For McGann-Mercy students, school spirit means ‘living mercy’


RIVERHEAD — While Spirit Week at Bishop McGann Mercy Diocesan High School has the traditional elements — wearing school colors and pumping up pride in preparation for the Homecoming football game — the activities here also include community service, part of the school’s efforts to “Live Mercy.”

So last Friday, before green-and-gold-clad students entered the gymnasium for an afternoon pep rally, seventh- and eighth-grade students went out into the local community, lending a hand at a local church, visiting nursing home residents, washing cars to raise money for charity and collecting non-perishable food for a homeless shelter.

“Living Mercy is at the core of our school culture,” said principal Carl Semmler, noting that the school was founded by the Sisters of Mercy and later named for Bishop John McGann, whose motto was “Serve the Lord with Gladness.”

“We try to reach out to the community,” Semmler said, and make acts of mercy a part of life. Students participate in several Live Mercy days during the school year, in addition to other service activities, and each grade takes on a special project.

“It’s awesome to live mercy,” said Gabrielle Weston, a seventh grader who was helping prepare a mailing at St. John the Evangelist Church in Riverhead. “When you help people, you feel good inside. I really enjoy it.”

Jackie Paton, coordinator for the junior high school, said Live Mercy “is about getting out and giving. We give the students a good experience helping in the local community and present them with places they can return to on their own.”  The students she accompanied to St. John the Evangelist did various jobs from clerical work in the religious education office, to cleaning the pews in the church.

“We like helping people and helping the community,” said Isabella Regini.

Other students stayed back at the school, helping chaplain Father Jerry Cestare organize the campus ministry storage areas. “We always say that we Live Mercy together,” said Father Cestare.
At the afternoon’s pep rally, a highly anticipated special guest demonstrated one of the many ways teens can help change lives. The students were anxious to meet McAuley, a black lab puppy training to be a guide dog. The current juniors and seniors took on the task of raising $6,000 to sponsor a dog’s training through the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, when they were in seventh and eighth grade in 2008.

McAuley, who is just over a year old, lives with her puppy raiser not far from Riverhead, which is why she could appear at the pep rally. She will have many months of training before she is matched with a person who needs the service dog, and then dog and owner will train together at the Smithtown campus. Nancy Bok, a representative of the foundation, told the students at the rally that their sponsorship could give someone “the gift of independence.”

The students understood that their sponsored puppy would fit right in with their theme of living mercy, which is why they chose the name McAuley, after Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.

Above, eighth-grade students polish the pews at St. John the Evangelist, Riverhead. Below, Representatives of the junior and senior class and faculty greet guide dog-in-training McAuley.