Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs Celebrates 20 Years at June 9th Gala

FAIRFIELD—On Sunday, June 9, Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs will celebrate its 20th Anniversary “Joy & Gratitude” Dinner at Fairfield University. More than 300 guests are expected.

The Center has come a long way since 1999 when Saint Catherine Academy opened in the Queen of Saints Retreat House on the campus of the Catholic Center with just five students, one teacher, two aides, and the principal. Gradually, word got out about this alternative education option for children with disabilities. In 2003, the Academy was granted approval by the State of Connecticut Department of Education as a private special education program and began accepting placements from area public school districts as well as directly from parents. As enrollment grew, funds were raised for a new facility in Fairfield which opened in 2007.

As students graduated from the Academy, the need for a comprehensive day program for young adults became a clear priority. In 2014 the Diocese of Bridgeport established Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs as an umbrella organization comprised of Saint Catherine Academy; an Adult Day Program; and the Office of Parish & Community Support. The Center now serves 16 students in the Academy and 23 young adults through the Adult Day Program.

“The name of our event—’Joy & Gratitude’ dinner—is very appropriate. While our role of journeying with our students and adults is challenging work, it brings a lot of joy,” said Helen Burland, Executive Director. “This is the only major fundraiser we hold for the Center, and we’re excited about a full house on June 9th to join us in the celebration.”

Four individuals will be recognized at the signature fundraiser—for volunteerism, leadership, and partnership. The late Jim O’Brien, one of Saint Catherine Academy’s first Board members, will receive the Volunteer Service award. Known as a “guy who quietly went about getting things done,” O’Brien’s expertise from a lifelong career and family business in lumber helped to steer the construction of the Center’s current facility adjacent to Holy Cross Church in Fairfield.

Dian Jennings Mayo of Redding Ridge will be honored with the Leadership Award for her dedication and early influence in the establishment of the Academy. In 1996, inspired by the needs of her older brother with disabilities, Mayo wrote a letter to then-Bishop Egan to express a “long-held dream” of hers to create a Diocesan fund earmarked for special education of the adult population. That dream eventually became Saint Catherine Academy.

Marie and Sal Gilbertie, owners and founders of Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, will receive the Community Partnership Award for their long association with the Center as a vocational worksite. Each week students and adults from the Center work at the wholesale garden center in Easton, sorting and stacking planting pots. The activity allows participants to practice useful skills in the community while providing valuable labor for Gilbertie’s.

Guests will enjoy the music of Keltic Kick while perusing an interesting variety of items in the Silent Auction before dinner. Later, a Live Auction will feature some unique experiences, such as a weekend in Philadelphia with tickets to a Phillies game and Queen concert; a New York City theater weekend (“Come From Away”); four NY Mets General Manager’s seats; and more.

Corporate sponsors currently include the Knights of Columbus Supreme Office, AEA, GoldPoint Partners, CrossBay Capital Partners, TD Bank, and Neuberger Berman.

Tickets to Saint Catherine Center’s “Joy & Gratitude” Dinner can be purchased and donations made online at

Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs includes Saint Catherine Academy, a state-approved, private special education school in Fairfield, Conn., serving students ages 5-21 of all faiths who are impacted with autism, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. It also includes an Adult Day Program, approved by the Department of Developmental Services, which offers opportunities for adults with disabilities to learn new skills and participate in vocational and community-based activities. The Office of Parish & Community Support at the Center serves as a resource for members of parishes throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport.

(For more information, visit the website at, call 203.540.5381, or email