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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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Ironing out refugees' needs

As the volunteer group Rutland Welcomes continues to prepare for the arrival in Rutland of 100 Syrian refugees, members George and Cheryl Hooker are ironing out one of the details.
They are seeking to acquire an iron for each household.
Mr. Hooker spoke about the project at Masses at St. Peter Church in Rutland, where he is a parishioner, on the weekend of Jan. 7, and the need for the irons has been expressed in the parish bulletin. “There are many who have voiced their opinion that they would like to assist the refugees in some way. At this point, whether we agree or disagree with their arrival, the fact of the matter is, they are coming,” a notice in the bulletin read. “Many of the Rutland churches in the area, as well as many people from the Rutland community—some of whom are our parishioners—have already come forward to assist the people of Syria in various ways.”
As mentioned in the bulletin: “As a faith community, will we see the face of Christ in these refugees? Can we show mercy—the face of Christ—to these our brothers and sisters? Can this be an opportunity for us to put the corporal works of mercy into practice by seeing the face of Christ in these people? By reaching out to them in prayer, and through our assistance to them, might we be evangelizing the love of God and His mercy?”
According to World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that began in 2011; 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and in Egypt.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christians, 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.”
She is hoping to raise enough money from the church collection to buy 30 irons and plans to purchase them locally.
The Hookers are co-chairs of the Set Up Committee of Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Mrs. Hooker said irons are one of the items the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program suggested as part of helping the refugees set up their new homes.
She praised the St. Peter Parish Council; Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor; and Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne for supporting the collection and the effort “to bring people who are suffering here so we can help.”
As of Jan. 10 no Syrian refugees had arrived in Rutland, but Mrs. Hooker hopes two or three families will arrive by the end of the month. 
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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

Care regardless of ability to pay

Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. provides quality care in its four eldercare residences regardless of a resident’s ability to pay.
In 2015, 77 percent of the residents received Medicaid.
“Our mission is to provide residents with a safe, caring and homelike environment where they can enjoy a pleasant living experience rooted in Christian dignity,” said Mary Beth Pinard, executive director of Vermont Catholic Charities. “For private pay residents, if they convert to Medicaid, they can stay with us and in their same room.  This isn’t the case every facility. Some facilities require residents to move once they have moved from private pay to Medicaid.”
Michaud Memorial Manor in Derby Line has 33 beds; Loretto Home and St. Joseph Kervick Residence in Rutland have a total of 107 beds including Loretto Home’s special care unit for residents assessed with higher physical and/or cognitive limitations. St. Joseph’s Residential Care Home in Burlington has 41 beds.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington provides rent-free use the four residential care homes totaling $1.35 million annually because “our social mission is to care for the sick, the poor, the elderly regardless of their ability to pay,” pointed out Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne. “As Catholics, we are all called to put our faith into action and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”
According to Jeanne Schmelzenbach, administrator of Loretto Home and St. Joseph Kervick Residence, 83 percent of the residents cannot afford the private pay rate and are subsidized by Catholic Charities. “This number has been increasing steadily over the past several years.” It was about 75 percent in 2014.
“We pride ourselves on providing exceptional resident care to all residents regardless of their ability to pay,” said Mary Belanger, administrator of St. Joseph’s Residential Care Home. “All our residents are provided the care and services that they need to thrive.”
The homes’ commitment to the dignity of all people comes from the Gospel, Catholic Charities and founders of the homes.
“Our commitment comes from the belief that we as a Catholic institution, give back to the residents in need with an open heart,” Belanger added.
“Our goal is to provide a homelike environment where everyone can enjoy a pleasant living experience and receive the assistance they need,” Schmelzenbach said.
The residential care homes provide personal care, general supervision, medication management and nursing overview to persons unable to live wholly independently but are not in need of the level of care provided in nursing homes.
According to Anne Steinberg, administrator of Michaud Memorial Manor, because of Vermont Catholic Charities dedication to serving those in need, the home is fortunate to be able to care for an unusually high number of Medicaid recipients – about 70 percent at Michaud. “The rate of reimbursement that Medicaid provides is relatively low, making it pretty cost prohibitive for most homes to accept a large percentage of Medicaid residents,” she said. “I feel very blessed to work for an organization that recognizes the importance of opening our doors to all those in need, regardless of payer source.”
“The Medicaid reimbursement helps us care for residents with higher care needs without needing to transfer them to a nursing home,” Belanger said, adding that the reimbursement helps but it is not enough to care for all the people in need in the community.
The Catholic Charities-run homes are fully licensed by the Vermont Division of Licensing and Protection as Level III Residential Care Homes. 
Medicaid provides about one third of the actual cost of caring for a resident.
“Catholic Charities and fiscal management of the homes enable us to support this underserved segment of our population,” Schmelzenbach said.

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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Obituary: Sister of St. Joseph Mary Polworth

RUTLAND--Sister Mary Polworth (John Joseph), 89, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, died Nov. 10 at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
She was a former president of The College of St. Joseph (the Provider) in Rutland.
Born in Manchester, N.H., she was the daughter of Robert and Sophronia (Dubie) Polworth.

She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rutland from Cathedral of Immaculate Conception Parish in Burlington in 1952. She became a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield (Mass.) in 2001 when the two communities merged.
She graduated from Cathedral High School in Burlington and earned her bachelor of science degree from Trinity College there.

Sister Polworth was a faculty member and chair of the Business Department at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland and a faculty member at St. Joseph College in Bennington. She briefly served as executive secretary at the Southern Vermont Computer Center in Bennington before being named President of the College of St. Joseph the Provider, a post in which she served from 1974-83.
She ministered in many capacities in the religious congregation: as vice president, director of development and secretary to the president. She also was a member of the Burlington Diocesan School Board and the Bishop's Commission on Women. She served on the boards of many other educational, business and civic organizations in Vermont. In 2004 she retired to St. Joseph Kervick Residence in Rutland.

In addition to her sisters in community, she is survived by her sister, Elsa Polworth, of South Burlington. She was predeceased by her sister, Sister Jean Polworth, C.S., and by her brothers, James and John Polworth. 

On Nov. 17 a Mass of Christian Burial took place at St. Peter Church, Rutland. Burial followed in Calvary Cemetery. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph, 577 Carew St., Springfield, MA 01104.
  • Published in Diocesan

New College of St. Joseph Golf Team calls Green Mountain National Golf Course home

RUTLAND—The College of St. Joseph recently added its eighth intercollegiate varsity sport with the launch of men’s golf.
The team began USCAA Division II competition this fall. The addition of a golf program marks the second expansion of the Saints’ athletic offerings in the last year; women’s volleyball joining the athletic roster last fall.
Green Mountain National Golf Course will serve as the home course for practices and tournaments. Green Mountain National, located in nearby Killington, is an 18-hole municipal golf course that features panoramic views in a spectacular setting.
 “It’s one of the top golf courses in the state of Vermont,” said David Soucy, golf director and general manager at the course. “That will be a draw to some of the players, that they get the chance to play on a course that’s in great condition in a beautiful setting.”
CSJ Athletic Director Jeff Brown will coach the team for their first season before handing the reins to Soucy.
Soucy is an experienced golf professional who has served as general manager of the top-ranked golf course for 11 seasons. He also serves on the New England PGA board and is a past-president of the Vermont PGA. He is the recipient of multiple Professional of the Year honors by the Vermont PGA and has won more than 30 golfing events in Vermont.
“I’m excited that CSJ is committed to golf, and I’m looking forward to building a new program,” he said.
Green Mountain National and the Town of Killington will begin offering internships for CSJ students, both at the course running tournaments and helping to oversee daily operations, as well as through other town-led departments including Parks and Recreation and Events and Marketing. Soucy hopes that businesses in Killington will allow students into their establishments to develop their skills.
"There's the food and beverage aspect at Green Mountain National, then there's the golf side of it. As a municipal golf course, we also have the town of Killington and will be utilizing some interns there as well," he said. "We'd also like to see it expand to some of the businesses on the Access Road, as there's lots of hotels and restaurants up there. We thought it would be a good fit for CSJ interns."
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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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