Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

AHA ‘Club’ Highlights Inclusion and Unity

Demarest, NJ: Inclusion and unity may not be the first descriptors that come to mind when someone mentions the word “club,” but AHA has managed to draw the entire school community into one large Shalom Club.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame encourage SSND-sponsored schools, including Academy of the Holy Angels, to establish Shalom Clubs to further the Gospel values of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. AHA readily complied, but in an unanticipated way. Rather than forming a new group with a designated leader and specific members, AHA declared itself a “Shalom School.” This simple but powerful action reflects the academy’s 2016-17 theme: “In Unity Is Our Strength.”

“We at the Academy of the Holy Angels believe that we have a school culture that embodies the spirit of Shalom,” said Joan Finn Connelly, AHA religion teacher and Director of Mission &  Ministry.  “Working for justice and peace and the integrity of creation is woven into most everything we do, whether is in the classroom or in (the) wider community.”

Service is valued and encouraged among AHA students, who have responded with great enthusiasm. In addition to the school’s Service Day in May, AHA sponsors a variety of service trips that are held over the summer and during school breaks. Many of the Angels also volunteer their time by sharing their talents outside of school.

According to Connelly, the 140 members of the Class of 2016 completed over 29,335 hours of service to the community.

“This does not include the 20 hours of community service that is required for a Holy Angels diploma,” she explained.

Connelly pointed out that the spirit of Shalom is also apparent at the administrative level.

“Over the last two years, Holy Angels has worked with an organization named Green Faith.  As a result of this relationship, AHA has been able to replace the lighting in the school building with energy efficient LED bulbs. Each classroom is equipped with motion detectors so that lights turn off when the room is unoccupied,” she said. “Our business office is using a computer program called Portfolio Manager. Upon receipt of each energy bill, the information regarding usage is logged into this program. This type of tracking enables us to see patterns of energy usage as well to have information available to apply for government energy programs and grants.”

Connelly noted that there is also a schoolwide effort to promote the school’s water fountains/bottle refilling stations to reduce the number of water bottles that must be recycled.

Shalom is also apparent in AHA’s educational efforts, including Project Greenhouse and Trout in the Classroom.

The school greenhouse, which runs on solar power, is an outgrowth of a Science Department lesson. Students from freshmen to seniors now support this ongoing project, which provides produce to a local food pantry.

Environmental Science students who participate in Trout in the Classroom raise trout from eggs and ultimately release the grown fish into a local stream. AHA reportedly has an excellent success rate, and releases many more trout than other TIC participants.

AHA’s International Studies classes cover issues such as human trafficking and the sustainable development goals put forth by the United Nations. The Religious Studies curricula includes SSND spirituality, social justice, and peacemaking.

Shalom ideals are also promoted within various AHA clubs and at annual schoolwide events. The school community marks the UN International Day of Peace, works to curb poverty at home and abroad, and supports fair trade. At International Night, students celebrate their diverse cultures with foods and dances from all the ends of the earth.

“The spirit of Shalom has the power to transform. Education in the SSND tradition brings about the transformation of ourselves, our students, and our world,” Connelly stated.

Following a recent visit to AHA, Sister Arlene Flaherty asked Connelly to support the concept that the academy is a Shalom School.

Connelly sent a detailed accounting of the school’s rationale, adding, “If we did not have a shared mission we would never be able to do the things we do.” After reading Connelly’s response, Sr. Flaherty responded by sending Connelly’s message to the SSND Shalom Director in Rome and the SSND AM Province Council Liaison. “I am deeply awed and inspired by the amazing work at AHA.  If ever there is a place where peace and justice (are) being nurtured, it is AHA,” Sr. Flaherty wrote in an email. “Please extend my gratitude to all at AHA who make these miracles happen.”


Since 1879, thousands of women have passed through the portals of Academy of the Holy Angels high school, the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts and athletics. Our goal is to provide each girl with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically, by offering a first –rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity and giving service to others.


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