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Rice alumna brings faith to life beyond high school

Rice Memorial High School alumna Emeline Gaujac has successfully bridged the gap between adolescence and adulthood, and she credits her Catholic high school education with fostering the “values and morals of what being faithful is all about.”

She is the daughter of Lisa and Roland Gaujac of Charlotte, parishioners of Christ the King Church in Burlington, and a 2010 graduate of Rice, located in South Burlington.

Now a resident of Somerville, Mass., she works as a designer at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates in Cambridge, Mass.

Gaujac, and several colleagues recently entered the Boston Society of Architects’ Northern Avenue Bridge Ideas Competition and won the People’s Choice Award for “Pivot Point Bridge.” The bridge, which opened in 1908, was closed in 2014 because of structural integrity concerns.

“The main goals of the competition were to improve mobility, honor history and create destination,” Gaujac said. “Our design kept the original structure and twisted the center portion on a pivot to reference the original innovative engineering of its time. The twist creates sweeping ramps that lead down to the water and establish a sense of place for the people to connect to the ocean.”

The contest drew 133 submissions, including 99 graphic designs and 34 essays.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said the ideas from the competition would be helpful in the design for the new bridge.  Gaujac hopes her firm will be selected to become an official consultant on the project.

Her job at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates now includes design in Schematic Design for proposals with towns and cities. “I have also been able to see a private company wellness center through Schematic Design to currently in construction,” she said. “I design everything from retail, to residential multifamily and mixed use. I work on a variety of projects all at once depending on their deadlines and the client’s needs and usually work on at least three projects a week.”

Gaujac earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Northeastern University in 2015. She is currently in the process of studying for credentials to improve sustainable design at the firm, which involves designing objects with the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability.

Through her firm, Gaujac is also able to give back to the less fortunate. She volunteers with Canstruction (a food drive charity event) and has donated time to designing a Habitat for Humanity project.

Her firm hosts charity drives, such as Toys for Tots and On the Rise. Any money raised by one person each up to $500 will be matched by the firm for any charity. “Needless to say I love PCA because their values are in line with my own,” she said. “The culture here is amazing, and the people here never cease to amaze me in their selflessness.”

This culture reminds her of her experience at Rice. The teachers and staff there guided her to learn from her mistakes and taught her to make right decisions. “Rice was a bubble of goodness, faith and appreciation,” she commented. “The moral compass was consistently pointing you toward the right direction, and you knew when you weren’t headed there.”

Sister of Mercy Laura DellaSanta, Rice principal, said the values of goodness, faith and appreciation Gaujac mentioned are at the core of the school’s mission. There students learn those values in all aspects of school life — faith activities, academics, athletics, theater, community service — and they help one another, growing and learning from one another and the adults there to support them. 

“We are trying to feed the seeds within them and nurture the gifts God has given them,” she said. Rice as “a bubble of goodness, faith and appreciation” indeed “says it all.”

Leaving Rice and getting older “popped that bubble in a rude awakening that is the world we live in,” Gaujac continued. “Not everyone lives in a town like Burlington, and not everyone grew up understanding right from wrong in the most basic sense; for example, that every person should be treated with respect and are equal. Period.” 

She would like to become an architect and begin her own firm, one that designs buildings to create art and gives back to the community. She’d also like to be a part-time university architecture professor.

“​I am blessed to have found a profession that I love,” Gaujac said. “I finish work every day a little tired but always with a smile on my face.”

She tries to design to improve the quality of the way people live every day. “If I am successful, then the extra hours I choose to spend at work and at home will all be worth it,” she said.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.
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Sister DellaSanta named new Rice principal

Sister of Mercy Laura DellaSanta has moved her office  — but not far —  from the office of the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington on Joy Drive in South Burlington to the office of the principal at Rice Memorial High School on Proctor Avenue.

After two years as the chief administrator of Catholic education in Vermont — first as interim superintendent then as superintendent — she accepted the principal’s job after the resignation of Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois who has returned to parish ministry.

“I want to join everyone to continue the mission of Catholic education at Rice in a joyful community and in a Christ-centered environment with excellent academics and service to others,” she said. “I want to continue the tradition of high standards in a prayerful, caring community and to bring the school to the next level for our students of today to influence tomorrow.”

A former teacher and principal of Mater Christi School in Burlington, she was a first- and fourth-grade teacher in Milton for 13 years before entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1984. She also served as president of Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg, Va., and principal of St. Joseph Regional School in Keene, N.H.

Sister DellaSanta brings to her new role a love of education — particularly Catholic education — and a respect for the community of faith.  She has been successful with key components like academics, enrollment, finance and fundraising, and she has leadership experience.

“I know the nuances, the challenges and the alternatives to challenges [to Catholic education] and how to celebrate our success and develop long-range plans,” she said.

As principal, she will work to address financial challenges, build future leadership, keep facilities updated, provide an excellent education and continue to improve teacher salaries. Such challenges will be met with prayer and teamwork. “We all work together,” she said of the faculty, staff, pastors, parents, students and coaches.

Rice currently has about 440 students in grades nine through 12.

A Barre native, Sister DellaSanta graduated from Lyndon State College with a bachelor’s degree in education; she earned a master’s degree in education from St. Michael’s College in Colchester.

Asked why she made the change from superintendent to principal, she said she was asked to consider the principal’s job and felt she had the right gifts, experience and understanding of Rice and the greater Burlington community to bring to the school at this time.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.
  • Published in Schools

Rice H.S. Principal preparing for new assignment

Father–now Msgr.–Bernard Bourgeois had been teaching part time at Rice Memorial High School for eight years, beginning in 1998. During the last six he also had been pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Waterbury. On the first Sunday of Lent 2006, he received a phone call that changed his life.

The caller had been tasked with asking him if he were interested in being principal of Rice, the South Burlington Catholic high school. "I thought I was being called to be on the search committee! I knew instinctively that I should say yes. So I did," Msgr. Bourgeois recalled. "Before I knew it, (then Burlington) Bishop (Salvatore R.) Matano was announcing to this community that I was to be their next principal."

Since July 1, 2006, Msgr. Bourgeois has served as principal, instituting a voluntary daily Mass at the school, overseeing the revamping of academic departments and spearheading an $8.5 million capital campaign and school renovation.

But now he is preparing for a new assignment.

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne has appointed Msgr. Bourgeois pastor of Christ the King and Immaculate Heart of Mary parishes in Rutland and St. Patrick's in Wallingford. "I am truly excited about this and look forward to parish ministry once again," he said.

His successor, Sister of Mercy Laura Della Santa, will become principal of Rice on July 1.

When he first became principal, Msgr. Bourgeois took time to observe the community of teachers and students. "It took me time to understand the daily operations of the school. While I knew the teaching staff of the school, I only knew the students whom I had taught," he said. "It was important they know me as principal, a much different role than teacher or chaplain. It was much like starting in a parish. I spent time at games, in classrooms and at meetings observing and learning to understand the community."

Msgr. Bourgeois was accustomed to spending long days at the school; in the winter he often got there in the dark and left in the dark. Arriving by 6:45 a.m. and leaving most days around 6:30 p.m. he'd stay longer if there was a night sporting event.

The greatest hurdles that the principal faced related to finances and enrollment. "Except for its athletic successes, Rice was one of the best kept secrets around here! So I immediately tackled enrollment and marketing," he said.

The school had about 390 students his first year; enrollment for the next school year is expected to be 440 (450 is the identified goal and maximum).

In addition to increasing enrollment, Rice has made "great strides" in the last 10 years, raising the Annual Fund "significantly," Msgr. Bourgeois noted.

Asked about his three greatest accomplishments as principal of Rice, Msgr. Bourgeois pointed to these:

1) He instituted voluntary daily Mass his first year, and it continues. "It goes to the heart and mission of who we are as a Catholic school," he said. While attendance varies, "it is a great way to start the day." The first official words of Rice Memorial High School every day are: "In the name of the Father."

"We begin our day in the Eucharist," he said. "Following that, the Catholic culture imbues the school and all of its life, from academics to athletics and beyond. Faith formation and community service are equal to the traditional academic pursuits of high school."

2) In the last 10 years, every academic department has revamped its programming to be consistent with a Catholic high school of 2016. Rice offers more electives, and technology is at the heart of the teaching and learning process. More than 90 percent of graduates attend college, prepared for college-level work. "We challenge our students to find their full, God-given potential," Msgr. Bourgeois said.

3) In the last few years, Rice raised $8.5 million in a capital campaign, and the school has been extensively upgraded for the first time since it was built in 1959. Updates included work on heating, ventilation and air conditioning; electrical; technology infrastructure; Americans with Disabilities Act compliance; and windows. "The building now has the look and feel of a 2016 high school and will serve many future generations of Rice students," Msgr. Bourgeois said.

His greatest joy as principal has been watching Rice students grow and mature. "It makes me feel good that I have some small part in the human and spiritual formation of these students," he said. "I watch them come in as insecure freshmen and see them snatch up their diplomas as confident young adults four years later. I feel very satisfied in my work when I see students be successful in whatever they're doing. It makes the hours and hours of meetings and whatever else worth it. It's a great place that I believe God has blessed with a marvelous teaching staff dedicated to our mission and other administrators who are deeply committed to their work and our students."

Msgr. Bourgeois experiences awe and wonder at what God is doing in the lives of these students: "As administrators and teachers, we are privileged that God has called us to do this work–which is His work. These are His students, not mine."

Msgr. Bourgeois grew up in Bennington and attended Sacred Heart Parish and School.

"I believe Catholic education is more relevant than ever," he enthused. "Catholic schools provide a base for morals and a relationship with God, both badly needed in life. It provides a foundation from which they will draw strength and inspiration in living out their lives. In a world that has turned to relativism as its approach to almost everything, the Church offers another way that is refreshing and steeped in His plan for the world. I believe Catholic schools are the most important ministry of evangelization we have today, second only to parishes themselves."

He encourages families to seek a Catholic education for their children: "Where else will they be introduced to the faith in such an intense manner? Where else will they be held to high standards of behavior and learning? Catholic schools are indeed a treasure."

As he concludes his assignment as principal of Rice Memorial High School, Msgr. Bourgeois is realizing how meaningful things are that he thought were just part of the job: Standing in the lobby every morning welcoming everyone to school for the day, attending games and drama events to cheer on the students, giving brief "homilies" on the intercom every morning, just smiling and saying "good morning" or "hello."

"The fact that I have raised lots of money, renovated a building or done anything pales in comparison to the simple fact of being present to the students and thus encouraging them at the key moments of their lives," he said. "While it is often unspoken, they know I care about them. For sure, this has been God's work. It has been a wonderful experience. I will miss it dearly, and Rice will always hold a special place in my heart and soul."

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

  • Published in Schools
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