October 20, 2010 // Local

St. Adalbert’s diversity enriched with active ministries

St. Adalbert youngsters celebrate a fiesta commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence.

By Ann Carey

SOUTH BEND — Before St. Stephen Parish merged with St. Adalbert Parish in 2003, the average age at St. Stephen was 24, while the average age at St. Adalbert was 77. Now, seven years after that merger, the new energy sparked by combining the two congregations is reflected in an ever-expanding list of vibrant ministries.

Some of those ministries have been in place for much of the history of the parish, like the Felician Sisters Auxiliary. The role of that auxiliary has been to support the Felician Sisters who taught in the school and served the parish. Currently, two Felician Sisters serve St. Adalbert, Sister Catherine Ryzewicz and Sister Anthony Kubat.

Sister Anthony carries on another of the longtime ministries with outreach to the elderly, homebound and members of the parish who are in nursing homes. She brings the Eucharist to them and assures them that they are still very much a part of the parish, often sharing with them some of the Polish treats she loves to bake.

“I bring church to the home,” Sister Anthony explained.

After 13 years of this ministry, Sister Anthony said she has learned how much the elderly love their church, a loyalty traced back to the fact that many of the elderly are the children of the Polish immigrants who built the parish. And plenty of these senior citizens remain very active in the parish. The St. Adalbert Harvest House attracts nearly 100 seniors at the monthly Mass and lunch, and parish seniors are the backbone of the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Of course, the influx of so many young people into the parish has revived many of the parish ministries that were common when young Polish families were settling in the parish. A growing religious education program for children in public schools holds classes for 170 children on Saturday and 100 children on Sunday, reported Rita Kopczynski, director of religious education. Some students from the University of Notre Dame assist other volunteers who teach in the program, but the parish needs more bi-lingual volunteer teachers.

A special post-first Communion class is offered to try to keep the child close to the parish and the sacraments, and Kopczynski plans to expand parish religious education by introducing the SPRED (special religious development) program next year, which is designed for religious education of people with special needs.

She noted, however, that adult education also is very important, for some of the parishioners who immigrated to this country did not have access to religious education in their home countries, especially if they lived in small, poor villages. Thus, she said, the level of experience among the Latino parishioners varies greatly, depending on where the person grew up.

Many of the parents of the children who take religious education classes on Saturday attend a Bible study class that is offered while their children are in religious education class. Other Bible study groups include one made up primarily of married couples, who also assist Holy Cross Father Peter Pacini, pastor, with marriage preparation. One group consists of people interested in charismatic prayer, and another grew out of the parish Disciples in Mission retreat.

A parish youth group attracts high school students to a weekly meeting, with a dozen Latino Studies students from Notre Dame assisting in that program. The young people also participate in activities such as the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the youth and children are ready participants in many of the celebrations that reflect the Mexican heritage of most of the young families in the parish. These include the celebrations for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Day of the Dead and Posada, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24. These celebrations brought to the parish by people of Mexican heritage take their place alongside Polish traditions and celebrations that have gone on for 100 years.

The Confirmation group, which consists of about 100 young people in a wide age range, performs various service projects for the parish, which is very much appreciated by the older parishioners. Kopczynski noted that many of the older parishioners are delighted to see the return of children altar servers to St. Adalbert, a ministry that was revived this year. At first, the children served at just one Mass on a weekend, but when the older parishioners heard about them, they asked why they couldn’t also have children serve at the other Masses, and as the program grew, their wish has been granted.

Also in the liturgical ministry area, a small chorus of young people was started by a parishioner, joining already existing choirs. The new chorus, which sings in Spanish, is growing, and Kopczynski expects it will be singing soon on a regular basis.

“When you have melding of parishes, it’s long, hard work,” Kopczynski observed.

However, when St. Adalbert celebrates its centennial on Nov 7, the parish can be proud of its thriving ministries that reflect the unity in diversity of this multi-cultural parish.

St. Aldabert has a rich Posada celebration at Christmas time.

Children learn to grow, thrive at St. Adalbert School
SOUTH BEND — It is a school built with love, sweat, blood and tears of dedicated Catholic families on the west side of South Bend, and St. Adalbert School will celebrate their centennial anniversary during the 2010-2011 school year.

“Established as a Polish parish by the immigrants who settled in this area 100 years ago, the parish and neighborhood have seen shifts in the residents over the years. The neighborhood is a mix of Polish, African-American and Latino families,” said Principal Mary Ann Bachman. “Although I am not certain of the timeline, several years ago, the parish became predominantly Latino. Families found an acceptance and are now the largest group.”

St. Adalbert School is a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade elementary school with an enrollment of 179 students, spanning multiple generations of families from the west side of South Bend. They are fully accredited by the State of Indiana and through Advanc-Ed, which is an accrediting organization that accredits schools according to seven standards that focus on excellence and continuous improvement.

“We recently learned that our school has made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), a designation from the state department of education. There are 13 categories that have to be met. Although our standardized test scores are not high, our students continue to achieve the improvement set by the state. I live by the statement, ‘Children will rise to the level of expectation,’” said Bachman.

One thing that Bachman feels makes them a unique school in the area is their focus on early childhood education. The school feels the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are critical grades for young children. Often they find these young children come to the school speaking little or no English and experience a high poverty rate that has an impact on the students.

“Our PK teacher came to us last year from Virginia. She has almost 20 years of early childhood education experience and is licensed, which not many PK teachers are. Her program is rich in language, math and social development. Last spring, I experienced the children making graphs, using individual sized bags of gummy fruits. Each graph was unique due to the assortment of gummies in each bag,” stated Bachman.

Close attention is paid to curriculum at the kindergarten level, making sure to prepare the students completely for their upcoming years in school. The teachers and staff at St. Adalbert feel it is essential that children fully understand the building blocks and skill sets needed for a young child to find success in their future learning.

“Kindergarten is also an amazing place to learn language, math, social skills and motor skills. Our teacher always has an activity center that changes weekly, I believe. Some of the centers are florist shop, veterinarian, grocery, weather station. Over the years, the teacher has added to her authentic ‘tools of the trade,’ ” said Bachman. “Our teachers in K-3 have recently been trained to use an additional phonemic development program. We have already seen and heard a change in how the students approach and use sounds for speech and reading.”

According to Bachman, writing is a critical element throughout the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade learning. From pictures in pre-kindergarten to term research papers in eighth grade, St. Adalbert students are guided through learning how to use the written word.

Being located in a predominantly Hispanic community, it is not a requirement to be bilingual to serve at St. Adalbert School, but the school is blessed to have three full-time staff and one part-time person who are bilingual. Bachman said most of the communication sent home to families is sent home in both English and Spanish.

“Three of our teachers have English as a New Language endorsements and one teacher will complete her course work for English as a New Language in the spring. Our resource teacher who is one of the English as a New Language teachers assists with English language development in grades 4-8,” said Bachman. “Our families who speak little English are very patient with my very limited Spanish, and they are more likely to use their English when I use my Spanish.”

One addition to the school a few years ago was the involvement of the University of Notre Dame and the ACE program to create a specialized learning center for students in Michiana.

“Our school was designated a Magnificat school four years ago,” said Bachman. “Magnificat is a program that was begun by the University of Notre Dame to identify and assist inner city Catholic schools by providing teacher support and development, academic programs and financial resources to help the school to become self sustaining over a five-year time span. We are in year five and will be self sustaining as this school year finishes.”

The university has also been instrumental in helping the school create more cooperative groups and programs between the children and parents/guardians.

“We have support from Notre Dame with development and with volunteers who help with our Home and School Association (HASA) parent dinners and workshops. It is important for our families to learn how to support their children academically since so many of our parents have limited education. Equally important is supporting our more educated families so you can see that we have a lot to do that goes beyond the school day,” said Bachman.

Being a school created on the principles and teachings of the Catholic faith, St. Adalbert works hard to make sure that each student is getting an academic education along with a spiritual education and journey that will help them become spiritually enlightened teenagers and some day adults.

“Faith formation is constant and permeates all we do, from community prayer each morning, weekly Mass, celebration of the saints, receiving sacraments, retreat for our eighth graders, learning Scripture and prayers. All that is important is grounded in our faith and liturgy. It begins with our pre-kindergarten students offering a blessing to each guest who visits their classroom and culminates with our eighth-grade students graduating during Mass,” said Bachman.

“My main goal is to develop St. Adalbert School into a Catholic school that will meet the needs of all of our Catholic families on the west side of South Bend. Our greatest struggle is financial. Our greatest strength is our school faculty and staff who all go beyond what is expected of them in order to help our students as much as they can,” said Bachman.

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