JOHNSTON — With the start of the new school year, the St. Rocco School community has a lot to celebrate. Not only did it recently achieve regional status and undergo renovations, it also added three religious Sisters of The Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden to its teaching staff.
Despite a rain storm on Aug. 7, at least 160 people gathered on school grounds for the annual “Meet and Greet” back-to-school barbecue, sponsored by the school’s Parent Association. There, the sisters mingled with students, parents, teachers and staffers.
“We feel so welcomed by loving, sincere, honest people,” said Sister Donna Beauregard, who will serve as a teacher assistant in kindergarten through third grade.
Sister Daisy Kollamparampil, who will teach second grade and prepare students for their first holy Communion and first reconciliation, agrees.
“It already feels like a family here,” she said.
Sister Mary Antoinette Cappelli, the new eighth grade religion teacher, who will also teach Spanish in fifth to eighth grade, as well as serve as the director of Christian Formation, feels the same. She said she is looking forward to working with the children and cooperating with their parents to help them grow and mold them into responsible, faithful adults.
“I think that our presence will help them understand a little bit more about religious life and appreciate the Church,” said Sister Mary Antoinette.
Parents and students are equally as excited, including Patty and Nick Gorgievski. They attended the event with their children, Kate, who will turn 4 on Aug. 30, and will start kindergarten this year, and Mia, 2.
“I went to Catholic school when I was little and I had sisters as teachers,” Patty said. “It’s important to me that they learn good values, as well as some of the historical teachings.”
Paula and David Corsi are thrilled that Sister Daisy will lead their daughter, Ruby, 7, ahead of her first holy Communion. It is the first time since 2006 that the school and parish community have had nuns on campus.
“Ruby’s lucky to have a nun to make her communion with this year,” David said, with Paula adding that she’s confident the sisters “will bring a tremendous amount of passion to the faith aspect of the education. We’re excited to see how the year progresses.”
Tara Zuena, secretary of the Parent’s Association, also spoke highly of the sisters. She believes they will provide “a well-rounded Catholic experience for the kids,” including her daughter, Jade, 9, who is eager to start fourth grade this year.
Teachers are enthusiastic, too. Audrey Armstrong, the school’s new middle school science teacher, is pleased to be joining them as educators.
“It’s great to have them present with the children, and being a part of their education and upbringing,” she said. “They will be applying religion to other subjects like English, math and history.”
Father Angelo Carusi, pastor of St. Rocco Church, noted that in addition to being new to the school, they are new to the Diocese of Providence. Still, he said, they fit in perfectly.
“I am very happy and excited that they are here,” said Father Carusi. “I think by their good example, and especially their cheerfulness and the way they live their faith, the kids will naturally take to them. They are very good with kids, and they are really going to enhance the school.”
While Sister Daisy and Sister Mary Antoinette came to Rhode Island from Pope John Paul II Family Academy in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Sister Donna traveled from Gianelli’s Early Learning Center in the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. They recently moved into the newly renovated convent at St. Rocco Parish, and will be involved in several aspects of the parish, such as Mass participation, devotions, outreach programs and other ongoing social functions.
“Every time you join something new, it’s an experience and an opportunity to learn and share whatever you know with others,” Sister Mary Antoinette said. “We want to do everything we can to evangelize people and bring them closer to Jesus.”
As they mingled at the meet and greet, Sister Donna and Sister Daisy said they enjoyed chatting with everyone, especially the children. As members of St. Rocco’s, they hope to help strengthen their bond with the Lord and deepen their prayer lives.
“They are innocent, and they want to be closer to Jesus,” Sister Daisy said. “That’s what they long for, and I’m sure they are excited to prepare to see Jesus because he is their best friend.”
Sister Donna, who taught kindergarten for 36 years, shared similar sentiments. She’s impressed that the St. Rocco community has a strong connection with Christ.
“We’re overjoyed that they consider their religion a great treasure, and we want to help them to improve it in some way,” she said.
Principal Lorraine S. Moschella is confident they will do just that. She believes they will offer a strong knowledge of religion, as well as academic expertise and guidance to students.
Moschella is also thrilled about recent renovations to the school, including outdoor landscaping, floors in the main corridors, a re-configuration of the main office, plus new front doors “that add to the safety of the building,” and which were funded by the Parent Association.
In terms of curriculum, she said algebra is being offered to eighth graders, while an advanced after school activity program will soon be in place. The modifications, she said, have boosted enrollment by at least 10 percent.
“Every day is different,” she said, noting a continual increase. “Families are hearing about St. Rocco through word of mouth and they are noticing the positive energy.”