Epiphany principal James Hayes (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
In just a few short weeks the new school year begins. Kids will have new books, software and other educational tools. Some may have a new outfit to wear on the first day of school.
But what the students lucky enough to attend Epiphany will not have this year is Jim Hayes as their principal.
For nearly four decades Jim has been the heart and soul of one of the most successful grade schools in the city… parochial or public. Jim would undoubtedly attribute all the credit to his dedicated teachers, both secular and religious, and he would laud his students and their families, but much of the credit belongs to Jim.
You would see him standing outside the school building on 22nd Street near Second Avenue as the kids arrived each and every day, and then again at the end of the day when they departed. His watchful eye could always spot trouble before it occurred or notice one of his students in distress. Jim made sure that they arrived safely, prepared to learn, and left safely as well. He knew his students by name and most of their parents.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan with Epiphany students during a 125th anniversary event for the school (Photos by Mollie O’Mara)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, made a special appearance at Epiphany Church last weekend to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the parish’s school.
During a mass held on Saturday night, Dolan showered praise on the school, which has been doing well financially, unlike so many other Catholic institutions in New York City, which have seen attendance and interest dwindle.
“For the last three years we have been going through the painful but necessary process of making painful decisions to close and merge schools,” Dolan said.
“As we’re getting somber news, we’re here now talking about a school that works. (Epiphany) not only works but flourishes and prospers as a light in the world. It does my heart good to come here. I needed this.”
After the mass was a reception in which Dolan spent time greeting and hugging the students, parents and parishioners that wanted to meet him, while holding a beer in his hand. He also put his red skullcap on students’ heads when posing for pictures.
“He’s a very warm and caring individual,” said Jim Hayes, who’s been the Epiphany School’s principal for more than 30 years. “He made sure that everyone who wanted to meet him got a chance to talk to him.”
He also called the service by Dolan “beautiful,” adding that it had always been part of plan to have the cardinal be part of the 125th anniversary celebration.
“It was one of the nicest liturgies we’ve had here in a number of years,” said Hayes. “The church was packed and it was a wonderful experience for everybody.”
Monsignor Leslie Ivers with Cardinal Dolan at Epiphany Church
Hayes has known the cardinal for about four years but the principal said that this is the first time the archbishop has lead mass at the church.
Following the service, parishioners and parents attending a reception expressed their appreciation for the school and for Dolan.
“He could open for Bruce Springsteen,” said Michael Gargiulo, who has been a parishioner at the church
for more than 50 years and whose now-grown children went to Epiphany School.
“He’s got a common touch; he’s relatable to people.”
Gargiulo, who moved to the neighborhood when he got married, said he and his wife had initially planned to move again to the suburbs. They never made it out of the city though and both of their kids ended up at Epiphany.
“This was the foundation to build on for a good education,” Gargiulo said. “The best aspect of this school is the involvement of parents and families with the school. That’s what makes it great.”
Ed Maher, who lives in the Lower East Side and currently has a daughter attending the school, said that he comes to Epiphany events for the sense of community.
“We don’t really have a community in our neighborhood downtown so we come up here for that,” he said.
Chris McCartin, who also currently has a child enrolled and lives farther downtown, agreed that the school offers a more small-town experience within New York.
“Coming here (to school events) reminds me of my little town on Long Island,” he said. “It’s a no-nonsense education with a lot of great people.”