‘Jesus Is With Us’: The Blessed Sacrament Dwells in New Jersey Grade School
The Eucharistic Christ is present in the tabernacle at Perth Amboy Catholic School, and children young and old are making room in their hearts for him this Christmas.
On a cold, wintry December day, the warm sun shone in on a humble chapel inside a Catholic school. The gleaming light rested on a golden tabernacle placed carefully at the center of the altar. Children sat quietly, waiting for Mass to begin, while voices rang out in polyphony as the choir practiced for their first Mass inside the chapel just weeks after the chapel was blessed by the bishop.
As Father Ron Machado said during the homily: “You have the privilege to go and talk to Jesus. Once the Blessed Sacrament is in the building, it’s surrounded, protected by Jesus. The heart will be happy. Jesus will be happy when you come to meet him.”
A Eucharistic revival is taking place inside this small pre-K-8 Catholic school a stone’s throw from Staten Island in the small harbor town of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Led by a faithful and passionate principal, Anacelis Diaz, Perth Amboy Catholic School (PACS) is now the only one in the Diocese of Metuchen to have its own chapel and tabernacle. And Principal Diaz is devoted to keeping the light burning.
The school’s faith-filled atmosphere has impressed Bishop James Checchio, who leads the Diocese of Metuchen. “The competent, faith-filled principal, teachers and staff are clearly committed to providing an excellent Catholic education for all students in a challenging situation in the city of Perth Amboy,” the bishop told the Register. “They are a blessing to the young students entrusted to their care.”
Bishop Checchio spent time with the entire school blessing the school’s new chapel. “It was a pleasure and encouraging to bless Perth Amboy Catholic School’s renovated chapel and visit with wonderful students last month,” Bishop Checchio said. “The chapel will allow the students and faculty to gather for Mass but also allow for opportunities to visit with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day. My prayer is that this will help all at PACS to develop further their friendship with Our Lord.”
Having the Blessed Sacrament living down the hall from students as young as 3 and as old as 13 impacts their understanding of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. After speaking to several students and teachers on campus, it is clear that Christ’s presence is already transforming hearts and minds.
The schoolchildren were excited to share with the Register what visiting Jesus means to them. Olivia, who is in the second grade and dreams of being a veterinarian when she grows up, said that her visits lead to more “prayers and kindness.” Juliana, who is in the same class, said simply yet so profoundly, “He’s always with us.” Third-grader Mia said her visits with Jesus help her understand what “holy” means. And as Camilla, who is in fifth grade, shared, “Jesus is in the room with us.”
Genuine Love for Jesus
The preschool class at Perth Amboy is a mix of 3- and 4-year-olds who consider a visit to the chapel a field trip. “For pre-K, it means to be close to Baby Jesus,” Maria Monteverde told the Register during a recent visit to attend the school’s first Mass in the chapel, adding that the children enjoy the solitude found when they “see and spend time with Jesus himself.”
The children’s embrace of adoration has touched Monteverde’s faith, as well. Coming from a public school two years ago, she is passionate about instilling the richness of the faith in her students. “In the eyes of our students, I relive all their excitement, happiness and wonder. This is possible because they are the purest of all souls here as the youngest in Perth Amboy Catholic School.” Monteverde knows well why preserving purity is so crucial. “I feel responsible for forming my students to be Catholic leaders who know, love and serve Jesus.”
Second-grade teacher Christina Kovaleski offered a unique perspective; as a former pre-K teacher, she now educates those same students as budding 7-year-olds. She remembers their discussions about Baby Jesus and the love he has for everyone. “Fast-forward a few years, and the growth is evident in physical action and spiritually. It is joyous to watch the children actively participating in Mass, bringing up gifts, responding and praying.”
The tabernacle also opens up the tangibility of sainthood. “So many saints who adored the Eucharist were young,” Karen Ninehan, who teaches social studies to middle school students , told the Register. The chapel is “an opportunity for students to understand that it is never too early to be close to Jesus. I only mentioned Carlo Acutis the other day, and the students were amazed that a saint was also a computer whiz.”
Walter Clark teaches science to fifth-graders and always finds compelling ways to infuse faith and reason into each lesson. Intriguing facts like “how Louis Pasteur would pray the Rosary on a daily basis” captivate the students’ hearts and minds.
Adoration on campus offers the opposite of today’s culture. Clark told the Register, “Through the chapel, we can achieve that break in the world, that call for silence … just some quiet time in contemplation with the Trinity, your surroundings and yourself.”
Principal Diaz said the Catholic faith is integral to all aspects of education at the school, but above all: “The Real Presence of Christ has already made all the difference. They know all about Jesus’ Body now dwelling in our tabernacle, and we trust that the Lord will continue to increase their faith and understanding.”
Holy Family Chapel
Steeped in more than 100 years of history, the school of nearly 150 students held its first Mass in the chapel Dec. 5. The sun-filled simple room with ornate stained glass holds the name: Holy Family Chapel. Principal Diaz sang with her school’s choir throughout the Mass; their voices exalted together, calling for Christ.
The chapel’s namesake was chosen for a reason: Perth Amboy Catholic School is all about family, something Diaz takes seriously as a mother of four. Before she took on the job as principal two years ago at the height of the COVID pandemic, she had yearned for another child and was contemplating adoption. And she prayed. “Sometimes we pray and think God will answer in the ways we imagine,” Diaz recounted, adding that, instead, “My husband, children, parents and brothers’ support have been the village needed to spiritually adopt 141 students, their families and all my faculty. I see them as my own. This isn’t in the planning — this is in the praying, in the loving, and in the serving of Our Lord that it comes to be.”
And it is this family that gathers for daily Mass, praying and singing together in a chapel named for the Holy Family. Diaz recalled how, through prayer and discernment, she arrived at the name providentially. “During the summer I had the privilege to visit the former sisters of PACS in Villa Walsh. After sharing a beautiful afternoon getting to know Sister Jeanette, Sister Anne Marie and Sister Nicolina, all former PACS faculty, Sister Jeanette handed me a bag with a couple of goodies,” Mrs. Diaz told the Register. “When I got home, I went through the chocolates and prayer cards and, finally, opened a frame. It was a Holy Family frame. I knew then that it was the confirmation for the chapel name.”
Diaz underscored, “We would honor those who labored before us and follow in the mission here at PACS.”
Awake to ‘Woke’ Ideology
Perth Amboy Catholic school is committed to Catholic faith formation, free of government mandates that ultimately attack conscience protections. “Before and during the pandemic, it was evident that, between broken marriages and the new public school-health curriculum, there was an attack being waged on families in general,” Diaz said. “Now the attack was being geared toward children, the most innocent.”
Monteverde knows too well the attack on students and why preserving purity is so crucial. “Coming from a public school, I’m more aware that the new [public] school curriculum is provoking confusion, fear and disrupting God’s plan for his children,” she told the Register. “I feel responsible for forming my students to be Catholic leaders who know, love and serve Jesus. If I can help in forming them, I know they will fulfill their purpose in this world. They are the light, and I want to do everything for them to help protect that light until they are strong enough to protect their light.”
Pressures of a Pandemic
Like so many Catholic schools, Perth Amboy not only survived but thrived amid the pandemic, keeping doors open and adapting to the ever-changing academic terrain. Principal Diaz is certain it was the “richness of Gospel values leading all that we do” that helped students and staff alike flourish and cling to the faith.
“While so many things were happening around us, over which we had no control, it was reassuring knowing and serving a good Father who was present through it all,” Diaz told the Register. “The pandemic awakened a new desire to reevaluate where we were and where God was leading us to.”
Another silver lining is how cultivating faith and friendships during a dark time in the world awakened the children to those in need. “When it comes to acting on our faith, the children,” As Kovaleski said, even more “notice that there are people in need in our community and do what they can to support them, whether it is through drives, kindness or collections.”
Jesus Dwells Down the Hall
The pulse of Perth Amboy can be found in the many faces walking into the school’s chapel, learning about the Eucharist, and contemplating Christ in quietude.
So many teachers are quick to talk about the faith and fervent desire of Principal Diaz to bring the tabernacle, containing Jesus himself, into the school.
“Through this integrated curriculum, along with our participation in adoration here at our own PACS chapel, our students receive a complete immersion of the faith,” she said. Understanding the teachers are the best role models, “I encourage them to remember their own love, passion and knowledge of Christ will be what makes the greatest impact on their students’ faith and academic journeys,” Diaz said. “We also start our mornings gathered in the gym for prayer and singing worship music. We sing together, and all the students, faculty and I receive the graces that affirm the biblical promise that says, when two or more are gathered in his name, there is his presence.”
And this relationship is indeed being nurtured.
As Yadiel, a seventh-grader, aptly put it, it is here that he and his fellow students and teachers can “visit Jesus any time.”
- perth amboy catholic school
- blessed sacrament
- adoration chapel
- catholic school
- metuchen diocese
- bishop james e. checchio of metuchen