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High School Essay Contest

2022 Essay Contest – The Legacy of Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley: Reflection and Action in Catholic Education

The Department of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University is pleased to invite students to participate in its annual Catholic High School Essay Contest. The competition is open to all students enrolled in grades 9-12 in New Jersey Catholic high schools. This year's essay contest is focused on the legacy of Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley in New Jersey's Catholic schools today.

April 28, 2022, marks the 180th anniversary of the conversion of James Roosevelt Bayley to Catholicism. The former Episcopal minister, of a prominent New York family, had been called to conversion through his work among poor Irish immigrants and through his collaboration with the Catholic priests in Harlem, and he was encouraged in his conversion by his cousins, the children of St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton. After three years of prayer and discernment, he was received into the Church at Chiesa del Gesù in Rome, a Jesuit church, in the Room of St. Ignatius, after attending the Spiritual Exercises. Clearly, the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola supported his conversion.

Bayley’s life would have been remarkable just for his conversion—from Episcopal minister to Catholic layperson, at a time when and in a place where such conversions were not the norm. However, Bayley proceeded to seek formation for the Catholic priesthood. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of New York in 1844, consecrated the first bishop of Newark in 1852, installed as the archbishop of Baltimore in 1872. What Bishop Bayley did during his time in New Jersey set the trajectory of Catholic life in New Jersey, and the effects of his work and ministry are still felt today.

For 20 years, Bishop Bayley devoted himself to Catholic education in New Jersey. He encouraged religious orders to establish houses in New Jersey, and he himself founded Seton Hall College (now University) and Immaculate Conception Seminary. The demand for seminary education grew, and he eventually was instrumental in founding the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He is known for saying: "In our present position, the schoolhouse has become second in importance to the House of God itself…[our ambition is to have] every Catholic child in the state in a Catholic school." Bishop Bayley’s work laid the foundation for Catholic education's outreach to children of all faiths, from preschool through the graduate level. All the while, Bishop Bayley followed his own spiritual exercises each day, dedicating himself to integrity and practicing his own Rule of Life. He continually practiced interior reflection, much as did St. Ignatius Loyola, whose legacy we celebrate in a special way during this Ignatian Year.

Reflecting on the life and legacy of Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley gives us an opportunity to consider what values and practices can make Catholic education in New Jersey successful. Students are invited to write essays in response to the following prompt: How has your experience as a student in a Catholic school in New Jersey shown you that, "the schoolhouse has become second in importance to the House of God itself"? What specific values should Catholic schools support in order to make Catholic education successful in the 21st century? For Catholic schools, what is success? How have interior reflection and social action, both of which are central to Bishop Bayley’s legacy, shaped your view of Catholic education?

The author of the winning essay will receive a $300 gift card and certificate, and the two runners-up will each receive a $150 gift card and certificate. All three winners will be honored at the annual Catholic Studies Honor Society induction and reception at Seton Hall University on April 26, 2022, at 5 p.m. in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Students will be allowed to bring two guests to the reception, and the winning essay will be read aloud at the reception by its author. The three winning essays will also appear in the magazine Arcadia: A Student Journal for Faith and Culture, which is published by the Catholic Studies Program.

The essay submission requirements can be found here

Submit Your Essay Here

Online and Hard Copy Submission Requirements

Each high school must submit no more than five essays. Each essay will be evaluated for originality, execution, and adherence to the topic and format requirements:

  • Essays must be between 500 and 750 words.
  • Entries must be written in English.
  • Only one entry per student is permitted.
  • All information requested on the submission form must be included.

All essays must be submitted by April 6th, 2022.


Dr. Ines Angeli Murzaku
Professor and Director of Catholic Studies Program
Walsh Library 427
Seton Hall University
400 South Orange Avenue
South Orange, NJ 07079


Gloria Aroneo, M.B.A.
(973) 275-2808