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Last spring, members of the St. Anthony High School and Marist High School communities were biting their respective fingernails as their futures both hung in the balance.
Marist remains in its Bayonne home, but St. Anthony's of Jersey City closed.
Ironically, both were started two years apart in the early 1950s as traditional college preparatory schools. And both went through a metamorphosis in the 1980s to reach out to the minority communities in Hudson County with Marist also going co-ed.
Both seemed to be perfect for a merger that was not in the cards.
Thirty Friars enrolled in Marist, though, and seem to be happy and adjusting to new classmates, a new school and many new offerings.
"The teachers are nice,'' 17-year-old Samantha Nichols, a senior who commutes from Paterson, said. "We are learning more, and the school is more demanding with more technology, a media library. It's just great."
Alexandra Williams, also 17, said Marist has 3-D printers in the engineering program whereas they used sticks and cardboard at St. Anthony's.
And Gabriel Johnson, 15, noted the different classes in drawing and psychology and more athletic offerings like tennis and soccer.
"And the gym is connected to the school," Gabriel, a junior who commutes from Bloomfield, said.
The Friars had to go outside their school for physical education and sports practice at a nearby school.
"This school is huge," Alexandra, a senior from Jersey City, said.
The gymnasium has to be the second largest in the county after the Armory off McGinley Square. Though founded downtown Bayonne in 1954, Marist eventually bought the Hudson County Youth House - sort of a jail for teens -- and built the new gymnasium to connect to the other buildings at the current uptown site.
The reform going on inside the walls today is changing minds and hearts.
Gabriel mentioned the MARIST acronym posted around the school: Marist Atmosphere Really Inspires Students and Teachers. And that was true to life when in five weeks last spring the Royal Knights raised $725,000, which convinced the Marist Brothers, who run and own the school, to keep it open.
Seeing young, old, all kinds of ethnicities speaking different languages and some in distinct religious garb could be the closest thing to seeing heaven on earth.
Hundreds of people contributed but much of the credit goes to Alice Miesnik, who doubles as president and principal. She is a dynamo who is constantly expanding offerings to keep Marist on top of its game. The school just announced that Fall 2018 students will be able to earn an associate's degree from Hudson County Community College while simultaneously earning their high school diplomas.
"This partnership will assuredly save our families from growing college costs, especially since College Now will be offered all for the price of a Marist tuition," Miesnik said.
She credits good academic and advancements teams for sustaining Marist.
The school still has to raise several hundred thousand dollars annually to build an endowment. For the former Friars, Marist honored the St. Anthony's tuition scale.
Recruiting students is a priority.
The student body includes international students from China, Australia and Vietnam among the enrollment of 271. And the school picked up a handful of students from Queen of Peace of North Arlington, which also just closed.
Miesnik hopes to begin an after-school internship/work-study program with local businesses and companies.
Samantha is already planning to go to Howard University in Washington to become an entertainment lawyer. Alexandra plans to become an ESL teacher after graduating from NYU. And Gabriel has his eyes on Syracuse or Stanford to propel him into sports medicine.
They aim high and have the smarts and personality to achieve. And though enthralled with all the largeness and newness of Marist, they still have a soft spot in their hearts for St. Anthony's.
"St. Anthony's was my family where everybody knew each other," Samantha said.
Alexandra added: "We all came together and were very supportive."
"The teachers would always help us," Gabriel said.
They are gradually seeing that Marist has that same spirit. But your first love is hard to shake. Besides, they all agreed that Marist is "stricter on uniforms and professional behavior." And they're happy to comply.
Marist High School is located at 1241 Kennedy Blvd., Bayonne. For information, call 201-437-4544 or go to www.marist.org.