Lining the walls of the long corridor are black and white and colored photos of each of the Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School classes that have graduated from the Catholic elementary school. As it celebrated its 65th anniversary, on Friday, Reverend Brown ensures sure each student and class not only grows in the classroom, but also leaves a legacy that has helped shape the school to what it is today.
“We’re thrilled to be celebrating our school’s illustrious history,” Reverend Brown Principal Patricia Klebez said. “I’m honored to be the principal of Reverend Brown after 65 years of it being open. Reverend George Brown had a vision for this school before it opened in 1954 and to see it still existing as a vibrant, thriving institution that is continuing the mission of what Catholic schools are all about is amazing.”
Pope John XXIII Regional High School President Monsignor Kieran McHugh said he's delighted to be associated with the school.
“Reverend Brown has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the latest movements in academic teachings and technology while never forgetting the core values of our Catholic beliefs," he said.
Reverend Brown became the first Catholic school in Sussex County since 1896, when it opened its doors on Sept. 20, 1954. Before the school officially opened, Reverend Brown was going to be a parish school operated under Our Lady of the Lake Church. But, the pastor at the time, Reverend George Brown, had passed away on July 1, 1954 at 55 years old. With the sad departure of the visionary for the school, Bishop McNulty, the bishop of the Diocese of Paterson at the time, suggested the school be named after Reverend Brown instead of it being named after a parish like every other school in the Diocese.
Not only did Reverend Brown’s name live on, but also the mission he helped plan for this school to succeed.
“We are about shaping the whole child academically, socially, emotionally, and physically while wrapping it around our faith,” said Klebez, who is in her fourth year as Reverend Brown’s principal. “I feel very blessed to follow in Reverend Brown’s footsteps.”
When the school opened, over 200 children, not only from Our Lady of the Lake, but also from the neighboring parishes of Franklin, Sussex, Ogdensburg, Newton, Branchville, and Milton were registered for their first year of Catholic education under the care and guidance of four Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. The Benedictine tradition continues to be a part of the school today.
This is due to the dedication of Monsignor Charles C. Cassidy, who was the pastor for Our Lady of the Lake for more than 20 years, Monsignor Kieran McHugh, who has worked alongside the school while being the president and/or principal of Pope John XXIII High School for the last 49 years, and Rev. David McDonnell, the current pastor at Our Lady of the Lake.
“It has been a real force in the community,” said Pat Fitzgibbons, whose father was one of Reverend Brown’s closest friends and whose sister and brother both graduated from the school in 1959 and 1964, respectively.
"We have miracles happening here all the time,” said Lucia McKeeby, who is currently one of three fourth-grade teachers for the school.
Klebez also said she will enjoy talking to the students about the photos of the graduating classes that are on the walls of the main hallway while tying in a reference from the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society,” starring the late Robin Williams.
“There is a long wall of students pictured who came before our current students," Klebez said. "If they look and listen closely to those pictured, what are they whispering to our students? I would hope the same message as in the movie, 'Carpe diem.'"