In the early 1960s, the parish priest of Saint Mary Church, Monsignor Robert T. Bulman had a vision for Catholic secondary education. The only neighboring Catholic high school was overcrowded, and the newly founded Catholic Academy was beyond the reach of many young families with growing children. Supported by parents and parishioners, Monsignor Bulman made the daunting decision to establish a Catholic high school in the parish. In March of 1961, his vision became a reality when the parish purchased the sixty-acre James Grigg Farm on Cherry Tree Road in the New Monmouth section of Middletown, New Jersey.
“Mater Dei”—Latin for Mother of God—was chosen as the name of the new high school. Mother M. Bede from the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Holy Name Province, Stella Niagara was appointed the first principal of Mater Dei. Working closely with Monsignor Bulman, she laid the foundations of discipline and learning which continue today as the hallmarks of a Mater Dei education.
In July 2010, the name of the school was changed to “Mater Dei: A Catholic Preparatory School.” The new name reflected the long tradition of challenging academic programs. It also spoke to the innovative leadership development and community service opportunities offered at the school. With the name change, the school began a partnership with Seton Hall University and other colleges, enabling students to graduate high school with transferrable college credits.
After facing closure by the parish in the spring of 2015, a group of alumni developed a plan to address the school’s long-term viability through privatization. On July 1, 2015, Mater Dei Prep opened as a new entity—a private, Catholic high school with 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Mater Dei Prep is now managed by an independent Board of Trustees acting as fiscal and operational stewards over the school, with the Diocese of Trenton providing ecclesiastical guidance. Principal Debra Serafin currently provides educational leadership for Mater Dei Prep.
For over fifty years, Mater Dei Prep has attracted talented students who recognize the unique learning opportunities our school provides. In an increasingly secular world, these students understand attending Catholic high school is not the easy choice. As founder Monsignor Bulman wrote in 1986, “Many who have sacrificed so much for young people, myself included, are heartened to see that today’s youth, upon whom our future depends, are opting to take the less traveled road, and it makes all the difference.” At Mater Dei Prep, those words continue to ring true today.