As my regular readers are well aware, I am a homeschooling Catholic mother of three girls. I have been homeschooling since Gabriela, age 14 started Kindergarten in 1998. Some mothers homeschool for it's own sake, however, I am of the opinion htat familes must do what is best for each child at each given time in their development, sometimes it's homeschooling, and other times a school may be best. I began homeschooling largely because of my experience as a teacher and student of public schools told me clearly that this is no place to send an innocent child if you want to keep him this way, but I had such a wonderful time at home with my girls that we were happy for the first nine years at home. That season of our lives seems to be ending, and so I began to look for good Catholic schools for my precious daughters.
My mixed experience(see my article in Celebrate Life magazine) with Catholic schools on Long Island told me that the Catholic school who adheres to the Magesterium of the Roman Catholic Church is indeed rare.
I tried various times. to begin my own Catholic school, in the model of NAPCIS, but without dedicated religious to staff the school, and the high cost of salaries and rent, this is nearly impossible where I live.
We attended many different Catholic co-ops, for art, drama, gym, ice skating, music, catechism, science, math, and English. None of them lasted, and I was left without options for Gabriela and Isabella who miss having more contact with friends (several families recently moved fleeing the high cost of living here on LI). I wanted to try Catholic schools, but found none truly Catholic which wasn't over an hour away.
Christina, age 5 with Down syndrome, presents a different dilemma. I am sending her to public school for therapy three hours a week, only because these therapists first worked with her last summer in my home, and I was able to trust them with her. I send her with another trusted teacher of 2 years, to a local typical pre-school, Gentle Hearts, five hours a week. But what about next year? This question often robbed me of sleep, and called me to prayer. I knew God had an answer, and I needed to see it soon.
Then, through a dynamic Catholic lady in Texas with a email list an email containing a link came into my inbox for The Academy of the Holy Family in Baltic CT. It described the school as a lovely school for young girls, faithful to the Magester ium. Too good to be true, I thought, as I clicked on the link. I was very impressed with what I saw and, on a hunch that I had heard of this school before, I called a friend who has helped us with many co-ops for homeschoolers through the years, and is running the girls' schola in which Gabbi sings. Her sister is Sr. Marie Andre, the Spanish teacher at Academy of the Holy Family, and I was delighted to learn that the Academy has a sister school, next door called, St. Joseph, run by the same order, the Sisters of Charity. St. Joseph is K-8 co-educational, and would be perfect for Isabella, now in 5th grade. 'This was amazing,' I thought, 'but, what about Christina?' . Surely she must have a place in this. I called the school, and Sister Christina told me that there was a Catholic school in Groton, CT, a half hour south, which had a pilot program for special education inclusion called the R.I.S.E.N. Program in Sacred Heart Catholic school. I contacted Jane O'Friel, the program director, whose 10 year old son has Down syndrome and has attended the program since Kindergarten. I arranged an appointment to visit all three schools in one day.
Then, Gabbi and I went to Washington, DC the night before the March for Life. I ate dinner with my attorney for the Catholic Radio Station application I filed with the FCC. Joining us to discuss his religious order's FIVE applications was Friar Augustine Marie, of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. I was deeply impressed by his knowlege of the media, vibrant faith, and love of the Traditional Mass in Latin. I remembered visiting his orders'website AIR MARIA and being thrilled with both their promotion of devotion to Our Lady of America and their kickoff for the 40 Days for Life with a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Norwich, posting both on my blog.
Then, came the coup de grace. The Friars live a few minutes away from the Academy of the Holy Family! Up there, a bit north of Norwich CT is a veritable "Mary's garden" of faithful religious orders, and wonderful Catholic schools, a mere half hour north of the New London Ferry, which lands in Orient, LI, an hour from my home. Unbelievable how all this escaped my notice until now, but I think I feel God calling us to move there as a family.
Our visit to Sacred Heart gave us a wonderful impression. Mrs. O'Friel showed me the school while Christina was engaged in learning with Beth, one the Special Ed teachers. I was able to see the Speech therapy of Mrs. O'Friel's son, and meet Sacred Heart's principal Deacon David G. Young. Children with special needs are in the classroom with typical students unless they have therapy, which is done right in school or are attending resource room enrichment. This is different from the program at St. Edward Confessor on Long Island, where the special ed students are taught in a self-contained class by a public school funded special eduacation teacher. So they aren't truly in that Catholic school, as the teacher is public school provided. At Sacred Heart, Mrs. Friel's son truly feels he is part of the school. This is a wonderful program in it's seventh year, and I hope to be part of it with Christina soon.
As we entered the village of Baltic, we turned a corner to Main Street, and were greeted with this imposing gold cupola of St. Mary's Church which stands between the Academy and St. Joseph's School. Once inside the Academy, we were warmly greeted by Sr. Christina who was prinicpal of both schools, and she got to know us, and proudly showed us many well -appointed classrooms (the computer classroom has flat screen computers, my public school doesn't !) We met many dedicated teachers (see the photo of my girls with Sr. Marie Andre, the Spanish teacher)who had stayed after hours to prepare their lessons, and welcomed us, describing their programs enthusiastically. The Academy offers several AP classes each year, depending on the students abilities and needs. There is a new gymnasium the St. Michael Center beyond the sports fields behind the schools which offers the girls baseball, softball, and soccer team sports. We met several students who had organized an exercise class, and by the time our tour was over, felt like part of the Academy family. Deserving of special mention is their beautiful traditional chapel (sorry no photos, someone was at prayer!) which the girls may enter at anytime, and the amazing collection of relics. The Sisters of Charity broke away from their original order, which was from the Netherlands in the craziness following Vatican II to maintain the traditional floor-length habit and the school is quite proud of it's orthodoxy in the Faith.
The principal of St. Joseph's graciously took us on a tour, and Isabella was impressed with the science projects on display. The science and art teachers took a particular interest in Isabella, which was fantastic since these are her areas of interst. We were sorry to leave the schools, but had the goal of attending Holy Mass at Our Lady of Gualdalupe Friary in Griswold, and had to find our way there.
I have put together this
montage to share my impressions of this heavenly place. Christina was playing on the swingset there, until the sun began to set, then we said the rosary in the Portiuncula chapel, heated by a fragrant wood stove. We visited the church and it's lovingly pre-pared Creche, waiting for Holy Mass, which we realized a bit late, was in the chapel. We squeezed into the tiny chapel's empty seats (there are only twelve chairs) aside a devout large family who behaved beautifully during the Tra ditional Mass, following in their missals. Christina needed a change, and we missed part of the Mass, but it was one f the most beautiful experiences of my life, to pray with such devoted people in such a beautiful setting. Fra. Augustine tells me that the Friary is beautiful in Spring, and I will
surely be back to witness it.
I dream of owning a home close enough to be able to go to Perpetual adoration in this gorgeous church, and the Traditional Mass. Novus Ordo is offered two thirds of the time, and the priest's instructive homilies are broadcast on AIR MARIA.