Noticias de la Diócesis de Allentown

Honoring ‘Forty in Faith’ as John Paul II Center Celebrates 40 Years

Over 600 people attended the 13th Annual Legacy Gala on April 29 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Reading in support of the John Paul II (JPII) Center for Special Learning in Shillington. At the event, JPII recognized its “Forty in Faith,” 40 benefactors who played instrumental roles throughout the center’s growth since its opening 40 years ago.

“We wanted to show our gratitude to the people who helped us get to where we are today,” said Melissah Jablonski, Director of Advancement for JPII. She said that without this group of people “we’re not sure we’d be here today.”

JPII opened its doors in 1982 to 16 students with its first principal, Sister Francis Bisland. In 2002, the center added an adult program. Now, the center includes 54 students and an adult program of 37 participants, with current Principal Mary Adams, who has served for 25 years, first as a teacher.

“The overwhelming support of the many volunteers, donors, board members, and other community partners who were present at the gala demonstrates the mission-driven success of the John Paul II Center,” said Dr. Sarah Kerins, Director of School Marketing and Enrollment for Allentown Diocese. “We are incredibly grateful for the hard work of the faculty and staff under the direction of the principal, Mary Adams.”

Before JPII was founded, there was no Catholic education option for families with special needs students in Berks County, said Adams, who started as a teacher at JPII and became principal to “help more students.”

Adams said “Forty in Faith” was created to acknowledge the volunteers who “work behind the scenes to get us where we are today.”

“They’re a team of people from different walks of life,” said Adams. “Some help in classrooms, the library, some help with fundraising. You don’t hear about them, but they give so much of their time and talents. They’re the quiet heroes.”

At the heart of JPII’s mission is an expression of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and helping students to reach their God-given potential.

“All families, regardless of income, should have the option of a Catholic education,” said Kerins. “For well over two centuries, Catholic schools in America have existed to provide a Christ-centered education furthering the salvific mission of the Church. The John Paul II Center exemplifies this mission by providing a safe, compassionate, Christ-centered education for students with varying abilities. The faculty, staff, and administrator go above and beyond to meet the needs of each individual child and their family.”

“Each student has a gift,” said Jablonski. JPII “maintains smaller class sizes. Teachers work with parents to find each student’s gift to ensure [each student] has a purpose after graduation. Whatever their path is, we make sure they’re prepared for it.”

The “Forty in Faith” list includes people who first advocated for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and petitioned the Allentown Diocese to open a school for these students in Berks County, as well as those who have fostered the program throughout the years, sharing their time, treasures, and talents.

“The students are all God’s children,” said Jack Horrigan, parishioner of Sacred Heart, West Reading, who along with his late wife Peggy, is a member of the “Forty in Faith” list. In 2001, the Horrigans co-chaired the first capital campaign to fund construction of JPII.

Horrigan said JPII has become “part of the fiber of Berks County. It’s part of the community, and that’s reflected in the support they receive from others.”

He said the mission of the center and its services motivated him and his wife “to do what we could” early on and make JPII a reality. Horrigan later chaired a second capital campaign to fund expansion of JPII, moving from its original home on South Sixth Street in Reading to its current Shillington location.

Those recognized among the “Forty in Faith” received a special award created by JPII student Cynthia, whose colorful design includes the Holy Cross standing above the Earth.

Additionally, the “Forty in Faith” will be honored at a luncheon later this month at JPII, where students will prepare and serve the lunch.

“It’s another way to show gratitude and have people see the impact of their gifts,” said Jablonski. “We believe strongly in the power of gratitude.”

By Gia Myers