The Society of the Sacred Heart is an order of Catholic nuns created in 1800 by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat. It has more than 2,500 members around the world who dedicate themselves to teaching Catholic education.
It wasn’t this rich history or this particular line of work that attracted Sister Joan Magnetti to the group, however.
“I met our religious order when I was in college, and I was very struck by the quality of the women who were there,” she said. “They were not just smart — they were loving, they were fun. Each one was distinct, but they had a worldview.”
Magnetti, who would spend 19 years as headmistress of Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, encountered the order in the aftermath of Vatican II and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“There was such a sense that you could make a difference in the world, and that we needed to be fully part of the world,” she said. “And it was through education that we could mold the character and the souls of people.”
That initial personal connection led Magnetti to a life in teaching and administrative duties at Catholic schools across vastly different communities. In addition to her tenure in Greenwich, her career includes 13 years spent as a headmistress in Princeton, N.J. Since 2010, she has been the executive director of the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport, an elementary school that serves 950 children across four inner-city campuses.
“If you want someone who loves young people, and is able to relate to young people of any economic, cultural or ethnic background, it’s Sister Joan,” said Bishop Frank Caggiano, head of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
On May 11, Magnetti will be honored for “a lifetime of exemplary service to Catholic education” by Foundations in Education, which raises money for Catholic education throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport.
The gala awards dinner will be held at Woodway Country Club in Darien.
Money raised will go to the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund, which helps offset the cost of tuition for families who cannot afford Diocesan schooling. Last year, the fund raised $2.3 million for 1,750 families.
Sister Magnetti will be honored alongside longtime Stamford educator Tony Pavia and Ridgefield businessman and philanthropist George F. Landegger.
Holly Doherty-Lemoine, executive director of Foundations in Education, said 300 people are expected to attend; the group is aiming to raise $650,000 from the event.
Foundations in Education raises its money largely from the yearly Bishop’s Appeal to the parishioners throughout the diocese, but the hope is that the gala will become a major source of fundraising as well. In addition to supporting the scholarship fund, Foundations in Education works to provide grants for professional development and innovation in the classroom, its executive director said.
“Their purpose is really to keep the Catholic schools in the forefront of pedagogy and ensuring that Catholic schools are addressing current teaching methods,” said Doherty-Lemoine.
Fundraising is often difficult for Catholic schools, and the Diocese recently announced plans for the reorganization and consolidation of several cities’ schools in response to low enrollment and high tuition. Caggiano acknowledged the challenge but said the climate also represents a chance to change the future of Catholic education in the area.
“We are in a unique opportunity to strengthen Catholic education for the next two or three generations,” he said. “It’s not easy, but the goal is always to strengthen what we do for our children, so we’re all on the same page. So we have some financial challenges, but some of that can be addressed through good business practice, and some of it is going to be addressed by letting people know that Catholic education is worth investing in and giving of their money, as Foundations is going to do.”