FAIRFIELD—The Diocese of Bridgeport has announced plans for the new St. Catherine Center for Special Needs to officially open in Fairfield on July 1, 2014.

The new center will bring together services currently provided by the Ministry for People with Disabilities of the Office of Pastoral Services, a new Inclusive Support program for Catholic schools, and St. Catherine’s Academy, the Special Education School of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The announcement was made by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and Sister Mary Grace Walsh, ASCJ, Ph.D, Superintendent of Schools.

“The Center will oversee unified pastoral and educational support for individuals with disabilities and serve as a valuable resource for the Diocesan community as it centralizes all related services within one organization,” said Sister Mary Grace Walsh.  “Our leadership team is well positioned to move forward in their new roles.”

“We thank Bishop Caggiano for his support and direction as we seek to consolidate the pastoral and educational outreach to individuals with special needs and their families,” she said.

Bishop Caggiano said he was very grateful for all of the board members and diocesan staff who have created the new vision for services. “The Diocese and the Advisory Board of St. Catherine Academy spent the past year working both with consultants and internally to strategically plan for the hope-filled future of St. Catherine Academy and services to young people with disabilities,” he said. “The restructuring will bring all of our diocesan ministries pertaining to education and catechesis under one roof to support those with special needs.”

Charles Chiusano, Chair of the Board of St. Catherine Academy, said the new center will expand and coordinate overall resources. “The establishment of the St. Catherine Center for Special Needs will mark a new beginning for people with special needs in the Diocese of Bridgeport.  The faculty and staff will have even more resources that can be used to help this very special segment of our population.”

The new Center will be located at St. Catherine Academy, which will continue to operate as the school for students with special needs for the Diocese.

Currently the Ministry for People with Disabilities, located in the Catholic Center, is responsible for the spiritual formation of individuals with disabilities and providing the bridge between these individuals, families and the greater Diocesan Community.

Michelle O’Mara, who serves as Director of Ministry for People with Disabilities, will transition to the new role of Director of Pastoral Care and Outreach at the center.

The new Inclusive Support program will work collaboratively with the Center by assisting Catholic School administrators and teachers with regard to accommodations and placement of students with disabilities within the Catholic school network of the Diocese.  Sr. Marilyn Muldoon, who has served as principal of St. Catherine Academy, has been appointed Director of Inclusive Support for Catholic Schools. 

Under the plan, Helen Burland, current President of St. Catherine Academy, has been appointed Executive Director of the Center. She will report to the board and to the diocese through the Superintendent of Schools and the Senior Director of Pastoral Services who will be members of the board.

Damien O’Connor, Senior Director of the Office of Pastoral Services, Diocese of Bridgeport, said the new center recognizes the importance of spiritual and pastoral outreach to create a comprehensive and holistic approach to people with disabilities. “I am absolutely thrilled for Michelle and St. Catherine’s.  As a parent of children with special needs and as someone who has worked with Michelle very closely, her service to the diocese has been invaluable. Evangelization and outreach to those with special needs will grow exponentially under this new model.”

Sister Mary Grace Walsh said the Diocese will immediately initiate a search for a Director of Education at St. Catherine Academy to provide for a smooth transition for all students and staff.  “I am grateful to Charles Chiusano, board chair, and all the members of the board for their cooperation with this planning process. The board will also be taking on additional governance responsibilities in the new organization and all of us owe them our thanks for their generous sharing of time, talent and treasure,” said Sister Mary Grace Walsh.  She said that a letter has been sent to Parents/Guardians, Faculty, Staff, and Friends of St. Catherine Academy to explain the changes and the ongoing commitment to work with people with disabilities. “These are exciting times for the Diocese as we transition to the new St. Catherine Academy Center for Special Needs, and we hope you share our enthusiasm as we highlight our commitment to meeting the pastoral and educational needs of individuals with special needs under this new organization,” she said.

St. Catherine Academy is located 760 Tahmore Drive, Fairfield, CT 06825, Phone: 203-540-5381. Online at www.stcatherineacademy.org