“I am having a great time – this is like teacher prom! I love it!” exclaimed Sophia Hernandez’17 as she was handing out programs at IHA’s inaugural President’s Gala on Saturday, March 26. Teacher prom it was, as faculty and friends of Immaculate Heart donned formal evening wear for the event that was held at Nanina’s in the Park in Belleville.
All the guests were there to support the school as a whole and the four honorees. Most Reverend Bishop John W. Fleasey, S.T.D., D.D. of the Archdiocese of Newark; IHA school nurse Patricia Conaton, C.S.N., R.N.; parent and volunteer Eileen O’Connor Cox’79 P’09, ’12, ‘16; and athletic coach Steve Silver were all honored at the event.
As President Patricia Molloy said, the Gala was about “making IHA’s education available and affordable” and to honor these “personable and memorable” members of the Blue Eagle community.
When guests arrived, they were greeted by IHA students and got their photograph taken by school photographer Mike Hamlett in front of an IHA backdrop. They were then able to proceed to the cocktail hour. There they dined at the macaroni and cheese bar, sushi display, Asian station, pasta presentations, along with numerous other hors d’oeuvre.s
After guests filed into the dining room, Ms. Molloy gave an address and invited Bishop Fleasey to open with a prayer. Then, CBS news anchor Kristine Johnson took over as Mistress of Ceremonies. Johnson discussed her attachment to IHA through her daughter, a freshman. She equated the high school search to “looking for a home and when you walk in you know it’s right.” At IHA, there is a sparkle in the students’ eyes and a very visible sisterhood, not to mention the religious foundation. “It’s a special place,” explained Johnson.
The first honoree of the night was Most Reverend Bishop Fleasey. In his acceptance speech, the bishop explained how at, IHA there is a sense of community, a sense of teamwork, and always a sense of challenge.
The second person to be honored was school nurse Patricia Conaton. As Ms. Molloy introduced Mrs. Conaton, the nurse was given a standing ovation of whoops and cheers. Mrs. Conaton explained how the invitation to be honored “led to a lot of self-reflection” about her “vocation as a nurse.” She realized being honored was “not about celebrating me as an individual, but about celebrating the whole IHA staff.” She feels privileged to work at IHA, able to “always treat the whole person, mind and spirit.”
With two out of the four honored, there was a break in the programming. The guests were served the salad starter and some couples ventured out to the dance floor. Others took this time to make bids in the silent auction. The offerings included everything from four tickets to the Army versus Temple football game in October and a Porsche rental to a one week stay in a studio unit at Flamboyan on the Bay Resort in Saint Thomas. There was also an education raffle, at $100 per ticket, for about $14,000 to cover tuition for a school of the recipient’s choosing.
Eileen O’Connor Cox was the third person to be honored. Mrs. Cox is an alumna, mom, and volunteer whose father was a founding member of the now Parents’ Club. Her connection to IHA goes back 46 years.
When Ms. Molloy called Mrs. Cox into her office, the honoree felt “a familiar sense of panic being sent to the principal’s office.” She wondered what she did wrong. Did she forget to pay tuition, even though all of her girls have graduated? Was she not fulfilling her duties as a volunteer? The truth was that Mrs. Cox was not in trouble, but was being named an honoree. She accepted out of the deep love for the Catholic institution and all it has done for her family. She stated “a strong dose of religion went a long way then and certainly still does now.”
Steve Silver, IHA longtime soccer and basketball coach, was the last, but certainly not least-loved, honoree. When he was called up to the podium, his former athletes gave him a standing ovation. The roles had turned, and now his players were the ones cheering the coach on.
When Coach Silver was originally interviewed to be the soccer coach, Sister Ellen told him “I will know you are doing a good job if my girls are smiling in the hallway.” Considering he has worked at IHA for twenty years, he must be doing a great job. Coach Silver is loved by all his Blue Eagles as expressed by someone, during a standing ovation at the end, who shouted “I love that guy!”
All the honorees were given hand-blown Simon Pearce glass bowls inscribed with their name and the Gala information. However, the event was more about supporting IHA than the actual honorees. Everyone spoke praises of IHA and how it is a faithful environment.
As the night went on, guests ate a dinner of filet mignon and shrimp and continued to mix and mingle. Many danced the night away, celebrating IHA. The guests were not limited to faculty and parents, but rather alumnae and friends who also came to support the school. Everyone had a great time commemorating the school and the honorees.
By: Heather Farrell’18, Junior Executive Editor-in-Chief