Auxilium School closing after 41 years

Institution touched many lives, leaves fond memories

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  • Charlie Lauzon with Sister Lou Ann. (Charlie is now at Pope John High School) Photos provided

  • Hailey Foster when at preschool at the Auxilium School shows off a project. Hailey is now a stand out softball and basketball player at Kittatinny Middle School

  • Donna Foster, Danielle DeStefano, and Hailey Foster at The Auxilium School (The girls are now in seventh grade at Kittatinny Middle School)

  • Mia Lauzon's grandfather enjoyed taking her to The Auxilium School. (Mia is now an eighth grader at Kittatinny Middle School)

By Laurie Gordon

Early memories, for many, come from preschool days when, like it or not, you are set free from Mom and Dad for a few hours to learn new things and make new friends. The impressions made by teachers in these formative years are of the utmost importance, and when it comes to the Auxilium School, there are too many fond memories and prayers of thanks to count on a rosary. Now, after 41 years, the beloved school run by nuns will be closing its doors on June 13.

Since 1977, the Auxilium School has provided exceptional education and Catholic formation to families and children of Sussex County. The Salesian Sisters cited “decreased enrollment and financial constraints” as their reasons for having to close the school.

Donna Foster's now 12-year-old daughter, Hailey, went to the Auxiliium School. Donna said, “It’s so sad! It really was an awesome place. Hailey learned so much there before going into kindergarten! It truly gave her a jump start into the coming years. I am so sad to see this incredible school closing their doors.”

Said Gretchen Lauzon, "My children did preschool and kindergarten there. It was heaven on earth. I'm heartbroken it is closing.” She added “ I'm sorry for those who will not get to experience the magic.”

Michelle San Giacomo, of Blairstown, said, “Such sad news, my children loved it there. There are just so many memories."

It began with someone who listened

Teachers, at all levels of curriculum, urge their students to pay attention, and in the case of the birth of the Auxilium School, it was a teacher who did the listening. Before the school there was the summer camp, Camp Auxilium. Sister Mary Rinaldi, camp directress for six years, was exceptionally attentive to the concerns of the parents from the summer camp. She began to ask parents if they would find it beneficial for the Sisters to remain at Auxilium year-round. The answer was a firm yes.

“At the same time, word came that the Head Start program for pre-kindergarten children was looking for a temporary place for its students for the school year 1978-1979,” Sister Mary said, noting that the school's beginning is chronicled ina book by the late Sister Josephine Carini titled "The Yes Lives On."

Sister Mary found the answer to the parent’s concerns. She became director of the Heart Start program.

The Sisters taught 80 children at Camp Auxilium. The following year, Head Start found its own quarters, but the venture was such a success that, in two short years, the camp was transformed into a year-round facility. In 1979, Camp Auxilium Learning Center became a reality.

Sister Lou Ann Fantauzza said, “Under the guidance of Sister Mary (and under its original name 'Camp Auxilium Learning Center'), the Center flourished with the assistance of dedicated teachers and supportive parents. After beginning with 29 children, it eventually rose to 340 youngsters between the ages of three and Kindergarten. The Sisters always had their ears and hearts attuned to the needs of the families that they served and responded to these needs with energy and enthusiasm.”

After thirteen years under Sister Mary's guidance, the leadership torch was passed on to Sister Lou Ann who guided the Center for the next eighteen years. Following in the model of Sister Mary's leadership, the Center continued to serve the needs of these young children with the continued support and friendship of the parents and local community.

“During all these years of service, Camp Auxilium Learning Center had, as its goal, the formation and education of young children in the Salesian-style of walking with the young and their families,” Sister Lou Ann said. “It was always about the children, and the entire program revolved around their needs and the needs of their families.”

Sister Lou Ann continued. “At Camp Auxilium Learning Center, we prayed with the young, played with the young, learned with the young, and even ate with the young. Although the 'official' day began at 7 am, due to the needs of the working parents, some of the children would be dropped off as early as 6:30 am. Our Chapel was located adjacent to the Big Hall where drop-off was. The parents would come into the hall, settle their child's belongings, and then direct the child to the chapel. Irrespective of where we were at Mass, the children would enter the chapel with great smiles on their faces, walk over to one of the Sisters, and peacefully sit on their laps for the remainder of their prayer time. After Mass, the little ones would lead the way from the Chapel to our dining room and, in a very relaxed manner, join us for breakfast.”

She added, “Very often, especially during the winter months of inclement weather, a child's parent would be late (after 6 pm) to pick up their child because they were held up in Route 80 traffic. A simple solution for the Sisters: bring the child to dinner with us and have them join us in the meal. A young child, in a different environment, with four or five adults, might be a frightening experience for the child. Not at Camp Auxilium Learning Center. The child would come into the dining room, be waited on by each of the Sisters present and have a delicious meal with them. Finally, the doorbell would ring, and a very frazzled Mom or Dad would arrive, apologizing all the way for being late, only to be greeted by smiling Sisters enjoying cookies and milk with their son or daughter. This speaks of the 'family spirit' that permeated the service offered the children and families of the school.”

On snow days, when Camp Auxilium Learning Center would be closed due to the weather, the Sisters opened for those who needed childcare.

“Why not?,” said Sister Lou Ann. “The Sisters lived on site, so if the parents needed us, we were there for them. Perhaps two to three children would come, and their parents would be notified to bring their 'snow' clothes with them: boots, gloves, snow suits, etc. The Sisters would take turns being with the children.”

After watching cartoons and having breakfast, they would go to the Big Hall, classrooms, computer room, etc. Then, one of the Sisters would make soup and sandwiches and join the children for lunch all together.

Sister Lou Ann said, “Nice and warm, they would bundle up and go out to play in the snow."

What now?

The summer camp arm of the facility, Camp Auxilium, will continue its day program that serves local girls ages four through 14 and boys four through 12. This summer, the camp season will extend to a nine-week program beginning on June 18 and ending on August 17.

Said Sam Lupo, of Stillwater, “While receiving sad news about our kids pre-school, it was unbelievable to see how we all looked to each other for ideas on where to send our kids to keep them together.”

Carol Fredericks, of Newton, sent all three of her children to the Auxilium School. She said, "Since we are so rural, my husband and I decided to enroll them there three times a week to be social with other children. They were well taken care of physically, mentally and spiritually. We met so many great people, many of whom are still good friends to this very day. Sister Mary, Sister Lou Ann and the staff were family. Closing day wil be a sad one. Thank you to all of the good Sisters, teachers and staff.”

Michele Kosmos Chaffe, who grew up in Newton and now resides in Parsippany, said, "The Auxilium School has given me lifelong friends. I'm 36 years old and I still talk with my preschool friends. It has a very special place in my heart. My first school days were with Sister Mary Louise in 1985. After graduating Kindergarten with Sister Claire, I came back as a camper for years, and a counselor. Thank you to all the teachers and sisters who have changed lives for decades.”

In a statement released by the Auxilium School, the Salesian Sisters said that they look forward to “re-purposing the property” and exploring new ways to serve young people in Sussex County on this site.”

Soon the school that that sits atop the hill at 14 Old Swartswood Road, and has been near and dear to the hearts of so many children and parents, will be no more. The memories, however, can not be shut down as the alumni and parents have forged valuable friendships and irreplaceable recollections.

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