Although the outdoor venue was different, Saint Catherine Academy Graduation 2020 was no less joyful for this year’s graduates, Ronald Scott and Elise Hilton. The two were celebrated in a ceremony at the Center with immediate family, staff, and a few classmates in attendance. Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown and Center Board Member, led the prayer service and offered a short homily in which he noted that even while the pandemic has taken away so much from many, it has also reminded us of what really matters in life. “You truly see the goodness of people… Certainly today is an example of that as we celebrate Elise and Ronald and the great gift that they are for each one of us, the love and joy they bring us in their own unique ways, reminding us of the preciousness and joy of life.” Lorraine Hilton, Elise’s mother, offered Prayers of the Faithful. After the presentation of diplomas, Eric Spencer, Principal, read words of affirmation from staff about the graduates, noting Elise for her “warm, angelic smile” and Ronald for his “great spirit and enthusiasm.” Ronald was also one of several students recognized by the Diocese with the St. Thomas Aquinas award for academic improvement and exemplifying Gospel values through service to others. In his closing prayer, Msgr. Weiss repeated the message of the scripture reading. “The message today is to be grateful,” he said. “Even in the midst of our darkest moments, to find reasons to be thankful. Certainly this holy place provides reasons for being thankful every day.” The ceremony closed with a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine,” a Saint Catherine Academy tradition. “It was
After the first week of “school at home,” Philip, an Academy student, opened his living room window and called out the name of every person he knew, then exclaimed, “Where are you?!” Philip’s question embodies the need we all feel to stay connected, now more than ever. When the decision was made to close the Center four weeks ago, staff quickly regrouped to find ways for our students and young adults to continue to progress academically and maintain their living skills while at home. Academy teachers and assistants have been reaching out regularly to individual families with lesson plans and suggestions for adapting material and activities at home. Students are completing worksheets, exercising, and trying out recipes sent out by their teachers. For students who do not have access to a printer, teachers are mailing packets to their homes. “We’re following each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as much as possible,” said Eric Spencer, Director of Education. “It’s been helpful for our students and their families just to hear a teacher’s familiar voice on the phone, checking in.” In the Adult Program, each of the 15 Direct Service Professionals (DSP) have taken one or two young adults on a rotating basis for the duration of the home stay. They call or FaceTime each day, talking with participants about what they have been doing, and sometimes sharing photos. Like the students, participants have been doing their ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), practicing their letters, watching movies, and talking to grandparents on Zoom. From her “home office,” Brady Cronin, Director of the Adult Program, also sends each family a daily schedule of activities for their young adult to help keep the structure of the day as similar
“Motivated by Faith and Committed to this Incredible Community”: A Message from Helen Burland, Executive Director
March 26, 2020 Dear Friends of Saint Catherine Center and Saint Catherine Academy, As an organization with a mission to lift up all regardless of abilities, these have been very humbling times for all of us. Initially, it seemed that we would be able to continue to serve our students and young people with some modest restrictions. Then came the realization that this was not going to be possible and we made the very difficult decision to close the Center to provide for the health and safety of our students and adult participants, many of whom are medically fragile and our staff and their families. We recognize the extraordinary burden that this places on our families and our limitations to ease that burden. But motivated by faith and committed to the incredible community at St. Catherine’s, we have rallied! What have we put into action? We are providing education and program resources daily to our families to help bridge the time and maintain important skills through daily communication. We have offered the personal touch of phone contact to get better assessment of needs. We have recorded and shared stories with some key staff; we have shared music therapy videos through YouTube and we have offered art projects that are simple and home-based. We have created a new section on our website which offers all of these resources in one place. We have made a commitment to our staff that there will be no layoffs or furloughs through April and we will review on a month-to-month basis. We are caring for each other; praying for each other; supporting our learning community in ways we never thought of before. All of this is possible because we have
"When we started the Library Program back in 2008, the idea was for the children to experience and enjoy books read out loud and learn to feel comfortable in a library,” said volunteer Virginia Dwyer-Aoyama. “Going to the local library is an ordinary life experience; we wanted Saint Catherine students to have that.” Virginia had been approached by Jeanie Tisdale, who was then Area Chair of the Order of Malta, to see if she would consider developing a program for the library at the Academy, which had just received a grant from the Order for improvements. Virginia and Jeanie (pictured at right) met with Helen Burland, Executive Director, to discuss the possibilities, and the Library Program at Saint Catherine Center was born. Led by a dedicated group of Malta volunteers, a weekly Library session is now part of the curriculum for all Academy classes. “The students learn how to listen and pay attention. They also learn about responsibility—how to choose and check out a book, take it home, maybe share it with their families and bring it back the following week,” Virginia said. “The program is entirely volunteer-run,” said Helen. “It has been wonderful to see it evolve and become part of our curriculum. We so appreciate what all the volunteers do for us. It’s a big commitment and we depend on them.” In addition to Virginia and Jeanie, other regular volunteers include Carrie Sindelar, Christy Duggan, Judy Miller, and Ellen Arsenault. New to the program this year are Elena Schlegel, Chris Woods, and Julie Genovese. The volunteers have learned how to be flexible and “go with the flow” according to the students' needs. “The students come back from their library session excited,” said Sr.
On December 20th, the gym at Saint Catherine Center was filled with family and friends eager to watch our students enact the annual Christmas Pageant. This year’s production, “A Cousins’ Christmas,” was written by former Academy teacher Mollie Mitchell and told the familiar story with an emphasis on the closeness between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth and the value of receiving the gifts that we are to each other. All students had a role. “It was beautiful to see how much some of our students have grown in the past year,” said Sr. Cheryl, who directed the Pageant. This special event each year would not be possible without the help of many people: volunteers from the Order of Malta who provide refreshments; Knights of Columbus-St. Patrick Council who bring Santa with them; Sean Nayden, who set up the ramp for the actors to travel on; Russ and Amy Nagy from the Fairfield University Quick Center, who set up the lighting; and the dedicated Saint Catherine Academy staff. Thank you all! Read more about the Pageant in Fairfield County Catholic. View photos
More than 150 family and friends gathered on Sunday, November 17th, at Holy Cross Church in Fairfield for the annual Mass Celebrating People with Special Needs, hosted by Saint Catherine Center. In his homily, Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano spoke of the “unique witness” given by the 12 young people who were receiving the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. “God has chosen these young people in baptism and reaffirms their baptism [in Confirmation] because they are worth everything to him before they do a single thing,” the bishop said. “It’s with their joy, their enthusiasm, their innocence, their purity, their faithfulness that they respond… My friends, in a world where we are judged solely by what we can offer, today as we celebrate these sacraments let us remember the great gift of just being a son or daughter of God. Everything else takes a second place.” Participants came from St. Mary’s Church (Norwalk), St. Thomas Aquinas Church (Fairfield), St. Rose of Lima (Newtown), The Cathedral Parish (Bridgeport), and five students from Saint Catherine Academy. Each year, Saint Catherine Center offers the opportunity for individuals with special needs to receive the Sacraments of Initiation outside the typical faith formation program. Center staff worked with parents and Directors of Religious Education throughout the Diocese to coordinate preparation and participation. Msgr. William Scheyd and Rev. Charles Allen, SJ, concelebrated the Mass with the bishop. Members of the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard, Saint Catherine Center board members, and staff joined the celebration. Family members gave the readings and two students from Saint Catherine Academy presented the gifts. The bishop acknowledged Saint Catherine Center staff, the Center’s Board of Directors, and Executive Director Helen Burland for their
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.