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SMHS alumni on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic

Gael Front Heroes

Read about how St. Mary High School alumni on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic are doing their part to beat this disease.

Read about how St. Mary High School alumni on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic are doing their part to beat this disease.

If you know of an SMHS alumni who is working on the frontlines and would like to nominate them, please email Michael Sheridan ’77 at msheridan@stmaryhs.org. Be sure to include the following:

  • Photo (in uniform if possible)
  • Year of graduation from SMHS
  • Role played during COVID-19 (at least 4 lines; 2 paragraph maximum)
Class of 1974

Angelo Racaneillo, MD

Dr. Racaniello, Board Certified Emergency Room Physician, has been practicing medicine since 1983 in some of the busiest ERs in the nation treating tens of thousands of patients over the years. He headed the entire emergency room staff at JFK Hospital in Edison, NJ since 1995.

In January, Dr. Racaniello became a full time doctor at CityMD in Clifton, NJ. The walk in emergency medical facility was the first stop for dozens of positive Covid19 patients. Dr. Racaniello and his staff needed to screen and treat those infected and protect themselves and others from exposure to the deadly virus. He determined whether a patient should be admitted into a hospital or quarantined at home during recovery. It was critical to evaluate the pre-existing conditions and other risk factors while making these crucial decisions. Bergen and Passaic counties were New Jersey’s hot spots of Corona Virus for months, and his practice operated 24 hours a day on the front lines.

Class of 2006 & Class of 2011

Michael and Kevin Cribben

Michael graduated in 2006 and Kevin graduated in 2011. Michael played football at St. Mary’s and was affectionately known as “Lefty”. Kevin, before he was a student at St. Mary’s was the water boy for the football and known as “Righty”. Both of my brothers work as first responders. They are firefighters for the Hackensack Fire Department. Michael was hired in 2015 and a Kevin was hired last year. Both are state certified EMTs and answered several calls during this pandemic. In addition to being firefighters in Hackensack, both boys are volunteer firefighters and chiefs of the Wood Ridge fire department. Michael is in his first term as head chief and Kevin is the youngest second assistant chief in the department’s history. They have been answering and running several medical calls and fire calls during this pandemic while doing everything in their power to keep the members of the department and town’s people safe.

Class of 2003

Brandon Graham

I was born and raised in Teaneck. It has been an honor to serve as a Police Officer for the past year. Teaneck had a substantial amount of Covid-19 cases and is home to Holy Name Medical Center. There was no playbook or remedy ready to address this overwhelming problem.

One of the many lessons I learned at St. Mary was to persevere through adversity. As a Police Officer, you can be sent into uncontrolled environments, which can be unnerving especially during a pandemic. At these moments, it’s critical to remember the importance of protecting the public and to be there for your fellow officers. For me, the foundation of this mentality started on the football field at Tamblyn.

The recent unfortunate events involving police brutality have proven to be a difficult time for this country. As an African American Police Officer, my feelings towards this matter can be conflicted. I proudly stand with my brothers and sisters in blue who work tirelessly to do their jobs the right way. I also recognize that there are people, who I am sworn to serve, who don’t feel they are treated with justice and equality. Moving forward, I will continue to use the lessons learned as a Gael in an effort to become a better Police Officer and make a difference.

Class of 2016

Michael Peltyszyn

I have been working on the front lines during the Covid19 Pandemic in two very different, but both very important roles. First I am a manager at a busy Shop Rite in Hillsdale, NJ. It is my responsibility to ensure the safety of our workers and customers. Providing protective equipment and training for social distancing is important for our essential employees who keep the store operational. Overseeing proper cleaning and disinfecting of the entire facility is another enormous task. Coordinating new protocols for customers is also an important part of my daily routine.

One of the most important things I am able to do as a store manager was provide our local Emergency Response workers with supplies such as hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, cleaning supplies, water, etc. The need is extraordinary, and I have to find ways to cut through red tape to keep the supply chain functioning. I learned at St. Mary’s that it doesn’t take an army to make a difference, it takes one person with heart.

I am also a firefighter in Hillsdale. Our staff was reduced significantly because older “high risk” members could not make emergency calls. Call volume rose five times due to so many people at home 24 hours a day. Most emergencies are home hazards such as carbon monoxide detection, electrical problems, and cooking accidents requiring a rapid response in full protective gear to avoid contact with infected persons. All apparatus has to be fully disinfected after each call. Occasionally we are lucky enough to spread some joy by joining in a birthday celebration with sirens blazing. It’s all in a day’s work.

Class of 1967

Denise Sheridan Lemega

I have been a social worker at Morristown Medical Center for 41 years. At the start of the Pandemic, I was considered a “High Risk Candidate” for the Coronavirus, so I opted to take a leave of absence to protect myself and family from the threat of any exposure. Within two weeks, I was called back to work as the virus escalated and a NO HOSPITAL VISITORS Policy was enacted, and my services became critical.

The policy to isolate the patients creates unprecedented difficulties. Families are suffering the trauma of not being permitted to see, speak, or hold their loved ones while making life and death treatment decisions. Tragically, patients are dying alone, and families are devastated.

As the Social Worker on the HealthCare Team, my priority is to ensure that patients and their loved ones stay connected for emotional support and care. I create a bridge to link them to each other and with the amazing doctors and nurses on the front lines. With technology, I arrange family visits and prayers with our Spiritual Team by cell phone and Zoom. Often it becomes a chance to say goodbye which brings peace.

For patients who survive, I plan for their continued care in other healthcare environments. Unfortunately, the demand for the next phase far exceeds the availability of services which complicates my responsibility to insure a safe and appropriate discharge. There are resultant grave financial, social, and emotional ramifications that our team alleviates through Community Services and Programs for basic needs including housing, food, childcare and more.

I am privileged to work with a wonderful team of doctors, nurses, therapists, and clergy sharing the goal to respect, care and honor our patients. Despite its challenges, my work does enrich my life in countless ways. I credit my family and my 12-year education at St Mary’s for my dedication to family values in the healthcare arena. I am grateful and honored to have this vocation.

Class of 2005

Therese Zdanowicz Roselli

Therese is a 2005 graduate of St. Mary High School. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Ramapo College in 2009. Therese is a Nurse Clinician in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Weill-Cornell Medical Center New York Presbyterian since 2009. She is an Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC), who has participated in creating intense educational programs to train other oncology nurses in the highly specialized care of The Bone Marrow Transplant patient. Therese has achieved the titles of Charge Nurse and Nurse Preceptor, and, is also a mentor for other nurses new and old to the specialty. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nurse Roselli has been caring for COVID positive patients with compassion and passion in the epicenter of the pandemic. Therese has also found the time to volunteer at the Rutherford Health Department during this crisis to assist them with contact tracing, counseling and data entry.

Class of 1972

Brian O'Keefe

Brian has been with the Rutherford Health Department for the last 42 years and serves as the borough’s health official and registrar of vital statistics. With the assistance of a staff of two public health nurses, Janet Calhoun, RN, Therese Hoff, RN, (who also are the St. Mary School nurses), they have been devoting the bulk of their time on the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a combined effort following up with residents on their positive COVID-19 test results and providing additional guidance on how to further reduce the spread of the transmission of the virus in our community. This has become a monumental task for all local health departments in New Jersey including the Rutherford Health Department. The normal routine activities of the department have been curtailed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Many local health departments have had to hire additional nurses to conduct the necessary follow up, but in the case of the Rutherford Health Department, between Brian and the public health nurses, they have stepped up and extended their time and talent to the borough and have been able to properly manage the current case load in Rutherford. Their prior working knowledge of the NJ State Department of Heath Communicable Disease Reporting and Surveillance System (CDRSS), where all test results for the COVID-19 are entered state wide, has allowed the governing body to provide daily updates of the number of new COVID-19 positive test results in real time to the residents of Rutherford.

Alumni Parent & School Nurse

Janet Calhoun

When Nurse Calhoun isn’t at St. Mary High School, she is busy working as a Public Health Nurse for the Rutherford Health Department, a position she has held for over twenty years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been working seven days a week (along with Academy Nurse Hoff and SMHS Alum Brian O’Keefe) to monitor cases in town. She is responsible for confirming patient diagnosis, providing education to those infected, and tracking the patient’s contacts. Each day the data she compiles is submitted to the State Department of Health, to ensure public access to the most current information, and to assist epidemiologists studying COVID-19’s symptoms, communicability, and treatment. Nurse Calhoun began her nursing at education at Holy Name School of Nursing, and later earned a Bachelor’s of Nursing from St. Peter’s College.

Class of 1992

Chief Ed Kerr

As the Police Chief of a resort shore town, I have had many new challenges arise during this pandemic. We always increase our staff to patrol the beaches once they open for the season. However, with the Monmouth County Police Academy closed, many of these officers are not available. This has meant longer hours and many schedule adjustments for our force.

Another challenge is keeping my officers as safe as possible. The simplest of protocols, such as procedures for responding to a First Aid call, all had to be revised to include new safety measures to keep our officers and the public safe.

This weekend will bring one of our biggest challenges yet. With the opening of our beaches and the lifting of the parking ban, we are expecting an influx of visitors. The hope is that people will be responsible and take it upon themselves to “social distance.” Protecting the public has always been our job as Police Officers, but this pandemic has brought to light the importance of protecting everyone’s health.

Class of 2006

Dr. Mohit Mody

It’s an honor to care for patients and their families and to help them navigate through these very challenging times. I am fighting for the hope that someday we can overcome this and get back to our normal lives in which we don’t take the small things for granted. Healthcare professionals everywhere are stepping up instead of backing down. Greatly appreciate the outpouring of love and support from communities all around the world.

Class of 2006

Kate Motylinski

I’m a Mother/Baby nurse at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. The past few months have definitely been challenging. When this all began, there wasn’t much testing happening and we, the nurses, were at risk due to the lack of PPE and the unknown COVID status of the patients we were caring for. Nurses I work with were testing positive themselves, so I decided to send my husband and 2 year old son to live with my in-laws for a little over 2 weeks to keep them safe and to give me time to come up with a system of disinfecting before coming home. Being away from them was absolutely the most challenging part. Now, all mothers that come into Labor and Delivery get tested. All COVID positive moms are assigned to one nurse to keep our healthy moms safe and prevent cross contamination. PPE supplies are increasing and fortunately the number of covid + patients are decreasing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! I encourage everyone to take proper precautions and not be too eager to jump outside as soon as we get the green light! I’m keeping my entire SM family in my prayers – we will get through this!

Class of 1984

Mayor Frank Nunziato

I was honored to be elected Mayor of Rutherford this past November and it has been a privilege to witness my hometown’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic first-hand. The speed and agility with which our government, police and first responders reacted to this unimaginable situation has, in a strange way, reminded me of simpler times at St. Mary High School. As a junior, I was lucky enough to be part of a football team that, with just a handful of players and against all odds, worked together to win more games than anyone would have predicted. That year taught me the importance of teamwork and how the right players, with the right work ethic, can make a seemingly impossible situation possible. These past two months, Rutherford has filled me with the same pride I once found as a Gael. I’d like to thank all the players who have been part of my “team” since March and look forward to the happy times yet to come.

Class of 1982

Ann West Mueller

As the Clinical Coordinator in ICU, I have been working on the Frontlines of the Covid-19 Pandemic at Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center. This has been the most challenging time in my career as a nurse. I have been responsible for coordinating care for the patients in the ICU unit as well as other units that were opened up by the hospital to care for Covid-19 patients. Working throughout this pandemic wearing PPE, trying to keep in contact with the families of patients, and supporting my staff throughout this time has been most difficult for me. This has been a stressful time for all of us on the Frontlines as a result of the long hours, social distancing/staying apart from our families, as well as caring for a colleague who has been afflicted with the virus. It is also amazing to see how through these difficult times we all have come together to reach out and help one another. To all of those men and women on the Frontlines I say “Thank You!” We will get through this together!

Class of 2002

Danielle Fox Fry

Danielle works as a nurse practitioner at NYU Langone Medical Center, in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit. In that role, Danielle has been working with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to directly treat COVID-19 patients. Danielle earned a Bachelors in Nursing from Felician College in 2007, a Masters of Nursing from NYU in 2012, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice from NYU in 2019. She is a member of the SMHS Class of 2002.

Class of 2004

Meghan Florio

Meghan is a 2004 graduate of St. Mary High School. She is an oncology nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Bergen. She has been working on the frontline, administering cancer treatment to her patients, some of whom have also been diagnosed with Covid-19. Meghan has been working diligently during the pandemic, continuing to give her patients necessary oncology treatments and protect them from the virus.

Cheryl Forst / Class of 1974
Class of 1974

Cheryl Forst

To all my colleagues, for all the lives you touch every day. It is a calling, a career, and a blessing to have been chosen to do this job! I am honored to be a nurse! During the pandemic I am working at Rutgers, The State University of NJ as the Director of Human Subjects Protection Program – I have been busy assisting with fast tracking the COVID-19 research studies to get approval for testing, treatments, and data collection keeping the study participants safe and protecting them from any harm is my main objective. I report to Hackensack Medical Center as a Nursing Supervisor a few evenings a week where I help resolve matters with patients, nursing staff and families of the COVID-19 patients. It is sad and difficult most days. Wearing the PPE for 8-10 hours is tough, but I am staying safe. I report to the command center to coordinate care and staff. We hold on to the happy moments when patients are released home and on their way to recovery.

Catherine Hanlon, MD '75
Class of 1970

Catherine Hanlon, MD

It has been a difficult six weeks working ER during the epidemic. Aside from the physical fatigue of working 12 hour shifts in all the personal protection gear, the social isolation from not being around family and friends – our typical coping mechanisms – have added to the stress. Watching other doctors and nurses contract the illness has been emotionally difficult, although any staff members who have contracted the virus have to my knowledge recovered. I read with sadness the passing of Pete DeLuise ’74 from COVID. As of now the numbers are decreasing – the curve is not just flattening it’s going down! I am hoping in the next 2-4 weeks it will continue to improve and we can start resuming our lives in June, even if we have to continue to mask and glove in public for a while. I am encouraged by how well everyone has helped the staff and community by pulling together in these times. Why is it that it takes the worst to bring out our best….? Stay safe, this too shall pass.

Class of 1998

Caroline Clark

As a Clinical Nurse Specialist in an Oncology setting, I’ve been coordinating essential cancer care and supporting nursing staff in infection control policy and procedures to keep patients and staff safe. We are extremely grateful that you are helping to flatten the curve.

Meet the SMHS faculty who are enabling our students to continue learning

Educators are heroes too

Meet the SMHS faculty who are enabling our students to continue learning

Educators are heroes too

Guidance Department

Ann Georgetti

As the Director of Guidance, I have been at St. Mary High School for 23 years. I never imagined in my career that my dining room table would become my new office along with a laptop. My hours of working extended beyond the normal school day as I needed to follow through with students after their virtual classes had ended. It was a positive experience for me as I was able to connect with students and their parents over the past three months. This time at home helped to strengthen the relationship between the counselor, student, and parent. If a student was experiencing something going on at home pertaining to their studies, I was easily able to reach out to them. An important part of this experience was becoming closer to my colleagues as I worked them when needed.

Since we were in the middle of scheduling when the pandemic closed school, I had to schedule virtual meetings with most of my students and their parents. It was nice to be able to see them and to discuss their future plans for the next academic year. The parents welcomed the opportunity to be present for a meeting since they had been at work in the past. We were able to speak in a relaxed atmosphere without bells going off or phones ringing.

The most challenging aspect was preparing the students for their AP Exams. These exams were always administered in school during a 3 hour period in late spring . Because of the situation, our AP students were going to take their exams remotely at home in a 45 minute period without any supervision. I had to prepare by watching webinars and then sharing the necessary information with students taking AP exams. The students were resilient and adapted with little problems.

I am looking forward to being back in school with the students in September to resume some type of new normalcy.

Maintenance Department

Rob Christie

Robert Christie has been the maintenance person at St. Mary for the last 10 years.

During the unprecedented times of the Coronavirus pandemic, Rob has come in every day, working hard to keep our schools and church safe.

His uplifting personality and sense of humor has been a positive presence while keeping our buildings ready for when our students, staff, and parishioners are able to return to our St. Mary family.

English Department

Kathleen Lucas

During a regular school day at St. Mary High School, I stand in the hallway in between all classes and greet the students as they pass. It is one of my favorite aspects of teaching because it offers personal connections between myself and the students while incorporating conversation. I continued this practice during our new remote learning way of life. As I took attendance during daily virtual classes, I casually chatted with the students. I learned that a few of my students are excited about the vegetable gardens that they planted with their families in their yards. Many of my students get out for a daily walk with their parents or siblings. Most of my students are helping around the house by babysitting siblings, checking in on family members, cooking meals, or venturing out for groceries. All my students miss their daily sports and activities. Keeping real connections with the students was important to me because we are all in the same situation. They got to know my dog, they learned that I had a noisy full house and they learned that I am a big proponent of getting fresh air! If they missed a virtual class, I followed up with an email to make sure all was well with them. Personal relationships are the cornerstone of St. Mary High School and I look forward to seeing the students and interacting with them again in the hallways!

Main Office Staff

Pat DeMarco '74 & Judy Moretti

As the main office personnel here at St. Mary High School, we are always busy. Throughout the pandemic, we have been here answering phones and e-mails, registering new students for the incoming freshman class, and reregistering the current students. It is important to us that even though the school has gone virtual for the moment, that we look to the future and keep St. Mary High School going strong. We have been helping the Guidance Department, the teachers, and assisting the Alumni Affairs Office with all of their needs. Although it is really quiet here (we do miss the students and their parents), the paperwork never stops.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020. We are sure you will make us proud and rise to the challenges that lie ahead.

Math Department

Joseph Nitti

As a math teacher at St. Mary High School, I have one of the tougher subjects to teach. It can be hard to learn new material in person, but you always can ask questions and the ability to come during lunch or after school for extra help. All of that changed a few months ago. When we switched to online learning, it became a lot harder to teach the material. I do not have a whiteboard in my house that I can write out equations. At first, I recorded my lessons and uploaded them to Google Classroom. I eventually started using Google Meet to hold virtual classes but when I presented the equations, but it was hard for some students to see, especially for one of my students who went home to Korea (and has a 13 hour time difference). Through all the struggles, my students have persevered and shown that they are up for any challenge. They are a fantastic group of students who have endured so much in a short amount of time and continue to rise to the occasion.

English Department

Ryan Vettoso '10

Since sixth grade, teaching was a dream of mine. Part of my mission was to return to St. Mary High School, where I established my roots. St. Mary is deeper than a job. For me, St. Mary has been my life. I started playing CYO at Saint Mary in third grade. I attended high school for four years, and returned to teach after college. Currently, I teach junior and senior English. I couldn’t be happier about teaching high school students.

I had amazing teachers at St. Mary. Some of them today are my coworkers. I envisioned myself as the teacher, mentor, and coach that I was privileged to have for four years. The connections I’ve made will last a lifetime. That is what St. Mary is all about. Our close knit community is something that we are proud of. Alums always return and we all consider ourselves family.

Science Department

Vanesa Formoso

As I began my online teaching adventure, I started to think about what we could do as a school community to make this difficult situation special and unique for our senior class. Since the seniors were missing out on their final week of school, myself, and other members of the SMHS faculty decided to create “Virtual Senior Week: Quarantined Edition.” We hoped this would create memories that would last a lifetime. Throughout senior week, the faculty and staff recorded motivational video messages that were sent daily to the Class of 2020 and uploaded to the high school’s website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube pages. The faculty made a collage of the seniors’ portraits, reminisced about the best moments they remembered from the Class of 2020, created superlatives for each senior, and gave them some important adulting/college advice for the future. In addition, the senior class was given activities to participate in throughout the week. Some examples of these activities were to take part in a virtual scavenger hunt, pajama day, student bloopers photo reels, college major day, SM spirit day, and college gear day.

The senior class’ participation and response was extraordinary. Students sent in tons of their funniest pictures, scavenger hunt entries, college acceptances, and more to be shared with the entire SMHS community through our social media channels.

Physical Education Department

Jamie LoBue

Distance learning for Physical Education class has been a blessing and a curse. A curse because I miss the George Vuyosevich gymnasium and teaching students games, activities and skills. But a blessing because I have been able focus on a teaching philosophy of mine. My goal every year is to instill in students a love for life long physical activity, and self-discipline in completing daily workouts.

In addition to Physical Education class, Exercise Club has been running two days each week. We meet on Google Meets and work out together with the same exercise routines. At the end of each session, we discuss our mental health status, the work outs and life in general while social distancing and staying home. It’s a little escape for all of us and great way to connect through physical activity.

I am so thankful to be a teacher and a coach at St. Mary High School. Our students, faculty, staff and administration have been and continue to be encouraging and supportive during this time.

Art Department

Jennifer Walk-Downs

Teaching Art and Graphic Design online is exciting but very challenging.

My art students have explored art history, photography, and continue their weekly sketch assignments. However now, they are presenting their artwork to the class virtually. For their current assignment, my students are constructing 3D Houses out of recycled materials. Since students might not have any basic materials, I created a fun tutorial video about how to build their structures without scissors, tape, glue, or any other type of adhesives.

My Graphic Design students do not have access to Photoshop, but that doesn’t stop them! Whether on their laptops, tablets, or smart phones, my students are creating wonderful projects using free online design and animation programs.

Science Department

Ken Tousignant

Here I am at my home workstation teaching six different science and math courses! All of my classes have had a slightly different experience and it’s a challenge turning labs and activities into online work, but the students have been doing a great job of reminding me how fulfilling it is to be a teacher at SM!

Math Department

Theresa Buckley

Being a teacher in a time of distance learning has brought with it an entirely new dynamic of instruction, connectivity, and assessing students. Having to learn programs like Google Classroom and Google Meet on the fly proved a difficult challenge at first, but after a week of working throughout them from home, I was able to create a smoothly-operating virtual classroom. In order to provide a sense of normalcy with my students, I also would go to St. Mary throughout the week and present my lectures from my empty classroom. I also bought a large-sized white board and installed it in my dining room so that I could administer lessons from home. Using Google Meet to stay in touch with students both as a class and individually has helped me keep on-task and connected with my kids. This has helped me maintain a connection with them but also provide some direct instruction which is oftentimes lacking in distance-learning. I will say a disproportionate amount of time has been spent on creating assessments for students like homework assignments, quizzes, and tests, as going to a virtual classroom has required a wider variety of assessments.

Technology Coordinator

As the Technology Coordinator for St. Mary High School, it was important to find the right software that enabled our students to continue receiving an education remotely. When I first started at SMHS in 2017, one of the first projects I undertook was transitioning the faculty and students to Google Apps for Education. When we received word that we were going to begin remote instruction, the foundation for everything we would need was already in place.

Our students receive and turn in their assignments through Google Classroom, our teachers can hold virtual classes through Google Meet, and we can record our meetings for students who were not able to attend the session. While these are great substitutes in these tough times, they cannot replace human interaction. I miss seeing my colleagues, and most importantly, I miss seeing the students. Your generosity over the years has allowed me to meet some wonderful students in my time here at St. Mary.

I hope that you all stay safe and healthy. As Mike said in his previous email, “Tough times don’t last; tough people do.” Go Gaels!