Schools re-open across the diocese

BRIDGEPORT—Students began returning to Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport this week for in-person classes and the start of a new school year.

Even through their tiny masks you could see the excitement on the faces of the elementary school children who were happy to see their teachers and friends once again after months of lockdown as a result of the pandemic.

Many of the twenty-five diocesan elementary and high school schools have different starting dates and some have staggered openings to better acclimate students to the safe return to class, but most schools will be filled with students and fully operational by the end of next week.

Among the first to return to school were the students of Holy Trinity Catholic Academy in Huntington and Notre Dame High School in Fairfield.

In Danbury, where a recent uptick in the virus delayed school openings, students are expected to return to class next week along with students enrolled in St. Aloysius of New Canaan, St James in Stratford, and St. Mary, Bethel.

The re-opening was made possible by months of planning and preparation for the return to in-person classes throughout the diocese, said Dr. Steven Cheeseman, superintendent of schools.

Dr. Cheeseman asked for prayers for all of the students, faculty and school communities in the coming weeks. “This will be a year like no other, but we can face it together and make the best of it.”

Just prior to the reopening, Dr. Cheeseman addressed parents, students and the school communities in a video that provided an overview of the extraordinary steps taken for a safe and measured re-opening during the pandemic.

Photos by Amy Griffin

“I hope you are all excited to finally get new school year underway and God willing this will be the first step in our return to a sense of normalcy,” he said from his office at the Catholic Center.

Over the next few weeks Dr. Cheeseman will complete his visits to every school to ensure compliance, to share best practices and to run through every possible scenario related to the re-opening and ongoing challenges.

Dr. Cheeseman said that the main concern shared by members of his leadership team and administrators faculty and parents throughout the system has been “ the safe return of over 6,500 students to our diocesan schools.”

While the schools have moved ahead with in-person classes, the diocese has also provided distance learning options for families who prefer to keep children at home through its online academy. At present, more than 150 students are enrolled in the academy: (

Dr. Cheeseman said the schools are also prepared to move ahead with hybrid plans if that becomes necessary as a result of a spike of the virus in a given school.

Any future decisions to close a school or to make a transition to a hybrid model and full distance learning will be made on an individual school basis .

“The decision will be made in consultation between the school administration, the Office of the Superintendent in consultation with the bishop, and the Health Department from the township within which the school is located,” he said.

Factors in the decision if has to be made will be based on state guidelines and include the number of confirmed cases in the specific school and the ability of the school to mitigate risk of virus spread, he said.

Catholic schools have been able to move forward with in-person classes while many public systems can’t because they have been able to meet very strict protocols developed in compliance with CDC and state guidelines for reopening schools, Dr. Cheeseman said.

“While all educators agree that students should be back in school to ensure learning and to provide appropriate socialization opportunities, not all public schools are able to meet the State and CDC requirements to bring students back full time. In most cases it has to do with the size of the school population, the space available and the ability to schedule teachers.

“Thankfully we do not face the same issues. The smaller size of our school populations and the mission driven zeal of our teachers and administrators have allowed us to be flexible in our planning, to use space and instructional time creatively and to create school environments that are healthy, safe and nurturing.”

Put simply, we are able to open because we can meet, and in many cases exceed, the requirements and guidelines of the CDC and the State of Connecticut.

As a result of the ability to provide in-person classes, Dr. Cheeseman said that many of the schools have seen an increase in enrollment and a growing number of inquiries from public school parents.

While Dr. Cheeseman is confident that the schools can meet and even exceed government safety requirements, he says that as a parent as well as a superintendent and a parent, he approaches the school year with a sense of caution even as he is excited about the return to the classroom.

Although the intense and comprehensive planning by the diocese has become a model for other school systems, Dr. Cheeseman said he still loses sleep at night because of uncertainty about the pandemic.

“No matter what we do, we can’t answer every question because we don’t know what the future holds.”

However, he feels the schools are ready after “a tremendous amount of preparation and planning and the amazing work of principals” to implement the safety protocols.

(The superintendent’s office has created a COVID-19 hotline (203.209-2894) and email address ( to answer any questions that parents have. The schools office has also released a list of Frequently Asked Questions (download here) that offer detailed information on a variety of topics. The full re-opening plan for diocesan elementary and high schools is available online:

Catholic Academy of Stamford Creates Outdoor Classroom Space

The Catholic Academy of Stamford is beginning construction on three outdoor classroom spaces to use when students return.

Organizers say this new space will be critical in keeping children 6 feet apart and allowing them to breathe fresh air.

K&J Tree service donated wood chips from storm cleanup after Isaias, and some volunteers offered trees and stumps from their yard.

Video courtesy of

Emergency COVID-19 Funding for K-8 Tuition Assistance

BRIDGEPORT—The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting virtually every area of life for so many. In response, an anonymous donor to Foundations in Education has provided funding for COVID-19 Emergency Tuition Assistance for elementary school families in the Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic Schools who are suffering from the negative economic impact of the pandemic.

This incredibly prescient and generous gift is a welcomed and much needed addition to Foundations in Education, which has already awarded over $2.3 million from the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund in tuition assistance for the coming school year.

Foundations in Education is now accepting applications to the COVID-19 Emergency Tuition Assistance Fund. Families of K-8 students who have experienced loss of job, loss of income, COVID related medical costs, or other unanticipated financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to apply.

“This gift is truly an answer to our prayers. Many of our families applied for assistance before the pandemic even hit. Imagine the elevated need resulting from the economic consequences facing our families because of business closures and the necessary state shut down. We pray that this assistance is enough to help ease the burden for our families and help keep their children in school,” commented Holly Doherty-Lemoine, Executive Director of Foundations in Education.

Within the first week of announcing the fund, Foundations in Education received over 100 applications for tuition relief assistance.

“Things are moving fast, but we want to be able to respond quickly so our families can make their decision to keep their children in our Catholic Schools, which we believe will provide students the stability, support and guidance they need to navigate these unprecedented times,” Holly further commented.

Applications to the COVID-19 Emergency Tuition Assistance Fund will be accepted until all funds are awarded. Details about the program and how to apply may be found on the Foundations in Education website:

Individuals or organizations interested in donating to this fund may do so on the Foundations in Education website at, or by contacting Megan Quinn, Assistant Director of Development at 203.416.1671.

Faculty adapt courses to changing times

FAIRFIELD—As Sacred Heart University professors fully absorbed the reality of the pandemic and what it meant for their students and classrooms, they came to an important decision: “teach the virus.”

These words originated with Michael Frechette, assistant dean and assistant professor in the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology (WCBT), when he spoke with faculty about a week after the University moved to online learning (a decision made earlier than most of SHU’s peer institutions).

Understanding the pandemic’s severity, Frechette and his colleagues knew they had to find opportunities within this crisis to continue their students’ education. Faculty quickly overhauled their courses to include the pandemic in their teachings throughout the spring semester and revamped summer courses.

“We want students to absorb the reality,” Frechette said. “We are their guides on this journey. We want them to come out the other end of this as experts in managing a crisis.”

Frechette said he was studying for his MBA during the 2008 financial crisis. He recalls his professors incorporating real-time studies and research in their lessons.

“I want students to have those same experiences and benefit as much as possible from this crisis,” he said. “We [faculty] are best suited to do this, to change the curriculum. Any good instructor can craft their curriculum around a current event.”

Grace Guo, associate dean and associate professor of management, changed her final exam, asking her seniors to answer pandemic-related questions. Students showed great interest in the assignment, Guo said, and their research and conclusions were impressive.

“The final papers showed great care and interest,” she said. “They were such good quality papers; their arguments were sharp and insightful.”

While the world is changing, Guo said, she and her colleagues “want to keep our education relevant, and I think students appreciate this opportunity. We know there’s a lot of disappointment, but we’re trying to stay positive.”

When thinking about this summer’s MBA courses, such as corporate finance, leading and influencing with integrity and managing change, Nadene Koliopoulos, director of graduate programs, and Guo started brainstorming. “The pandemic won’t take over each course, but it’s an added, much-needed component,” Koliopoulos said.


Faculty in the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., and Richard J. Henley College of Nursing already adapted courses for the fall semester. Every course will incorporate discussions on how nurses emerged as leaders during the pandemic, and have such a vital role.

Like the WCBT, nursing professors also altered classes during the spring semester to focus on the crisis while being sensitive to students’ busy schedules. Many nursing students are working full shifts in health-care facilities as they were taking classes.

Rebecca Jones, clinical assistant professor, started teaching two eight-week online courses for graduate nursing students in March. Since the majority of her students were acute care nurses, almost all of them worked in hospitals that were quickly converted to COVID-19 units.

“Given the rapidly evolving situation, I had to adjust the course and clinical activities quickly,” Jones said. “First, I relaxed due dates and removed or altered several discussion assignments.”

What students told her about their work experiences was “heart-wrenching,” she said. “They were able to express extremely harrowing experiences, especially the feelings of helplessness about their patients’ deaths and anxiety about lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is very traumatic.”

Jones also created alternative learning experiences for students whose clinical sites had closed. The American Nurses Association recommended “just-in-time” COVID-19 training, she said, so instead of shadowing their overwhelmed infection-control colleagues, students attended online continuing education courses that became available.

Students wrote in reflective journals about how much they appreciated the flexibility, support and training during the course. “They wrote about the comradery of their health-care team or those ‘in the trenches’ with them,” Jones said. “When these students discussed their colleagues, it felt like they are referring to old war buddies.”

By providing support, resources, understanding and encouragement for her students, Jones believes she’s done a great service for front-line health-care workers.

“I feel so strongly that lessons of self-care and self-compassion need to be taught to my nursing students that I’m looking for a way to revise my courses to include content on healing from secondary trauma and empathic distress,” she said. “I want them to go from being the ‘walking wounded’ to ‘wounded healers’.”

Anna Goddard, assistant professor, and Dorothea Esposito, clinical assistant professor, were teaching epidemiology and population health for the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program in the midst of the pandemic. They changed their course mid-semester to include objectives and competencies around emergency preparedness, disease transmission, the epidemiological triangle and other related topics. As with Jones, most of their students were nurses on the front line fighting the coronavirus in March and April, and the professors are planning accordingly. For the fall semester, Goddard’s class on strategic leadership and collaboration in health care will include reflection on leadership during the pandemic.

Corinne Lee, clinical assistant professor, is teaching the human journey in nursing for the RN-to-BSN program—a course that has been adapted in the past to include relevant current events. Her students are also working in hospitals.

“This course, developed by Dr. Linda Strong many years ago, has transcended unprecedented events such as 9/11, the Sandy Hook and Columbine shootings, and now the pandemic,” Lee said. “While we have a planned curriculum for each of our courses in the Davis & Henley College of Nursing, I have told my students that the content and online discussion over the next eight weeks will have the flexibility of being somewhat fluid.”

The course covers what COVID-19 patients are experiencing, Lee said. She wants students to see the type of reciprocal relationship that exists between their clinical practice and reflective opportunity in the classroom.

Health professions

Classes changed mid-semester in the College of Health Professions, and work is underway to adapt the summer and fall’s curriculum. COVID-19 dramatically impacted the college, as faculty dealt with changing on-site clinical courses to simulation and telehealth. Telehealth provides patients and health professionals the ability to continue interaction, despite an inability to meet in person. Course revisions were extensive to include simulation and telehealth approaches in teaching. Faculty worked hard to guarantee students’ education was not compromised.

The occupational therapy (OT) faculty made a seamless shift with the spring semester content from in-class, experiential learning to virtual teaching and learning, said Sharon McCloskey, interim chair and director of the graduate OT program. OT students were immersed in learning skills and interventions. Professors Lola Halperin, Morgan Villano and McCloskey delivered skills classes synchronously via WebEx and Zoom. Students learned how to become facilitators of therapeutic groups and designed and implemented virtual mental health group experiences for each other.

With the realities of COVID-19 and lockdown situations at home, these group experiences addressing mental health and wellness were tremendously successful for all participants, McCloskey said.

OT students also learned about the use of telehealth in occupational therapy. Ellen Martino, clinical assistant professor, redesigned the interprofessional Monday Night social program (an ongoing social skills program for community individuals with intellectual disabilities), and transitioned this group from in-person social events to virtual social events twice weekly. OT students were able to complete the last nine days of their 12-week fieldwork education by participating in telehealth visits. These took place under their clinical educators’ supervision and provided assessment and intervention to school-based or outpatient-based pediatric OT clients.

Jaimee Hegge, a clinical assistant professor, redesigned the summer semester OT content over three modules. Students now learn about COVID-19, with instruction provided by local front-line OT practitioners who have already been engaged in post-COVID rehabilitation. Students are also developing skills such as effective use of PPE, and the safe delivery of interventions to people with the virus.

“I am so delighted that SHU’s College of Health Professions is so progressive in teaching students all the newest techniques and strategies in dealing with clients with coronavirus,” said Lou Elmo, an adjunct faculty member. “They will be totally ahead of the game as future rehab professionals.”

Professors molded their curriculum to fit with the pandemic. James Bartley, a health management adjunct instructor, had his students present how health information technology — such as telehealth and medical apps — can assist physicians and health-care providers in adapting to the current pandemic environment.

While some students learned about telehealth and simulation, other students used these in place of in-person clinicals.

Christina Pino, a clinical assistant speech-language pathology (SLP) professor, said her first and second-year clinical practicum students were not permitted to remain in their practicum placements at health-care facilities due to the pandemic. They transitioned to continue clinical training through computer-based simulation using Simucase. In addition, problem-based learning tutorial classes, and clinical seminar courses, switched over to on-line via synchronous and asynchronous coursework, incorporating small group discussion via WebEx and video reflections.

Graduate students in SLP will deliver audiologic counseling and hearing aid programming services via telehealth during the summer for Jamie Marotto, clinical assistant professor.

The physician assistant (PA) program shifted its entire curriculum online, and used innovative strategies to teach traditional hands-on skills through online platforms. Lectures continued through synchronous online learning to keep students on schedule and allow progression through the program, said Adam Olsen, director of the PA program.

In addition to adapting its classes, the doctorate of physical therapy (PT) program held a panel discussion with 25 alumni on the impact of COVID-19 on PT. Students engaged in discussion with PT alumni who have taken on a range of roles since the pandemic. Alumni shared their experiences, and the impact the virus had on them from personal, professional and societal perspectives. “The experience was wonderful with alumni, students and faculty sharing joys, challenges and concerns related to the crisis,” said Chris Petrosino, chair of the PT and human movement program.

As a way to engage the incoming class of OT students for the fall, Jody Bortone, associate dean and chair of the OT program, said the class was divided up into advisement groups. The groups were assigned a faculty adviser to assist them through the two-year program. She said groups will meet week via video as a way to keep in touch.

A new fall elective, introduction to public health emergency preparedness, is offered to all health science concentrations. The course will provide education on the evolution of public health preparedness and response, including concepts at the local, state and federal levels. Students will also learn about related policies, coordination, types of incidents, as well as the National Incident Management System, and the mechanisms through which public health agencies prepare for incidents. The course will include discussions and lessons learned from the pandemic.

Educating tomorrow’s teachers

Michael Alfano, dean of the Isabelle Farrington College of Education, said the faculty is working hard to adjust to the current situation. “We are assessing all our curricula in light of the pandemic, from our graduate educational leadership programs addressing leadership challenges, to incorporating current events in curriculum, to a complete overhaul of how we’re preparing new teachers to provide teaching and educational opportunities through distance learning,” said Alfano.

Aspiring principals and superintendents are using the crisis as a type of “real-time” lab to actively participate in organizing, leading and managing public education during a crisis, Alfano said. Additionally, faculty members with experience in instructional technology have retooled coursework for student teachers, covering distance learning pedagogy at a much greater level than ever before.

“Like they say, ‘In every crisis, there lies opportunity.’ Public schooling has fundamentally changed in our country. Our faculty realizes this and feels responsible to ensure that the beginning educators and leaders we’re preparing are well-equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities associated with the ‘new normal’ head-on,” Alfano said.

Teachers-in-training will be prepared to be proactive, rather than reactive, when addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with post-pandemic public schooling, he added.

These quick decisions and adaptions from faculty illustrate commitment to students and the teaching profession. “Our faculty members are experienced teacher-scholars and appreciate how dynamic teaching and learning is in our country’s public schools,” Alfano said. “They feel an ethical obligation to ensure that our graduates are as well prepared as possible to do the very important work of educating our children.” 

Timely courses offered

In the College of Arts & Sciences, faculty members quickly altered courses during the spring semester. Now they are looking ahead to the fall and considering how to adapt and add pandemic-related curriculum. Biology faculty will offer a course on virology (usually an upper-level biology elective). Mark Beekey, professor and chair of the biology department, said the course has been around for quite a while, but with everything going on, it seemed appropriate for fall. The course explores the nature of bacterial, animal and plant viruses, and it covers viral absorption-penetration, replication, release, viral infection and pathology.

Parishioners thank God for outdoor Mass

NORWALK—Parishioners at St. Matthew Church in Norwalk celebrated public Mass for the first time since mid-March.  But, this time, instead of being in the church sanctuary, Mass was outside in the open air on the church grounds.

Following the global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the public celebration of Mass was suspended in dioceses throughout the world. Diocese of Bridgeport Bishop Frank J. Caggiano mandated that all public Masses celebrated in the presence of the lay faithful were suspended in the Diocese of Bridgeport effective March 16.

On May 11, working in tandem with state and local health departments, Bishop Caggiano announced General Guidelines for Resumption of Public Worship beginning May 21, the celebration of Ascension Thursday. This first phase of the plan gives parishes the option of offering outdoor Masses with a limit of 50 people, including priests and other ministers, or a parking lot Mass with a limit of the number of vehicles to be determined by the size of the parking lot.

These Guidelines establish protocols and procedures making sure the safety and health of our faithful and clergy is of the highest importance in whatever parish plan is created. Adherence to appropriate health safety precautions for all who attend is required, including limiting the number of faithful present and maintaining social distancing standards.

The principal celebrant of the outdoor Mass at St. Matthew was parochial vicar Father Sunil Pereira, I.M.S., and concelebrated by pastor Monsignor Walter C. Orlowski, V.F., KCHS.
According to Msgr. Orlowski, “God is good to us, to allow us to gather and worship him.

“People are excited, but they remain cautious. Yet the people of St. Matthew are people of great faith. This is a time for all of us to decide what is our personal comfort zones. Safety is first. Then this allows us the opportunity to come to Mass and getting back to into doing what we must do—not only worshipping together—but putting our faith into action.”

Gene Mensching and Joan Walsh are long-time parishioners at St Matthew. They attended the first outdoor Mass on Ascension Thursday.  During the outdoor Mass, parishioners bring lawn chairs and maintain social distancing protocols during Mass and while receiving Holy Communion.

“This is fantastic,” Mensching said.

“It’s the perfect way to come back for the first time,” Walsh added.

“We are very anxious to be here and receive Holy Communion and to be with all the people we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Liz Reid from Stamford attended the afternoon parking lot Mass.  For the parking lot Mass, worshipers remain in their vehicles and listen to the Mass broadcast on FM radio. Again, social distancing is maintained with regards to how the vehicles are parked and as the faithful leave their vehicles to receive Holy Communion.

“Monsignor and Father Sunil have worked tirelessly to keep faith in everyone’s mind and heart.

“It’s a beautiful day.  I am thankful to God and looking familiar to celebrating Mass with familiar faces, people that I have enjoyed celebrating Mass with over the years,” Reid added. “Most importantly, I was anticipating receiving the Holy Eucharist.

“My mom, Dodi McCollem, came with me to Mass today.  We originally lived across the pond from St. Matthew, but my mom has lived in Florida for the past several years before recently moving back to Connecticut.

“As we approached the church today, she had tears in her eyes.”

The outdoor public celebration of Mass remains optional at the discretion of the local pastor, and is subject to such elements as inclement weather.  Local parishes should be contacted for specifics on the resumption of public Masses.

For more information on the General Guidelines for Resumption of Public Worship, please click here.