Prekindergarteners Anthony Shivas and Alexandra Hein shake the hand of Archbishop Henry J. Mansell after presenting him with a card on Sept. 21 as Father Kevin J. Forsyth, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Naugatuck, behind them; and Father Michael J. Slusz, pastor of St. Francis Parish, behind the Archbishop, look on. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
NAUGATUCK – Students at St. Francis-St. Hedwig School presented cards of appreciation and welcome to Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who visited Sept. 21 to celebrate Mass and bless the newly merged school.
"This is a wonderful occasion," said Dr. John J. Salatto, principal. "The entire school has been looking forward to this day. It’s been a major change for those of us at the two elementary schools. But a lot of people have pulled together to make this happen – faculty, staff, parents, students, parishioners.
"Our students go home every day and tell their parents they’re happy to be here and have the opportunity to make new friends," he noted. "It’s been very positive."
Earlier this year, because of financial pressures and declining enrollment, the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools (OCS) decided to merge the two schools that have provided Catholic education in Naugatuck for over a century.
School officials had said that 215 students would be needed to make the merged school viable. However, when the school opened this fall, school officials happily reported that 253 students were enrolled in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
Archbishop Mansell used the occasion to talk about the value of Catholic education during his homily at the Mass, concelebrated by Father Michael J. Slusz, pastor of St. Francis Parish; and Father Kevin J. Forsyth, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish.
Archbishop Mansell told a story about his niece, who was working on the 57th floor of the second World Trade Center tower to be hit by a plane on Sept. 11, 2001.
His niece relayed later that when the first plane hit, she began walking down the stairs, praying a rosary as she went. When the second plane hit her tower, she was on the 28th floor but continued walking until she safely exited the building – still carrying her rosary.
Archbishop Mansell said that his niece’s instinctive thought of turning to prayer during the disaster was a practice formed during her days of attending Catholic schools.
Similarly, he noted that students at St. Francis-St. Hedwig are in the process of being formed with those same values.
"We think about the tremendous story of Saint Francis, who was so close to God," he noted; "and the wonderful prayers," such as the rosary learned in childhood, that become "so important and make all the difference when facing the tremendous challenges in life."
Referencing a Harvard study of why the performance of Catholic school students was so effective, he said researchers found that it is because "Catholic schools function as families" – parents, teachers, students, administrators, school boards, home-school associations, members of the parish.
"God chooses each of us to be the wonderful person we are," he said. "Put all the great education and skills learned here at St. Francis-St. Hedwig together with that wonderful faith and you will grow into becoming the person God designed you to be."