Seraphs Lift Mater Dei Prep

March 27, 2015
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The Save the Seraphs campaign announced Thursday it has exceeded its $1 million fundraising milestone, three weeks before schedule, which will be used to keep the doors open at Mater Dei Prep in Middletown. The followings story was published before the announcement. 

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Mater Dei Prep is expected to make their financial goal of raising a million dollars this week, hoping to keep the doors open at the Roman Catholic School.

Thanks to multiple efforts by Save The Seraphs, a strong mix of supporters who care about Mater Dei Prep High School, the committee can now approach the Diocese of Trenton to find what are the next steps for the school will be. That fate is still unclear but the fundraising began on Feb. 12 and may meet goal before the April 15 deadline.

It was more like an all-class alumni reunion at the Shore Casino Saturday night as more than 450 turned out to raise $95,000 at an event that drew both the famous and the hardworking, alumni, parents, and friends to save Mater Dei Prep from closing in June. The evening was made more spectacular when NBC newsman Brian Williams, a member of the Class of ‘77, chose to make this fundraiser for his former high school his first public appearance since being suspended from NBC News six weeks ago.

“This is a celebration of the last 50 years, and a kickoff for the next 50,” a jubilant Jim Shaw said. Shaw heads up The Seraph’s Fund and has been tireless in raising the $1 million within two months with the team of volunteers and students who have staged numerous events to meet their goal. Shaw also announced last week’s confirmation of the approval of the 501(c)(3) status required by the Diocese of Trenton before final consideration of continuing the school as a private Catholic school in the future. Ever working towards his goal, he took the opportunity to point out “if everyone in this room tonight reached out to three people for donations, we could reach $2.4 million just tonight.”

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Joseph Buzzanco, Class of ‘78, whose wife Maria is the Fund’s fundraising committee chair and chairperson of the gala, was among the hundreds overwhelmed by the guests at the gala as well as the amount of funds raised.

Both Buzzanco daughters are Seraphs, he said, one now a sophomore at St. Michael’s in Vermont, the other a junior at Mater Dei. “I just wanted my girls to experience what I did,” he said about his days at Mater Dei. “I’ve been successful enough that I could have sent them to private academies or prep schools anyplace in the country,” he continued, “and I thought Mater Dei was best.” Proudly, he added, “I still do, and they agree with me as well.”

Maria Buzzanco thought the event was “a fantastic success. We were overwhelmed by the support from the entire Mater Dei Prep community. So many alumni returned to show their support for Mater Dei Prep, including one of our most famous graduates, Brian Williams, Class of ‘77. The atmosphere of the evening was like a giant reunion; the event rekindled the Seraph spirit and made it obvious how special and important Mater Dei Prep is to its alumni and the Bayshore area.” She said the current $992,000 consists of more than $350,000 in donations and another $610,000 in binding pledges. This week the fund will be contacting those who have made pledges to turn their monetary guarantees into donations.

Ticket sales, an online auction and gift raffle raised $95,000 for the Save the Seraphs Fund at the event. That amount exceeded the $70,000 to $80,000 the sponsors and volunteers were hoping to raise to keep the school open.

The event was sponsored by Ed “Skip” McLauglin, Joe Rapolla, the Mater Dei Alumni Association, the Mater Dei Prep PTA and the Harper Family, seven of whom attended Mater Dei, and long time friends of the Roman Catholic high school.

Music throughout the evening was provided by Rapolla, Class of ‘79, Chairman of the Music & Theater Arts Department at Monmouth University, and his band Joe Rapolla and the Perfect Square.

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The Rev. Jeff Kegley was also in awe at the crowd, and said he was overwhelmed at “this wonderful show of support; I’m speechless. I know the diocese Office of Education is aware of everything that is going on here. The office knows that Mater Dei has always been very special to the people here.”

Shore Casino owners Bernie Sweeney, who with his wife Kathleen, both long time supporters of the Catholic high school, declined to discuss anything about the financial arrangements for the full course dinner and open bar. Nor would Fund volunteers release any figures, other than to say “Mr. Sweeney has always been a friend of Mater Dei; we have always had very successful events here, whether they were proms or parties or fund raisers. I am sure the Sweeneys are pleased with our success here this evening.”

The next fundraising event for the Save the Seraphs campaign is a benefit concert at Count Basie Theater on Thursday, April 30, featuring “Brian Kirk & the Jirks” with special guests “The Magic Taxis.” Tickets go on sale Friday, at noon through the Count Basie Theatre box office. A limited number of VIP seats with a pre-show cocktail party sponsored by Buona Sera are available.

Mater Dei Prep hopes to open in September as a private, Catholic institution, financially and operationally separate from St. Mary’s parish. The Seraph’s Fund will operate as an endowment fund for the school with a separate Board of Trustees overseeing budgeting and development. Board members and volunteers are currently completing the steps necessary to realize this new business model for approval from the Bishop.

For more information about The Seraph’s Fund and upcoming fundraising events or to make a donation to the Save the Seraphs campaign, visit www.seraphfund.org.

— By Muriel J. Smith 

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