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'Providential Collaboration'

Students ride parish-owned van from Massachusetts to Brattleboro Catholic school

When it comes to the Catholic education of her children, Peggy Mazzer is in the driver's seat.

Especially on Mondays and Tuesdays when she drives a van–purchased by her Massachusetts parish–the 26 miles from Greenfield, Mass., to St. Michael School in Brattleboro with 11 students.

Her own six children–who were previously home schooled–ride the van. "The van was the reason we could come," Mazzer said.

Greenfield's Catholic school closed in 2011 so Catholic education became less accessible for families from the Bay State's most rural county, Franklin County.

A few families had made the trip to St. Michael's in recent years to provide their children with Catholic schooling, but thanks to the addition of a ninth grade and the availability of van transportation this year, there has been a "healthy influx" of Massachusetts students to the school, said Principal Elaine Beam.

Mazzer said the ninth grade was the reason for enrolling her children at St. Michael's, but it was the van that made enrolling possible because she and her husband both work and could not make 10 round trips to school each week.

Her parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa in Turners Falls, Mass., purchased the 12-passenger 2011 dark blue Chevy Express at the beginning of the school year.

It is insured through the Diocese of Springfield, where the parish is located.

"Nothing is too expensive for the faith of our people," said Father Charles J. DiMascola, pastor and an ardent supporter of Catholic education. "We have to go out and do things creatively. If we have to spend money, we have to spend money. There are souls at stake."

Currently students from Our Lady of Czestochowa and from Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenfield ride the van to school; families share the fuel cost.

Massachusetts residents number 26 at the prekindergarten through grade nine school that enrolls a total of 119.

The six students from Blessed Sacrament and 16 from Our Lady of Czestochowa may apply for financial aid both from their parish and the Diocese of Springfield.

"That's how much they support their children getting a Catholic education," Beam said.

Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph Andrea Ciszewski, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Springfield, said the school is "very welcoming" and expressed gratitude for the "providential collaboration" that is making Catholic education accessible to Franklin County students. "I wish we were able to service them but grateful they have another opportunity," she said. "What we can't do alone we have to find ways to do together."

It doesn't matter what side of a state line students live on, Sister Della Santa, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington said, " What matters is that students be able to access Catholic education: "That (Our Lady of Czestochowa) parish has partnered with St. Michael's School is great."

The collaboration has "broadened our community," Beam said, expanding the Catholic community in which students are growing up.

Rodney Duteau, a ninth grader from Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, is one of the students who ride in the van from the central, convenient Blessed Sacrament Church location. "It's a blessing from God because without the van, I would not be here" at the school, he said.

There are three parents who regularly drive the van; other Massachusetts students are transported by car or carpool.

Father DiMascola is present to his parishioners who attend St. Michael School–and all the students–sometimes celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and visiting classrooms. "He's a celebrity here," the principal enthused.

Third grader Josephine Mazzer from Our Lady of Czestochowa Church likes to ride in the van, especially when the children play games or sing.

"I want to say thank you to Father DiMascola," she said. "He likes that we're coming here to learn about religious stuff."

The van is also used for school field trips and Our Lady of Czestochowa activities.

Principal Beam is grateful for the van and the children it carries from Massachusetts to St. Michael School, and she would like to see other creative ways to both provide students with a Catholic education and boost enrollment at Catholic schools. "If we are going to grow our Catholic schools, we have to look at things differently and provide not only a great education that is our reputation, but we have to help families get here," she said. "If we can help with transportation, we make it possible for more students to get a Catholic education."

Sister Della Santa added that the Church strives to make Catholic education available to all students who want a Catholic education. "The Diocese of Burlington is offering online high school level education this fall via the St. Therese Digital Academy," she said. The developing project is geared to provide the benefits of a Catholic education to students who do not live in an area where a Catholic high school is available.

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

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