Helen Burland, Executive Director, thanked the guests for their support and commitment to the Center over the past 20 years. Bright sunflowers and smiling faces helped to transform the gym into a sanctuary at Saint Catherine Center as more than 125 students and their families, faculty, staff, and friends gathered together on September 22 to celebrate 20 years of service to young people with disabilities. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano was the principal celebrant, along with concelebrants Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown and Center board member, and Msgr. William Scheyd. “How blessed are we that for 20 years we have St. Catherine’s Academy and those who lead it, who see the world differently,” Bishop Caggiano said. “Everyone who comes here is here because they are beloved, first by God and then by His servants who are you and me.” Readers included Charles Chiusano, Chairman of the Center’s Board; Anna Stowe, an Academy student; and Eric Spencer, Director of Education. Erin Aoyama led the congregation in song. The beautiful sunflowers were donated by Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. A reception followed the service. Virginia Dwyer-Aoyama, a volunteer from the Order of Malta who helped coordinate the Mass, posed with her daughter Erin, who led the congregation in song. The bishop expressed appreciation to the Saint Catherine Center Board. “To have a vision is one thing. To make it real is another,” he said. He also recognized Helen Burland, Executive Director, for being the “animator of this entire enterprise,” and thanked the young people of the Center. “You keep our vision clear,” he said. View photos and read more about the event in the article in Fairfield County Catholic.
With freshly painted halls, clean classrooms, and even a new picnic table in the playground, we welcomed students to a new school year at Saint Catherine Academy. View some photos of the first days of school. “I like seeing my friends again. I like that we’ll be doing reading and writing and science—but not math!” said Anna Stowe from Sr. Cheryl’s class. We welcomed two new students—Vincent from Rye, NY, and Antonio from Bridgeport, CT. Patty Loh (pictured at right with her colleagues, Sr. Cheryl Driscoll and Joanne LaPorta) joined the teaching staff. Patty is a certified special education professional with 23 years of experience in special education. She has been associated with the Academy as a substitute teacher and volunteer at our vocational worksites. Patty also has advanced training in the Wilson Reading System, an intensive structured literacy program, and experience in TouchMath, both of which she intends to use in the classroom. “Setting concrete goals is important, so that each student can feel good about what they achieve. I want them to feel a positive atmosphere so that they can grow and thrive,” she said. At the opening Convocation held for all Diocesan teachers and administrators before the first day of school, keynote speaker Dr. Tom Thibodeau inspired our teaching staff with his talk on “The Positive Power of Servant Leadership,” encouraging all to express gratitude and appreciation to their students and colleagues frequently, and to find and share the goodness of each day. “It’s been a wonderful year, and we will be building on our positive experiences,” said Eric Spencer, Director of Education. “We’re looking to enhance our social studies and science curriculum and create more life skills opportunities for our students.
June 5th was a big day for Donte, Jack, and Jennifer, who graduated from Saint Catherine Academy during a special Mass celebrated by Msgr. Robert Weiss. “God gave each of us a different gift,” he said in his homily, “but the same God lives in us all.” He then acknowledged the special gifts each of the graduates had shared with their classmates, praising Jennifer as “the best spreader of peanut butter and a good friend to everyone”; Donte for “a smile that never stops and keeps us happy”; and Jack for “the best bow tie in the room—and when he hugs you, you know you’re loved.” Donte and Jennifer have both at the Academy for 11 years; Jack has been with us for the past year. Msgr. Weiss also thanked the graduates’ parents for the “love with which you’ve accepted this special responsibility.” “We all have a responsibility to bring happiness to this world, even when people are mean,” encouraged Msgr. Weiss. “We have to try to keep loving, knowing how much we are loved by God.” Anna, Jaheim, and Ron gave the readings and intercessions, which were chosen by the graduates. Along with classmates and staff, members of the three families watched proudly as Dr. Steve Cheeseman, Superintendent of the Diocesan Schools, presented the Certificates of Completion. At the end of Mass, Jennifer led the group in singing her signature song, “This Little Light of Mine.” A lunch and individual cakes for each graduate followed the Mass. Donte and Jack will continue in the Center’s Adult Day Program. View the photos
“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
“Who would have guessed that the King of Kings, Jesus the Christ, would be born upon the hay in a stable? God wanted this amazing news to get around.” Saint Catherine Academy welcomed Christmas with music and a lot of love in our annual Christmas Pageant, “The Message of an Angel,” on December 21st. More than 200 family members and friends attended, including Bishop Caggiano, who remarked, “This pageant is the finest homily to show the meaning of Christmas.” There was a role for everyone in the script written by Sr. Eileen Boffa, directed by Sr. Cheryl Driscoll, and assisted by all the Academy teachers and assistants. The Angel Gabriel (Anna) narrated the beloved story, joined by Philip, Jack, Luke, and Ron as shepherds; and Donte beaming as both shining star and one of the three kings along with Fabricio and Frank. The band of angels (Lizabeth, Nyah, and Lindsy) brought tidings of great joy to Mary (Jennifer), Joseph (Jaheim), and the newborn Jesus (beautifully “performed” by Ella). Each student presented their own personal “gift” to Jesus—including “joy,” “helping,” “kindness,” “singing,” “smiling,” “affection,” “friendly,” “a loving heart”—and a rousing “Enthusiasm!” exclaimed by Ron. The event was followed by a reception and visit from Santa, hosted by members of the Order of Malta, and the Knights of Columbus. At the conclusion, Helen asked guests to consider what their gift to Jesus would be this Christmas. “Each of us is an innkeeper,” she said. “You have to decide whether you will make room for Jesus.” It’s a consideration not just for the Christmas season, but for all year. View more photos.
Saint Catherine Academy students and staff were excited to see each other again and get the new academic year rolling, settling into familiar routines and adjusting to new ones. Almost two weeks later we’ve already had our first fire drill—receiving a thumbs-up from the Fairfield Fire Department—and played our first kickball game, evoking big smiles and high-fives at every base. Like new shoots in a garden, there are already signs of individual growth in every class—such as advancing to double-digit addition, starting a new reader, or to learning a new word in sign language. Some students have taken on new roles as leaders in their class, welcoming others and helping when they can. “They are becoming good friends to each other,” said Mrs. LaPorta. Often the most enjoyable moments of the day are in the smallest activities, done together—singing attendance in Mrs. LaPorta’s class; picking out lockers in Sr. Cheryl’s; going to the grocery store for supplies with Mrs. Mitchell’s class; and enjoying a new reading corner with Mrs. McMahon. Mr. Matt is back with music class on Wednesdays, and students have been busy decorating project folders with our new Art teacher, Megan Collins. “It’s been a smooth start,” noted Eric Spencer, our new principal, who has been getting to know everyone, greeting students in the morning, sitting in on classes, and meeting parents in the afternoons as they come to pick up their children. “In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed not only structured learning in the classroom, but daily acts of care and kindness. It’s obvious to me that students feel emotionally safe and nurtured by the staff. This is what makes Saint Catherine Academy such a special place.”
Michael LaBella, recipient of the 2018 Leadership Award, was congratulated by Charles Chiusano (L), Chairman of the Board, and Helen Burland (R), Executive Director. The Annual “Joy and Gratitude” Dinner on June 10th at Fairfield University was hugely successful, attracting nearly 300 guests and raising over $300,000 in much-needed support for Center programs. Michael LaBella, recipient of the 2018 Leadership Award. (Visit our Facebook page to see the photos!) The combination of a great Silent Auction, a unique array of Live Auction experiences, and the generosity of so many donors who raised their hands in the Call for Charity contributed to the event’s success. Funds raised in the Call for Charity will support the development of vocational and social enterprise opportunities for students and adult day participants. Three individuals were recognized for their contributions of time and talent to Saint Catherine: the late Dan Caruso (Community Service); Eileen Blees (Volunteer Service) for facilitating gym class at the Academy the past 10 years; and Michael LaBella (Leadership), for his contribution as a Board member. “It was a great evening in every aspect—the size of the gathering, the quality of the auctions and, of course, the guests,” noted Charles Chiusano, Chairman of the Board. “The food was excellent, and the results are a godsend!” Guests enjoyed the relaxed, summertime atmosphere. Numerous attendees said the event was “the best one ever” for the Center. “This event is like a family reunion for a great cause,” said one guest. “I get to relax, catch up with friends, and support this wonderful organization at the same time.” A special Thank You to all our Dinner Sponsors: Britta and Denis Nayden; GoldPoint Partners; Knights of Columbus Supreme Office; Dian Jennings
Natalie with Brian Farrell (L), Director of Education and Dr. Steve Cheeseman (R) Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Bridgeport “You are the light of the world… your light must shine before others.” Matthew 5 June 12th was a special day for 2018 Saint Catherine Academy graduate Natalie Massaro and her family. A Graduation Liturgy and Mass for Center staff and friends was concelebrated by Monsignor Robert Weiss, a Center Board member, and Rev. Robert Kinnally, Pastor at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan. As he congratulated the proud graduate, Msgr. Weiss focused on the theme of the day’s Gospel from Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world…your light must shine before others.” He spoke to Natalie’s classmates about how important their role was—as friends, fellow students, and individuals with unique gifts. “Each one of you is very special,” he said, “it’s important to remember that.” Brian Farrell, Director of Education, complimented Natalie’s “amazing progress” and described how she has grown in her time at the Academy, both socially and academically. Dr. Steven Cheeseman, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Bridgeport and a Saint Catherine Center Board member, then presented the Certificate of Completion. At a festive lunch reception following the Mass and ceremony, Natalie thanked all her teachers and aides for helping her along the way. She will be attending the Saint Catherine adult day program in the fall.
PLANTSVILLE - The Forty-Third Annual Connecticut State Council of the Knights of Columbus Venerable Father Michael McGivney Award was presented to Helen Burland, Executive Director of Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs on March 25 at the AquaTurf Club in Plantsville, CT. Established in 1975 by the Connecticut Sate Council to honor the ideals of the Order’s founder, Venerable Father McGivney, this award recognizes individuals who throughout their lives have made significant humanitarian, civic and social contributions to their state, church or country. Knights Councils from all over the state were represented at this annual event. Archbishop Daniel Cronin, Archbishop Emeritus of Hartford, offered the Invocation as Knights and their guests totaling over 400 gathered in fellowship. Steve Bacon, State Deputy introduced Burland as a “champion for people with disabilities” and acknowledged her “leadership in the establishment of Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs and continued growth of Saint Catherine Academy. The need to provide quality programming for the most vulnerable among us is easy to overlook. Helen and her team is committed to this and is a reminder to all of us that this is an important mission. ” Although Bishop Frank J. Caggiano was unable to attend, he sent his acknowledgement for Burland. "I give thanks to God for your long and dedicated service to the individuals that you provide service for and their families,” he said in his message. In her acceptance, Burland thanked the Knights for their support of the mission of Saint Catherine Academy and Saint Catherine Center. “You were with us from the start,” she commented. “You set up an endowment scholarship to help in the early years assisting families who wanted their children with disabilities to have access