RAMSEY, N.J. — Don Bosco Preparatory High School is the veritable gift that keeps on giving. Its school spirit not only captures the hearts of its present students but it also continues to draw its alumni back again and again.
From annual career events, commencement speeches, faculty development, capital improvements and fund raising to offering internships and attending school sporting events, alumni support the school in a wide variety of ways.
Take Joe Gangone, for example.
A 1972 graduate of Don Bosco Prep, he has worked in public relations at Madison Square Garden and ABC. Now he owns his own consulting firm in Mahwah, N.J., called Gang One. But when he's not working, he's helping to promote the school and plan for its future.
“Don Bosco [Preparatory High School] is the only reason I would want to be young again and go back to school,” said Gangone, whose son Stephen is a junior at the school. “Its roots go deeply into the community and especially into the hearts of the young men who are educated there. For the people involved, it's not work — it's a mission.”
According to a press release from the school, its mission is to provide “an exemplary education of the total person through a Catholic philosophy of life, fostering the spiritual, intellectual, social, moral and physical growth of young men who are in pursuit of higher education after graduation.”
This mission of the all-boys school, based on the educational principles of St. John Bosco — or “Don Bosco,” as his students affectionately called him — is embodied in one word: service. Don Bosco Prep students must commit 50 hours to community service by the end of their junior year, and an attitude of generosity permeates the atmosphere of the entire school.
Although Don Bosco Prep is in an affluent area of New Jersey, students from all economic and social backgrounds attend. This requires charity both in terms of material means and interpersonal relations. Thus, fund raising is an ongoing effort for students but equally is reaching out to the world around them.
In fact, Don Bosco Prep principal Salesian Father John Serio considers their reaching out one of the most notable achievements of the students.
In the past, groups from the school have initiated programs to support children with cancer and a home for unwed mothers, served weekly at a soup kitchen and ministered in Salesian communities in poorer parts of the country. Last year, Don Bosco Prep had a competition with another Salesian school in Florida to determine which group could gather the largest number of donated food items to put in Thanksgiving baskets for the less fortunate. Don Bosco Prep won, having elicited more than 30,000 food items.
“The more muscular you make Catholicism,” Father Serio said, “the more prone they [students] are to respond. We must show again and again that faith doesn't happen in a vacuum.”
The Catholic faith is taught both practically and liturgically at the school. Mass is offered daily at 6:30 a.m. for the Salesian community. Many of the nonreligious faculty members attend. At 7:10 a.m., another Mass is offered for students. Considering the number of those who must travel long distances to school each day (it takes some at least an hour to get to school), this Mass is surprisingly well attended by both students and parents.
Feast days are celebrated with Mass and special devotion to the saints. Signs and symbols throughout the campus are a tangible evidence of the students' faith, especially the grotto built to Our Lady of Lourdes by Don Bosco Prep students in 1946. The sacraments are available at all times; some students have received sacraments for the first time there. Additionally, there are frequent opportunities for one-day retreats.
Academically, the standards are very high. Students are required to take four years each of English, mathematics, science, social studies, theology and physical education, and three years of a foreign language. To round out their education, students may choose from electives such as computer science, economics, psychology and contemporary issues.
The school also offers honors, advanced placement and college-preparatory programs. Special services are available for students with some learning disabilities. The school has exceeded accreditation standards and traditionally the students' SAT scores are exceptionally high.
“Don Bosco Prep is a wonderful asset to the archdiocese,” said Columban Brother Ralph Darmento, deputy superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. “The entire faculty carries on Don Bosco's methods of reason, respect and spirituality. Their athletic teams are called the Iron Men and the students of Don Bosco are iron men in every way — they are men of mettle, men of competence and men of compassion. It's a highly sought-after school.”
Junior Christian Clarke is glad he made it into the school (due to high demand for enrollment, students are put on a waiting list to get in). He thinks the academics are versatile and challenging and the commitment to service excellent, but more than that he values the upbeat and family-like atmosphere.
At Don Bosco Prep, education is a process of passing on knowledge and opening up new opportunities. The faculty teaches by example and gives liberally of their time and talents. It's not unusual for a teacher to linger in the classroom after school just to have more time with the students. Nor is it strange to see a teacher organizing activities outside of the classroom just to give students a broader perspective of the subject — and perhaps do some character formation in conjunction.
The dedication of the faculty motivates students not only to succeed but also to reach beyond themselves so they can attain self-fulfillment and live their faith.
Don Bosco Preparatory High School began as a Salesian boarding school in Hawthorne, N.Y. When fire destroyed the property in 1914, the priests and students moved to a farmhouse and land in Ramsey, N.J., that was used as a summer hotel for Polish immigrants. It was converted into a boarding school for Polish students in 1915 and is the first Salesian School in the United States to be named after Salesian Society founder St. John Bosco.
Since its first alumni graduated in 1917, more than 7,000 young men have graduated and more than 200 have become Salesian brothers or priests. Eventually, the school was opened to young men of all faiths and nationalities and the facilities were enhanced and expanded. The current enrollment is 835.
The school continues to uphold the Salesian standards, methods and spirituality of education in keeping with the educational principles of Don Bosco. Nine of its faculty are members of the Salesian community.
“The teachers here make such an impression on the students,” Clarke said, “that you just want to keep coming back and giving back.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.