praying the Rosary on the second and fourth Thursdays.
Hamilton comes from a Catholic school family himself. His mother, Margaret Hamilton, was a principal of St. Peter’s School in Haverstraw, which closed in 2012. His dad, Deacon Eugene Hamilton, serves at St. Peter-St. Mary parish in Haverstraw. His brother, the late Father Eugene Hamilton, died of cancer several hours after he was ordained to the priesthood in 1997.
Hamilton said he believes many of today’s families are “craving” community, especially the kind offered by a Catholic school like the one at St. Mary’s. Such a community is especially important to counter the isolation so prevalent during Covid and contrary messages imparted via social media each day.
“They want their children in a faith-based community where their values are taught to children,” he said near the end of the interview.
Hamilton added that the “negativity” in today’s culture presents an opportunity to turn “people’s hearts toward enrolling in Catholic school.” The values presented appeal to people of the Catholic faith and others, he said.
Parents are looking for a school community where their own Catholic Christian “values and virtues” are accepted and promoted to their children in their formative years.
“They take them with them after they graduate from school,” he said.