By Emily Drooby and Erin DeGregorio
CONEY ISLAND — Gray skies and rainy, wind-swept weather didn’t stop some of the best and the brightest students in the Diocese of Brooklyn from celebrating their academic achievements at the annual Catholic Schools Night event.
The festivities, sponsored by the diocese, DeSales Media Group, and the Catholic Telemedia Network, took place June 22 at Maimonides Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Valedictorians and salutatorians from the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Catholic academies and parish schools were honored on the diamond prior to the Cyclones taking the field against the Jersey Shore BlueClaws. Gina Krainchich, director of educational media services for DeSales Media, the parent company of The Tablet, said the 55 honorees were the highest number of invited eighth-graders in Catholic Schools Night history.
“This is the third year that we’re doing it [Catholic Schools Night],” Krainchich said regarding the return of the event. “We did not do it last year because of the pandemic, so we’re thrilled to be back at the stadium.”
In recognition of their academic excellence, the recent graduates were each presented with a medal and a commemorative Catholic Schools Night t-shirt in front of hundreds of fans.
Michael Sheehan and Kaylie Cruz, this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, from St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Academy in Windsor Terrace, were ecstatic to be invited to the game.
“It’s really nice that we’re going to be able to meet up, especially after graduation,” said Sheehan, who will be attending Xaverian High School this fall.
Cruz, who is bound for St. Saviour High School, added: “Being able to finally be free without the mask, without the restrictions, without all of these things prohibiting you from doing what you would usually do — and finally being able to go back to the way things used to be — I think that’s just great and very exciting.”
Leeannah Solages, the salutatorian from Our Lady of Trust Catholic Academy in Canarsie, credited her family for helping her finish out the school year on a high note.
“My parents and my [older] brother, as well, helped me focus, helped me study,” Solages said. “They’re my biggest inspiration and they helped me throughout the whole year.”
Ann Marie Spies, an eighth-grade teacher and the assistant principal at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy in Ozone Park, came out to Maimonides Park to support her students and fellow colleagues.
“We love doing things as a school and as a family, and it’s just so important that these children are recognized for all the hard work that they put in,” she said.
“It was just really a magnificent show of love and support in a really difficult time,” said Spies, explaining how the school community bonded closely throughout the year. “That’s what children are all about. They are our future.”
Joan McMaster, the associate superintendent for principal and teacher personnel in the diocese, also noted the commitment families and school staff members made to help the students finally reach the end of another school year.
“All of our teachers, principals, and students worked tirelessly all summer so that school could be open for in-person [learning],” she said. “So, being at this point now is unbelievable that we made it. We did it and we all did it together collaboratively.”
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the diocese’s vicar for development, echoed McMaster’s sentiments.
“We’re proud of what they have done,” he said. “We want to make sure that they have a great future and that they know they always have a family to come back to.”
Editor Emeritus of The Tablet Ed Wilkinson — who retired from the newspaper staff last September after a 50-year-long career — was also an MVP of the night. Miniature bobbleheads in his likeness were distributed to families who purchased a baseball game ticket as part of the celebration.
“Tonight is the first night that the ballpark is being sold at 100-percent capacity,” he said before throwing out the first pitch.
“It shows that Brooklyn is back and our event is back,” Wilkinson continued. “We’re really happy that we could get as many people in here tonight for this event — to give the kids the recognition that they deserve and also to give a little exposure to Catholic schools.”