Learning Leads to Independence
Our students come to Saint Catherine Academy to learn, to belong, to be recognized. We meet each student where he or she is, helping them to develop their interpersonal and academic skills, and take advantage of vocational experiences—all of which builds life skills needed for greater independence.
“What I really enjoy about singing in the choir is singing together,” says Anna Stowe, a Saint Catherine Academy student who has been part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s Youth Choir (otherwise known as “C4Y”) for the past year and a half. The choir, which boasts more than 120 members, was formed at Bishop Caggiano’s special request to bring youth together in community while cultivating their talents.
Anna, who is 15 (“almost 16”) and an alto, had always enjoyed singing at her school in Chicago. When the family moved to Connecticut a couple of years ago, Anna’s mother Jill contacted the C4Y director, Mary Higgins. Anna met Mrs. Higgins and auditioned with the National Anthem—not an easy song!
“I was a little nervous, but really excited,” said Anna. The next day Mrs. Higgins called to invite her to join.
The choir is a serious commitment, with rehearsals every Tuesday night for an hour and a half. Because members are spread across the Diocese, Mrs. Higgins travels to multiple locations over the week to rehearse in small groups.
At the Christmas concert, Anna was called forward to play the tambourine during a special song. “I watched her walk across the stage,” her mother said. “When Anna joined the choir, I wanted her to be part of the crowd—not treated special—but that she was made extra special at the concert was humbling.” Anna took it all in stride.
This article was posted on the Fairfield County Catholic website.
FAIRFIELD—Every third Friday morning you’ll find a lively group of students and staff from Saint Catherine Academy and volunteers from the Order of Malta engaged in a signature project: the creation of 300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport. (See more photos...)
“This is a project that provides a sense of purpose in multiple ways,” says Helen Burland, executive director, who proposed the community service idea—called “PB&J Fridays”—shortly after she came to Saint Catherine Center. “Our students are on the receiving end of so much service and generosity. We wanted them to experience the joy of giving back as well,” commented Burland. The Order of Malta was a willing partner, as it promotes hands-on involvement in the organizations that they support. Four or five volunteers from the order currently participate each month. The Center has even had guest “chefs,” including Bishop Caggiano.
Students and staff set up long tables in the gym at Saint Catherine Center and Malta volunteers bring in the supplies. The assembly line forms in a familiar symmetry: stacks of bread, peanut butter spreaders, jelly dippers and smoothers, sandwich-cutters, bag-inserters and packagers. Some students help as they can unsealing the sandwich bags and getting them ready. Soon music is playing and the room begins to smell like whole wheat and peanuts. There’s a sense of purpose, but also of fun. You hear a lot of laughter, as well as words of encouragement at every station.
“There’s a role for everyone, whatever their ability,” says Burland. The project helps the students of Saint Catherine Academy learn practical motor skills, as well as the value and importance of patience and teamwork.
“PB&J Day is so good!” says Philip, an Academy student who works the line every month.
The students also have the added benefit of seeing their efforts delivered to others in need. After the sandwiches are prepared, they are loaded into the van and students deliver them to Merton Center, where they are received with gratitude.
“We figure after 11 years, we’ve made more than 30,000 sandwiches,” says Burland. But in a project filled with this much generosity, who’s counting.