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The Great Gift of Just Being a Child of God: Saint Catherine Center Hosts Mass Celebrating People with Special Needs

More than 150 family members 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 work with young people with special needs. “The Center is not a ‘Center,’” he said. “It’s a home.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Caggiano presented Joe and Carrie Sindelar of New Canaan with the St. Augustine Medal of Service for outstanding volunteerism. (The couple was unable to attend the prayer service and award ceremony in October.) A longstanding member of the Board of Directors, Joe is a tireless advocate for Saint Catherine Center. Carrie has volunteered her time and expertise in numerous ways, assisting in the Library Program and organizing tables for the Center’s annual “Joy & Gratitude” Dinner. “Both Joe and Carrie have been outstanding advocates for our students and young adults,” said Helen Burland, Executive Director. “They always respond to whatever is needed.” View photos

Keeping the Vision Clear: 20th Anniversary Mass Celebration

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 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.

Volunteer Virginia Dwyer-Aoyama was instrumental in organizing the Mass, and her daughter Erin was the cantor for the Mass.

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 more photos and read more about the event in the article in Fairfield County Catholic.

“Looking Beyond Ourselves”: 20th Anniversary Joy & Gratitude Dinner

Msgr. Robert Weiss and Bishop Caggiano congratulate Marie and Sal Gilbertie, who were recognized with the Community Partnership Award.

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.

View photos from the event   Gallery 1   Gallery 2

New Canaan High School Class of 1978 Honors Memory of Katherine Schlegel

Members of the NCHS Class of 1978, including (l-r) Leo Karl III, Susan (Ambule) Galione, Susan (Burnap) Boston, Elena (Peters) Schlegel, Steve Yates, and Pam James, presented a check to Saint Catherine Center in memory of Katherine Schlegel. Pictured with Center participants: Gus, Eve, Ryan, and Natalie.

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.”

Adult Program Welcomes New Director

Brady Cronin, new director of Adult Day Services

Mary “Brady” Cronin of Prospect, Conn., has joined Saint Catherine Center as the new Director of Adult Services. She will work closely with Executive Director Helen Burland to coordinate all program functions, from managing staff and developing Individual Plans for our young adult participants, to interfacing with the Department of Developmental Services. She will also work with Eric Spencer, Director of Education at Saint Catherine Academy, to maximize coordination with the school.

Brady comes to the Center with more than a decade of experience in child development and mental health counseling. Most recently she was Program Director for the Level II Therapeutic Group Home at Family & Children’s Aid in Danbury. In addition to coordinating daily care and treatment plans for the residents, she was responsible for maintaining all licensing and regulatory requirements. Brady has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Connecticut, and a Master’s in Human Services with a concentration in Clinical Counseling from Post University.

Brady feels confident her experience with adolescents will translate comfortably into working with adults with disabilities. “I was born into the field of helping others,” Cronin says. (Her mother, Kelly Cronin, was Executive Director of Waterbury Youth Services for 35 years.)

“We’re thrilled to have Brady on board,” Helen said. “She brings some excellent skills from her previous work with young adults—as well as a lot of fresh energy.”

All Are Welcome, Just as They Are: Special Needs Mass on December 2

Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”  Luke 18:16

Special Masses for young people with disabilities are both a joyful celebration of what Jesus calls us to do and an important way to promote their inclusion in the life of the parish.

Two such Masses were recently held in the region: In September, St. Pius X Church in Fairfield hosted a Mass for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families, and in early October, St. Catherine of Siena Church in Riverside celebrated a Mass for people of all ages with disabilities. Organized and facilitated by Parish Partners: Ministry of Hope, more than 130 people attended. A lively luncheon followed.

On Sunday, December 2nd, at 2 p.m., Saint Catherine Center will host its annual Mass Celebrating People with Special Needs at Holy Cross Church, adjacent the Center at 750 Tahmore Drive in Fairfield. As many as 15 young people from all over the Diocese will receive the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and/or Confirmation. It is a moving experience each year.  Individuals of all ages and their families are welcome to join in the celebration, with refreshments following. RSVPs (203-540-5381) are appreciated.

“It is beautiful to see Anna and her classmates participate in the Mass,” said Dave Stowe, parent of a Saint Catherine Academy student who was confirmed at the 2017 Mass. This year, Anna will be one of the readers for the celebration.

Download the flyer here.

In addition to promoting inclusion of people with special needs in parish life, Saint Catherine Center’s Office for Parish & Community Support serves as a resource across the Diocese to help families with the process of preparing their special needs children and young adults to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Gail Mikolsky, director of the program, is available to advise families and Directors of Religious Education about accommodations or modifications that might be needed, and even to “practice” with the individuals. Call 203-540-5381 for more information.

“Oh, What a Night!”

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. (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 to Charity contributed to the event’s success. Funds raised in the Call to 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 Mayo; AEA; CrossBay Capital Partners, LLC; St. Aloysius Parish; St. Rose of Lima Parish; TD Bank, N.A.; and all our Table Patrons.

We also thank Kelly Weldon and the Dinner Committee for all their help and enthusiasm!

View more photos!

  

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