By Annaleigh Gidosh
A commitment to human dignity involves not only important issues like immigration, pregnancy, and end-of-life care but advocacy for those with special needs. The St. Joseph Center for Special Learning in Schuylkill County is one of three special learning centers in the Diocese of Allentown that uphold the sanctity of human life for those with special needs.
St. Joseph Center recently moved into the former St. Ambrose Elementary School in Schuylkill Haven after operating for 68 years in Pottsville. Principal Robert Giba said, “One of the major disadvantages of our former building was its size. We can now hold more students and expand.”
The location change has already led to six more students joining the program. St. Joseph Center currently provides pre-vocational, academic, social, and religious education to 23 school-age children, and offers a state-licensed program to 12 adults unable to work and needing habilitation.
To celebrate the new location, Bishop Alfred Schlert concelebrated Mass and blessed the new location on Sept. 13, with Father Jason Stokes, Father PistiBarazsuly (visiting from Romania), and Monsignor Edward Zemanik. Caregivers, teachers, students, adult learners, and members of the St. Ambrose community participated.
After the Gospel reading, Bishop Schlert came down from the sanctuary to the center aisle to engage with those present during his homily. “I am so thankful we can offer this ministry in our Diocese because it truly shows that there are people who want to bring the love of Christ to each other,” he said.
He added that God “gives every one of us a share in His love – a share in His promise not to leave us. And so, we give thanks to God today because He has loved us in His image. He has given us the dignity of being created in His likeness. Each one of us is a special son or daughter of God the Father and a brother and sister of Jesus. All of us possess the life of His Spirit.”
Bishop Schlert was not alone in distinguishing the unique presence of those present. With a simple glance, one could recognize the love and care the staff members held for those under their guidance. A staff member could be seen lovingly singing, “God is so good – is so good to us,” during a hymn as she cared for an adult learner during Mass.
After Mass, Bishop Schlert individually greeted and offered his blessing to each individual from the school as they passed out of the church.
St. Ambrose parishioners expressed how thankful they were for the presence of the school on campus and how they were eager to support its staff and students prayerfully. “They were so involved with the Mass with their sign language and singing,” said Debbie Sterner. “I thought it was beautiful.”
Another parishioner, Pat Santee, said, “We are so happy to have them at St. Ambrose.”
Father Stokes, now on the board of St. Joseph Center as a priest representative, warmly exclaimed, “You know, St. Joe’s is just one of the greatest organizations.” He believes the organization allows those on the board and priests visiting the school to find “joy” in witnessing the “dignity of all human life” and “love of Christ in every single person.”
If you want to serve this community by working at the school, contact principal Robert Giba at email@example.com.