Mason Catrambone's heart was set on Camden Catholic High School.

But after the school learned that the Madelyn Catrambone who was accepted last February for September admission had since begun to identify as male, Camden Catholic broke Mason's heart.

"They can't look past what I'm going through, and see me as a human being," says Mason, 14.

"I'm not a transgender . . . entity. I'm not some diabolical plan to impose my transgender evilness on them."

I meet Mason, a bright, friendly kid with a sensational smile, at the Williamstown home he shares with his parents, Frank Catrambone Sr. and Annmarie Kita.

"Camden Catholic changed my life, and I was very, very excited that my kid was going to have the same opportunity," says Frank, a 1971 graduate and owner of a company that books entertainers.

Says Mason's mother, Annmarie Kita, a registered nurse: "It's so sad. Camden Catholic could have tried harder to find a way. We could have made this work."

The family say they told school officials at two August meetings that Mason would be willing to use the restroom in the nurse's office, and change into gym clothes there as well.

They did insist that Mason - who is not yet undergoing any treatment or surgical procedures - be able to wear a boy's uniform.

In other words, they wanted the child they now consider a son to be an openly transgender Camden Catholic student. This would have been a first for the Cherry Hill school, where 750 students are enrolled.

"We couldn't do what they were requesting," principal Heather Crisci says. "It's about the school's Catholic identity."

Adds the Rev. Joseph Capella, director of Catholic identity at the school: "There is Catholic teaching. . . . Pope Francis has spoken to it recently, [about] our belief in natural law.

"Essentially, we believe we are not the creators, and at no point in our lives can we move toward being that," Capella continues.

"Our bodies, and every aspect of our humanity, are a gift we have been asked to steward and protect. We are not the creators. We are the created."

In a later email, Capella added: "By choosing a Catholic school, students and their parents must understand that this means the school environment is shaped by religious beliefs, and behavior is governed accordingly.

"We understand that not everyone will accept or agree with our beliefs, and some will choose another learning environment."

On May 13 - Mason's 14th birthday - he decided to come out to his parents as transgender.

"I've always known something was up about how I felt about myself," says Mason, who as Madelyn had refused to wear pink, or to dress in stereotypically feminine attire.

"I thought I was gay or bisexual or something."

But after having his hair cut boyishly short ("He was always hiding behind his long hair," Annmarie recalls), Mason began to realize that gender, not sexual orientation, was at the root of Madelyn's unhappiness.

"I thought, 'Is this real? I don't want it to be real,' " he recalls. "But I believe I am male. I can't be me as a female."

When Mason came out, "I was in complete disbelief at first," says Annmarie. "Yes, I had my doubts. Could this be from social media, from the reality shows? Could it be that he's just trying to figure things out?

"Nobody wants to see their child hurting," she continues. "After he came out, we talked about it constantly and we didn't stop talking about it. We dealt with it privately, just the three of us - like the Three Musketeers - for a month and a half."

Frank says there was "a mourning period. I was adjusting to [Madelyn] not being around anymore.

"But then I read that transgender children who don't have the support of their parents have a [high] rate of suicide. I heard that, and there was not a choice to make. The only thing to do was to love and support Mason."

As part of that, the couple agreed to honor Mason's desire to speak publicly about his experience.

"We taught Mason that you stand up for yourself, and speak for yourself," says Annmarie.

Mason is frustrated that he did not get a chance to speak to school officials.

"I'm sure the students and teachers there would have loved me," he says.

But if Camden Catholic "is only going to see me as a problem," he says, "then I don't want to be there."

"We never saw him as a problem," Crisci says.

"He's not a problem," Capella adds. "He's a person."

Mason is enrolled in a California-based cyberschool; next fall, he hopes to attend a South Jersey public high school.

"I didn't lose Camden Catholic," he says. "Camden Catholic lost me."

The school also lost the opportunity that I had: to learn from a young person facing what to most of us would be an unimaginable challenge - and is willing to make a leap of faith.

I'm also struck by something Mason says as our interview concludes.

"This was one of the first times I ever got to shake hands with someone who doesn't know me and say, 'Hi, I'm Mason.' " he says.

"That," he adds, beaming, "was really great."

267-815-0975@inqkriordan