Josh Bower of Millville (left) and Drew Mesiano of Vineland sit in the gym bleachers before graduation Monday at Sacred Heart High School.

VINELAND — Sacred Heart High School graduated its last senior class — ever — during what officials said was perhaps the most emotional awarding of diplomas in the school’s 86-year history.

Senior speakers on Monday promised to keep Sacred Heart alive in spirit.

Longtime faculty members were at times overcome with emotion.

And when members of the school’s senior choir sang “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles, many of the people inside Sacred Heart Church clapped and sang along.

Charles Ottinger, the school’s last principal and a 1967 Sacred Heart graduate, broke down when the student body gave him a commemorative plaque that read in part “Many hearts. One spirit.” Ottinger told those assembled in the church that “it’s so hard to say goodbye.”

Teacher Keith Jones, who ended a 36-year career at the school at Landis and East avenues, got his wish to have the last word at the last graduation.

“We cared about these kids,” Jones said on behalf of the teachers and other staff members who worked at Sacred Heart over the decades. “We have tried to do what is best for them, because we want them to succeed. How do you lose something so great?”

Officials with the Diocese of Camden said the school would close at the end of this academic year because its enrollment was not big enough to justify continuing operations. Sacred Heart had only 168 students this academic year. Recruitment efforts resulted in only 23 youths to replace the 53 students who graduated Monday.

During Monday’s graduation, valedictorian Katherine O’Rourke, of Vineland, said her speech that it’s “a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye.”

“Our class endured,” she said of this school year. “Our last year meant more to us than any other.”

Sacred Heart may be closing, but the memories and its values will remain, O’Rourke said.

“It will live on forever in the hearts and minds of this community,” she said.

Salutatorian Kimberly Sansalone, of Pittsgrove Township, asked, “How do you say goodbye to a place you never want to say goodbye to?’’

“Please never forgot where you came from,” she told her graduating classmates. “Sacred Heart will continue in spirit through all of us. In that way, we will all keep Sacred Heart alive.”

Seniors who gathered in the school’s gymnasium to prepare for the graduation ceremonies said they realized the uniqueness of the evening. They said they had mixed emotions about being members of the last graduating class, and hugged each others as they put on gowns and mortarboards.

“It’s very bittersweet,” said Mia Klekos, of Vineland. “It’s exciting to start a new chapter of our lives, but sad to see my school come to an end.”

Abigail Bencie, who also lives in Vineland, said she feels sorry for the Sacred Heart students who will never have the honor of graduation from the school.

The evening was emotional for others Sacred Heart graduates, such as local resident Josephine Jordan Walker, 82, who graduated in 1948.

“It’s like breaking up a family,” she said.

List of graduates

Kevin M. Allen, Jr.

Samantha Ann Gaudio

Matthew Robert Joseph Anderson

Ayla Danielle Gentiletti

Tyler Michele Aulffo

Genevieve Vivian Giovinazzi

Nedim Aydin, Jr.

Ashley Kristine Gonzalez

Patrice Basada

Nathaniel Carmen Jones

Abigail Elizabeth Bencie

Mia Elizabeth Klekos

Alexander Jeffrey Bezak

Anthony Joseph Langdon

Christina M. Bianco

Tyler William Lavender

Joshua Charles Bowker

Khyle E. Lee-Williams

Amanda M. Buirch

Raquan Demetrus Loatman

Monica Canglin

Andrew J. Magazzu

Samantha Lynn Caterina

Theo Mercurio

Victoria Lynn Caterina

Drew Vincent Mesiano

Marcello Edward Cavallo III

Joseph Michael Mezzatesta

Angela Noelle Christaldi

Colette Ruth Kelly-Orlandini

Vincenzo F. Criniti

Katherine Rose O'Rourke

Ciaran Michael Williams Custer

Dylan Pierson

Justin Daniel DeRossi

Christopher A. Repice

Justin Thomas Dickenson

Theresa Elizabeth Riordan

Zachary Anthony Donato

Mary Alicia Rotelle

Jonathan R. Donnelly

Chandler Kyle Sammartino

Lindsay Rose Dwyer

Kimberly Alice Sansalone

Elaine Marie Almeda Esteron

Arin Christian Scalfo

Brooke Elizabeth Farside

Gabriella Francesca Sorantino

Alyssa Ferrucci

Steven Steigerwalt

Michael Ferdinando Galzerano

Ryan Steven Veltman

Ivana Vinnick


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