Twenty-six honored at Breakfast of Champions

TRUMBULL—Most Wednesday mornings, students at Diocese of Bridgeport schools are getting ready for another day of learning. But 26 of them made their way to the McClinch Family Center at St. Catherine of Siena Parish on May 11 for the annual Breakfast of Champions.

The breakfast each year honors the recipients of the St. Thomas Aquinas Award, which is given to students who “exemplify the Catholic faith through community service and Christ-like behavior as well as their academic performance.” Each school chooses one student from its graduating class to receive the award—with the exception of Cardinal Kung Academy, which selects two students from the eighth and 12th grade, respectively.

The Breakfast of Champions is a favorite event of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Cheeseman.

“We get to celebrate the young people who represent the very best of our Catholic school students,” Cheeseman said to the students and their families at the breakfast. “Given that we have over 7,000 students in the diocese, I hope you realize just how unprecedented it is that you’ve been chosen to be here.”

Cheeseman reflected on the life and work of the award’s namesake, St. Thomas Aquinas. The Dominican friar is one of the most influential philosophers and Catholic saints, and he believed that knowledge was something of God.

“But St. Thomas was more than just his legacy,” Cheeseman said. “He challenges us to use our knowledge to improve the world, and then implores us to make good choices and to act with virtue.”

Cheeseman recognized the student award recipients as “a shining example of all that is good in our Catholic schools.” Notably, he remarked, two of the high school-aged recipients had also received the St. Thomas Aquinas Award as eighth graders, calling them excellent predictors of future success.

In addition, two brothers—Tommaso and Paolo Marena—were selected as award recipients. Tommaso is a senior at Cardinal Kung Academy, while Paolo is in eighth grade at the Catholic Academy of Stamford.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano also addressed the students, reflecting upon the meaning of the word “champion” within the context of the event. He didn’t think the first definition, which refers to a person who is victorious in a contest, quite fit the event. But according to him, the word’s second definition was much more appropriate for the occasion.

“A champion is someone who takes up a cause for the good of another,” the bishop said. “And I think that is why you are here, because my young friends, the cause you are taking up is the cause of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Caggiano noted as Catholic school students, the young people in the room weren’t just learning what’s in the curriculum, but were also being introduced to Christ, who will help guide them on their path to success.

“Long after you go from elementary school into high school and college, remember this gathering,” he said. “Because Christ is calling you to something great: his cause, to let the world know he is alive in you. And that is the best gift that anyone can give you.”

Before the students returned to their respective schools, Cheeseman shared some words of encouragement, reminding them of their “champion” distinction as they move forward in their lives—as students and beyond.

“I have no doubt that you will represent us well as you go on to high school and college,” Cheeseman said. “You’ll be champions there: champions of Catholic education and champions of our faith.”

Photos by Amy Mortensen

St. Thomas Aquinas Award Recipients

  • Eileen Bossio, St. Catherine of Siena School
  • Julia Cirone, Immaculate High School
  • Michael “MJ” Crawford, St. Mary School (Bethel)
  • Joshua Cruz, Kolbe Cathedral High School
  • Kathleen Dineen, St. Joseph High School
  • Layla DiScala, All Saints Catholic School
  • Cara Fahey, Holy Trinity Catholic Academy
  • Albert Fenaroli, St. Gregory the Great School
  • Lillian Gayer, St. Aloysius Catholic School
  • Scarlett Giannettino, St. Mary School (Ridgefield)
  • Camryn Irby, St. James School
  • Colin Johansen, St. Mark School
  • Lichel Johnston, Notre Dame High School
  • Autumn Joseph, St. Augustine Academy
  • Adriana Kari, St. Rose of Lima School
  • Andrea Macuil, Assumption Catholic School
  • Gemma Marchetti, Cardinal Kung Academy
  • Paolo Marena, Catholic Academy of Stamford
  • Tommaso Marena, Cardinal Kung Academy
  • Diego Marquez, St. Ann Academy
  • Allison Marsh, St. Joseph School
  • Olivia Medeiros-Pinto, St. Peter School
  • Sara Miller, Greenwich Catholic School
  • Ava Morello, St. Thomas Aquinas School
  • Illyana Sanchez, St. Andrew Academy
  • Augustine Yallaly, St. Theresa School