Rooted in Gospel values that affirm the dignity of every person, Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs provides unified pastoral and educational support for individuals with disabilities, and serves as a centralized resource for the Diocesan community.
Through direct service at Saint Catherine Academy or our Adult Day Program, and support in the Parishes or Catholic Schools for faith formation, The Center strives to foster the educational, spiritual and social well-being of people with disabilities.
Our Core Values
We respect the dignity and diversity of each person.
We serve people of all races, ethnicities, faiths, and economic backgrounds.
We focus on the total well-being of each person we serve.
We create a supportive and welcoming atmosphere, where each person feels a sense of belonging.
We celebrate the abilities and successes of each person.
We seek to build interpersonal relationships in a nurturing community.
We bring hope and joy to our students, clients, families, staff, and community partners.
Keeping the Vision Clear: 20th Anniversary Mass Celebration
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 Saint 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 sunflowers were donated by Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. A reception followed the service.
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.
“Looking Beyond Ourselves”: 20th Anniversary Joy & Gratitude Dinner
It was an extraordinary evening on June 9th, as more than 320 friends, family, and supporters of Saint Catherine Center gathered at Fairfield University to celebrate 20 years of providing a faith-based education for children with special needs.
After an invocation from Msgr. Robert Weiss, Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, Board Chairman Charles Chiusano introduced the evening’s honorees: the late Jim O’Brien, whose family accepted his award for Volunteer Service; Marie & Sal Gilbertie, for Community Partnership; and Dian Jennings Mayo, for Leadership. (Read more about the honorees.)
Following dinner, Helen Burland, Executive Director, spoke of how the Center has evolved since its founding in 1999 at a former retreat center on the grounds of the Catholic Center, and has grown to a “vibrant, joyful mission” now serving more than 40 children and young adults with disabilities.
“Saint Catherine’s is not as much a place as it is an experience where children and young adults learn responsibility—alongside math and reading; respect—while they learn how to empty a dishwasher; and trust—while they navigate a grocery store or try a new skill at a job site… It is a place where joy and gratitude go hand and hand with perseverance and hard work,” Helen said.
Most Reverend Bishop Frank Caggiano expressed his personal gratitude to Helen for her “faith, tenacity, and leadership” in the growth of the Center, and thanked the staff for their work, calling it a “ministry.” Then a short video was shown, which chronicled the passing of 20 years through the story of one of the first students, Francesca, who is now a participant in the Adult Day Program.
“The work is very challenging—sometimes exasperatingly so,” said Helen, “but when we get it right, it is so profoundly moving that we keep going… Most importantly, these young people teach us how to look beyond ourselves.”
The event was also financially successful—a $100,000 challenge gift in the Call to Charity was matched by contributions from 90 generous donors. Funds raised from the dinner will be used to establish a Capital Fund to meet future programming needs.
New Canaan High School Class of 1978 Honors Memory of Katherine Schlegel
When Elena (Peters) and Stephen Schlegel lost their 20-year-old daughter Katherine last fall, members of the New Canaan High School Class of 1978 quickly focused their upcoming 40th Reunion celebration to make the event a fundraiser for Saint Catherine Center, where the Schlegels chose to honor Katherine’s memory.
Katherine Schlegel carried a bright, bubbly personality in life and was a quick friend to many people she met along the way. As her father Steve pointed out, “Katherine was always the brightest light in the room.” In a similar way, Saint Catherine Center has become a bright light to many area families of children and young adults with special needs.
“Many students and participants are now reaching the age where they need a new challenge,” said Helen Burland, Executive Director. “An expanded living and learning facility is becoming a top priority.”
Recently members from the Class visited Saint Catherine Center for a tour and to present the gift, which will go toward a capital campaign to help us meet the growing needs of the population we serve.
Special Success: Meet the Athletes!
A willingness to try new things has brought about some exciting new experiences for two young women in our Adult Program.
Cheering with the Stars
For the past four years, Tierra has spent Sunday afternoons with her teammates on the CT Stars Inspiration Team working on their cheer routines. “I like the dancing part,” Tierra says, “especially when we jump up in a ‘V’!”
Tierra’s mother, Nicole Latimer-Livingston, is assistant coach of the team, as well as president of the CT Youth Spirit Conference and its local association, Bridgeport Charge, which has won four national championships. “Tierra would attend practices and competitions with me and would always ask if she could do cheerleading as well,” Nicole says. So when American Youth Cheer (AYC) created the Inspiration Division for young people with cognitive or physical disabilities, Nicole got Tierra involved. She participates in three to four events a year.
Early this past November, the CT Stars Inspiration Team travelled to Kissimmee, Florida, to show off their skills in the AYC National Championships. Tierra enjoyed staying in a hotel and eating out in restaurants. When asked if she was nervous performing, Tierra said, “I wasn’t nervous because I was happy.”
Her mom concurs. “Tierra absolutely loves cheering.”
Triumphing with the Team
In September, Sami competed in her first triathlon—the Westport Tri—with help from members of myTeam Triumph, a nationwide program that brings volunteer athletes together with people with disabilities to help them compete and enjoy endurance events like triathlons and road races. In the Westport Tri, myTeam Triumph pulled Sami in an inflatable boat on Long Island Sound, then moved her into a special chair which was first pulled by a bike and then pushed over the finish line. The event, Sami’s 9th competition, was featured recently in Dan Woog’s “06880” blog.
Although Sami is nonverbal, her mother Lori can tell she likes participating in the events from how animated she becomes when she sees her new “angel” friends. “One of my most important goals for Sami is that she is an active participant in her community,” Lori says. “This group has been heaven-sent to us…Sami has made new friends whom she now runs into all over town. She has a whole new community of love and support.”