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Pour Le Merite awards

The principal of Mount St. Joseph Academy and the interim president of The College of St. Joseph – both in Rutland – were honored with “Pour Le Merite” awards during the college’s Founders’ Day Award Ceremony March 29.
 
MSJ’s Sarah Fortier and CSJ’s Lawrence Jensen were recognized for their outstanding care, support and leadership in the community.
 
“This is a huge honor,” said Fortier, a graduate of both schools and of Christ the King elementary school in Rutland, who considers it her vocation to be a Catholic high school principal in the Diocese of Burlington. “Our students and staff truly care about the community and know and practice Christ’s teachings,” she said in remarks at the award ceremony. “I thank God every day for calling me to be the principal at MSJ.”
 
Fortier was named principal in 2014; she had served as dean of students and as a history instructor.
 
Fortier is an active member of the Rutland community, serving as advisor for Project Help, a Christmas project at MSJ, which provides dinner and presents for 100 local families in need. She has participated in several walks and runs, including the Walk for Alzheimer’s, the Walk to Prevent Child Abuse and others in honor of her son, Jack.
 
Fortier earned a master of education degree from The College of St. Joseph and a bachelor’s degree from Quinnipiac University.
 
Jensen said it is a “privilege and pleasure” to be interim president of the college, and he reaffirmed his commitment to the values of the Sisters of St. Joseph who founded both the college and MSJ: hospitality, love of neighbor without distinction, reconciliation and unity of all people with God, one another and all creation.
 
“Pour Le Merite” is French for “one who is deserving.”
 
The Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in France.
 
During the ceremony, Rutland Mayor David Allaire read a proclamation from the City of Rutland making March 27-31 College of St. Joseph Recognition Week in Rutland.
 
“This is a time of celebration and solemn remembrance of those who have given so much in the past” to bring the college to where it is today, Jensen said of the event.
 
He has dedicated years to The College of St. Joseph as both a member and chair of the Board of Trustees before becoming interim president in 2016.

A retired healthcare executive and well known community leader, Jensen has chaired and served on several boards in the Rutland region including the James Bowse Health Trust and the Rutland City Police Commission, Vermont Public Radio, Killington Music Festival, Rutland Mental Health and Rutland Regional Medical Center.
 
During his career, he served as vice president for corporate development and Rutland Health Foundation major gifts officer at Rutland Regional Medical Center. He was also vice president and controller for Killington Resort.
 
Jensen holds a master of business administration degree from The University of Vermont and a bachelor’s degree from The State University of New York at Geneseo.
 
Another award given at the ceremony, the Mother Teresa Student Award, went to David Wallant, a junior from East Bridgewater, Mass.

 
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Energy efficiency at Mount St. Joseph Academy

Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland is becoming more energy efficient, and that effort has gotten a boost from two bequests.
 
The bequests from alumni total more than $200,000.
 
“MSJ is looking to become more energy efficient. We have zeroed in on improving our heat efficiency by purchasing temperature controls, in particular for our gym,” explained Principal Sarah Fortier.
 
In addition, new doors for the gym that will not allow heat to escape will be purchased and heat loss because of large windows will be addressed.
 
The school will have an energy audit to help determine other areas of concern.
 
Mount St. Joseph Academy has been focused on energy efficiency for the past year.
 
“I am focused on preserving energy because how we treat our environment now will affect the children of the future,” said Fortier, who has been principal since 2014.
 
She mentioned a quote displayed in the school that states, "We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrowed it from our children."
 
“I don't think a truer statement could be made. We need to make these changes so that the future is preserved environmentally for the generations to come,” she commented.
 
She said it is time for the school to make environmentally friendly changes. “There is no need to waste fuel for example. Fuel is a natural resource. As Catholics we believe in preserving the environment. Making changes to the building that will help do just that is not only providing a positive example to our students but it is also practicing our Catholic faith,” she said.
 
Through the energy-saving measures, the school has been “substantially cutting down on fuel costs,” Fortier said. “It is about more than saving money. It is about practicing our Catholic ideals. We are called to take care of the Earth. Making changes to the building that help us to do this shows that we care about the future.”
 
 
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Syrian refugee update

With the sounds of Syrian refugee children in the background, Cheryl Hooker of St. Peter Parish in Rutland took a phone call at her home to talk about Rutland Welcomes’ refugee resettlement plans in light of news that 100 Syrian refugees may not be coming to the city after all.
 
Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras has said an executive order expected from President Donald Trump would halt plans to resettle the refugees. 
 
The order also says that the secretaries of state and homeland security “as appropriate” shall cease the processing and admittance of refugees from Syria until the president determines otherwise.
 
“It’s disconcerting right now because of what is going in in Washington,” said Hooker, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that has been working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. “Rutland may not be a resettlement area because of scaling down the number of refugees being allowed in” to the United States.
 
A Syrian family of five is staying with her and her husband, George, another volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. A second family is staying with another host family.
 
“These may be the only two families that come,” Cheryl Hooker said. “It’s really disappointing. We were looking to do the right thing and help people.”
 
Staff from the resettlement program is helping the two refugee families find permanent housing.
 
Students from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland collected towels for the 100 Syrian refugees expected in Rutland, and a collection at St. Peter Church provided funds to purchase 30 irons for the families.
 
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” Hooker said before the first refugees arrived earlier this month. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
  • Published in Diocesan

Diversity at Mount St. Joseph Academy

Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland was once a Catholic high school with a homogenous student body: local Catholics.
 
Although Catholics are still in the majority, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants and those who have no religious affiliation are making MSJ their school of choice. They come not only from Rutland but from throughout Rutland county and from as far away as New York City, Haiti, China, Korea and Honduras.
 
“These kids are very accepting of each other,” said Principal Sarah Fortier.
 
There is a growing multi-cultural community at the high school, which this year enrolls 85 students.
 
They all take the same required Catholic religion classes, are schooled in Catholic morality and attend Mass. “It’s neat to see the Catholic religion spread,” Fortier said. “They respect it, and we respect their religion…. We are all different but accepting of each other.”
 
Fortier likes the diversity. Students of different religious affiliations and those from outside Rutland County “bring a different flavor” to the school environment, she said. “They teach others about their culture. It’s fun.”
 
She speaks about the diversity with enthusiasm because she finds it enriching not just for herself but also for the community.
 
Cedric Lyonel Andre, a senior from Haiti, likes attending school at MSJ. “I find the people here very welcoming,” he said. “I feel there is no one I can’t interact with or talk to.”
 
A young man of color, he said students at the school are motivated to be themselves and accepted for who they are. “It matters how you treat people and if you respect yourself and other people.”
 
Sophomore Fatima Hussnane, a Muslim born in the United States, agreed that the school is a welcoming place. “I’m not afraid to talk to people, even juniors and seniors,” she said.
 
In previous schools she had to deal with other students’ comments like “Your Dad is a terrorist” or “How many hand grenades do you have in your bag?”
 
At MSJ, “it’s a relief” because no one makes such comments, she said. “It’s human nature to spot the differences in people…but at MSJ there is a certain standard that is not necessarily spoken, but the aura the school is giving off is you know what you should and shouldn’t do.”
 
“We all assimilate with each other,” she added.
 
Senior Jenna Eaton said students like Fatima help others learn about different religions so they can appreciate one another’s faith. “At MSJ, we talk about and embrace the differences.”
 
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A Rutland Welcome

Rutland is no stranger to immigrants.
 
They have come from Italy, Ireland, Greece, Poland, Canada.
 
And a new group of immigrants – 100 Syrian refugees – is expected.
 
Mayor Christopher Louras’ crafted a plan to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the Islamic State and were living in sprawling refugee camps in Jordan.
 
The plan did meet criticism, and some residents expressed concerns about housing and jobs, the health of the new residents, an uptick in crime, the provision of services like health care, a lack of shared Christian values, and even possible terrorists hiding among the group.
 
But the U.S. State Department approved Rutland as a new refugee resettlement site. “We were vetted and found to be a community that will welcome and can help them with their new beginning,” said Hunter Berryhill, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
 
Volunteers will work in areas like helping new residents set up their homes, tutoring them in English, providing transportation and offering friendship.
 
Though some residents were concerned the new residents would be a burden to the community, Berryhill said, Rutland Welcomes volunteers researched situations in other communities where refugees were resettled and found them to be contributors to the economy and culture of their new towns.
 
Refugees, he added, are “meticulously vetted” by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA. “No one can come here without very, very stringent vetting.”
 
Yet some residents don’t want to get involved with the Syrian refugees. Others, however, see it as an opportunity to live their Catholic faith.
 
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” said Cheryl Hooker, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Rutland and a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
 
Students at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland are working with Rutland Welcomes, collecting 80 new bath towels and filling baskets with toiletries for teens.
 
“When they were asked [to help prepare for the arrival of the refugees from Syria] they really got on board,” said Principal Sarah Fortier. “We’re called to help those in need. These people are coming from a war-torn country, and they need our help. Period.”
 
Senior Jenna Eaton, one of the students working with Rutland Welcomes, said if she were in the refugees’ situation she would want people to help her: “It’s the least we can do to help people who are starting over and don’t really have anything.”
 
Helping others, she added, “is what being a human person entails and what our Catholic faith tells us.”
 
Dave Coppock, a Rutland Welcomes volunteer, said he felt helpless when he saw news coverage of the Syrian refugees’ plight, but assisting those who come to Rutland is a way he can help change their lives for the better. He is remodeling an apartment in Rutland with the intention of offering it to a refugee family for a price they can afford.
 
George Hooker of St. Peter Parish sees the new residents as adding to the fabric of life in Rutland, making it a “richer tapestry.”
 
And at a time when Rutlanders still remember their city being touted in the media for its opioid problem, it’s refreshing for many now to be recognized for their welcoming spirit. “Now we’re the little town that is going to open its doors,” Berryhill said. “Now we are moving forward as a community [for this resettlement] to be a success. Nobody wants this to fail.”
 
And in the end, he hopes those Syrian refugees who resettle in Rutland live lives of dignity, peace, safety and happiness.
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Mount St. Joseph Academy's 'Project Help'

One of Mount St. Joseph Academy Principal Sarah Fortier’s favorite times at the Rutland Catholic high school is the time just before Christmas when the whole school is engaged in the annual Project Help.
 
“We’re giving back to the community, and it’s a fun service project,” she said of the drive to collect food and children’s gifts then prepare boxes for people in need at Christmas.
 
This year marked the 48th annual Project Help.
 
It serves about 100 families referred by Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
 
“It’s a representation of the whole season of Advent – giving and doing for others,” Fortier said.
 
Teams of students and chaperones canvass the city, asking for donations or simply picking up the food donors have left for them.
 
Some people make monetary donations to supplement what is needed to fill the boxes for distribution; businesses also make monetary and in-kind donations.
 
Once the collection phase is completed, students – and even some alumni who value the project -- pack the boxes for delivery or pick up later that day or the next.
 
Boxes include a turkey or chicken, age-appropriate children’s gifts, bread, potatoes and nonperishables.
 
This year Project Help took place Dec. 20 and 21.
 
“This is a real reminder of how fortunate we are and to do what Jesus told us: Care about those who have less,” said Fortier, a 1999 Mount St. Joseph Academy graduate who was a student leader of Project Help.
 
Her parents, Elaine (Class of 1964) and John (Class of 1966) Bride, have long supported Project Help. This year they brought 40 boxes of cereal to the school gym during the collection process. Fortier told them that was a needed item.
 
 “Jesus taught us to give back and help those in need,” Mrs. Bride said.
 
Plus, the Brides are big supporters of the school. “See our blood? It’s green!” she said with a laugh, referring to the school color.
 
Another MSJ alum, Adam DeBlasio, Class of 2012, participated this year in his 10th Project Help. He said he could not imagine being anywhere else while the project was happening. “It’s so engrained in my brain,” he said. “I enjoy helping MSJ. It’s a great community.”
 
The school, as well as Boy Scouts, instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community.
 
MSJ sophomore Tori Tracy of Christ the King Parish in Rutland said Project Help is her favorite school activity. She likes collecting with friends, but what’s even better, she said, is distributing the boxes of food and gifts. “The smile on [recipients’] faces lets you know you made their holiday season better,” she said. “If you reversed the situation, you’d want people to do for you.”
 
Senior Mackenzie C. Traska of Christ the King Parish, vice president of Student Government, was in the gym keeping track of who was out canvassing and what areas of the city were covered. “The mood is very cheery. People love helping,” she said.
 
“Everyone wants to help,” added classmate Benjamin E. DeCota, senior class representative to Student Government. “The spirit of giving is emphasized here. Everyone want to give rather than take…. The whole giving and living out Christ’s mission is emphasized here.”
 
“Christmas is not about yourself,” Mackenzie said. “It’s about giving.”
 
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Mount St. Joseph Academy efforts produce rise in enrollment

As the 2016-2017 school year approaches, Mount St. Joseph Academy is heading toward its enrollment goal of 90 students.

With 83 students as of July 12, Principal Sarah Fortier was hopeful that the goal would be reached by opening day, Aug. 31.

When she arrived as principal in 2014, enrollment was at 66, just two away from the lowest enrollment, which happened the next year and a far cry from a high of nearly 500 in 1964.

“MSJ has struggled as all other small schools. A lot of it is demographics,” Fortier said.

But the hard work MSJ supporters have put into the enrollment situation is paying off. “MSJ is a wonderful community and people are starting to see first hand the type of education available and the caliber of students that are graduating from MSJ,” said the principal, a 1999 graduate of the Catholic high school. “We have had 100 percent college placement over the past three years.”

Also, the high school has partnered with The College of St. Joseph in Rutland so that any student who graduates from MSJ can attend the college for two years tuition free.

She attributes enrollment growth also to other positive things happening at the school: MSJ athletic teams have had tremendous success; the music program offers personal lessons to any student who would like them in any instrument. The faculty is dedicated to providing a top-notch education to all students. 

“We have incredible diversity in our student population, and students get a worldview while walking the halls at The Mount,” she said. “Most importantly, MSJ teaches the Catholic values and morals necessary to navigate life in a very trying world.”

As of July 11, there were 11 non-Vermont students enrolled in Mount St. Joseph Academy, but Diversity Committee Chair Paul Gallo said there was the potential for 16-20 by opening day.

“It’s just wonderful. They are bringing the ‘melting pot’ right to Convent Avenue in Rutland” where the school is located, he said.

Last year he and his wife, Ingrid, hosted two Haitian students, which he said was a “great experience.”

Many of the international and diversity students come to Mount St. Joseph to prepare for college and are the first in their families to go on to higher education.

Because of Rutland’s own lack of diversity, these students bring a “flavor of the world” to the school, said Gallo, a member of the Marketing and Development Committee. “It makes for a nice education for local kids, preparing them for the world today.”

“Out-of-state students are just like all the other students at MSJ,” Fortier said. “Specifically the students from New York City have come to MSJ looking for the opportunity for a better education in a safe environment. They bring a new worldview to our local students. Students from other countries have provided knowledge of the bigger world and have shared so much of their culture with us. It is a wonderful opportunity to have these fantastic kids with us!”

She said supporters of the school can help by spreading the word about the students’ successes, by bringing future “Mounties” to the school to see how wonderful the MSJ community is and by encouraging future students to participate in a “shadow day” to learn more about the school.

Students, too, are involved in attracting other students to the school. For example, several students left MSJ to go to another, bigger school. “After spending one year there, several decided to return because they missed our community,” Fortier said. “They have become very involved in getting more students to our school.”

Also, the student ambassador groups have been working with the school’s marketing committee. They have taken to social media to get in touch with students and to invite them to different events. 

As enrollment increases, Fortier said she is “glad to see that everyone is finally seeing the positive results.”

Completely dedicated to the mission of MSJ, she believes being principal there is a vocation to which she has been called. “I believe the MSJ community is the best Rutland has to offer. I have seen the education at MSJ change the lives of students. I also believe that being a graduate of MSJ put me on the right track for success in my life,” she said, vowing to work tirelessly to continue to grow the enrollment.  

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.
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