FAIRFIELD – When the cast of this year’s Saint Catherine Academy Christmas pageant brought down the curtain with their rendition of “Let there be peace on earth,” they were treated to a standing ovation. Almost 200 filled the tiny St. Catherine Academy auditorium for the performance of “The First Christmas” by students of the academy, which serves young people impacted by autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The annual production has become one of the great Christmas moments in the Diocese.

“Just seeing Jesus filled them with hope,” said the narrator during the production, which was also filled with hope and joy.

The audience responded to the 40-minute production with frequent applause and by joining in a wide range of Christmas standards from Silent Night to We Three Kings, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and the Gloria.

For an encore, the students treated the audience to a performance of “Feliz Navidad.”

“You gave us Christmas two days early,” said Bishop Caggiano after congratulating the performers and parents. “These young people gave us a very great gift today because they helped us to experience what Christmas is all about – it’s about love.” “It’s an old saying that every time a person loves someone, Christmas is re-lived,” said the Bishop, who posed for photos with the cast and faculty of Saint Catherine Academy after the performance. The Bishop thanked parents for entrusting their children to the academy, “where they are cared for, they are loved, and they help us remember what really matters, Jesus the Lord.”

Academy students Kelly Martinez and Jonathan Tiexiera narrated the pageant and read Nativity accounts from the Gospel of Luke.  Natalie Massaro won applause for her spirited portrayal of Angel Gabriel, and Elijah Barer played the role of Caesar.

The play was written and directed by Sr. Cheryl Driscoll, RSM with faculty members serving as backstage assistants.

Helen Burland, Executive Director of Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs told the audience, “this has been a labor of love for us and our gift to you. The students give us joy on a daily basis.”

With dramatic lighting and a bright star provided by the Quick Center of Fairfield University, the cast of students narrated and sang the Christmas story while looking resplendent in full costume.

In March of this year, the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the formation of the Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs, which officially opened in Fairfield on July 1, 2014.  The Center brings together services provided by the Ministry for People with Disabilities of the Office of Pastoral Services, a new Inclusive Support program for Catholic schools and Saint Catherine Academy, the special education school of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

(reprinted from Fairfield County Catholic http://www.bridgeportdiocese.com/index.php/fcc/article/let_there_be_peace_on_earth)