IRONDEQUOIT — Josue Cornier is unfailingly polite and pleasant, smiling and laughing frequently. But make no mistake: This also is a very determined young man.
“First and foremost, I want to be successful,” he said in describing his life goals. “And I would stop at nothing to achieve that.”
Josue’s moxie is rooted in his desire to leave behind the poverty, hunger and family turbulence that marked his childhood. He switched schools several times, and in fourth grade drifted in and out of three City of Rochester public schools and also lived briefly in Florida. He lost 30 pounds — a dangerously large amount, he noted, for a child who wasn’t that big to begin with.
Fortunately, fourth grade also was when some badly needed support entered Josue’s life. It came in the form of a caring parish community at Rochester’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, where he was befriended by the pastor, Father Dennis Shaw. Josue recalled that they would chat on the phone a few times per week.
“He’s been kind of like a second father figure,” Josue said of Father Shaw, now the parochial administrator at Holy Family Parish in Auburn, who continues to keep in touch with Josue.
He also has received steady guidance and encouragement from Sister Julia Norton, RSM, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s longtime pastoral associate. It was she who introduced Josue to the Carlettas, a parishioner family who has sponsored Josue since he began attending Catholic schools in sixth grade.
Equipped with these anchors, Josue has made stirring progress: He’s an honors student at Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School, where he’s in his fourth and final year following two years at the former Bishop Hogan Academy, which also was located at Kearney. That adds up to six years in the same building, and six solid ones at that — a stark contrast to his previous academic experiences.
He has been a staff member of Kearney’s yearbook and school newspaper, as well as a member of the peer-ministry program. Josue was a recipient of the diocesan Hands of Christ Award, given each fall to high-school seniors for outstanding service in their church, school and community. He also was honored by the Irondequoit Foundation for Youth.
“He has gone from a frightened, withdrawn personality to a pleasant boy interested in helping others,” Sister Norton wrote in nominating Josue for Hands of Christ. “He has a positive attitude and therefore people enjoy being with him.”
Josue, who turned 18 on May 4, acknowledged that his sociability has spiked in recent years.
“People I never imagined talking to, at some point I became very close friends with,” he said.
He likes to spend time with his friends by going to their homes, or to the mall or movies. He also enjoys listening on his iPod to such artists as Carrie Underwood, David Archuleta, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Rascal Flatts. Yet he also prioritizes maintaining his honor-roll status, although that wasn’t always the case. As a sixth-grader he almost failed out of Corpus Christi at Blessed Sacrament School, which would have cost him his sponsorship. He termed the experience “an awakening moment” after which he became much more serious about studying.
“He has proven to be an ambitious individual who is self-motivated and self-directed. Josue finds a way of accomplishing his objectives by striving harder and working longer on his school assignments,” Mary Ann Carletta, his school sponsor, remarked in her Hands of Christ nomination.
Josue also strives to practice his Catholic faith, as demonstrated by his efforts to get to church. He often takes the bus to Mt. Carmel or walks to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church from his Rochester apartment — an only child, he lives there with his mother and stepfather — on the Sundays that his mom works at Wal-Mart on Hudson Avenue.
“Just to take an hour of my time, I can’t think of a better way to spend it than devoting it to my spiritual life. It’s a good way to release some stresses,” he said, adding that this reflection time helps him remember that “sometimes problems aren’t as big as they seem in the present moment.”
Following his June graduation from Bishop Kearney, Josue will head this fall to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, where he has earned a partial scholarship. He plans to major in journalism and also is considering the priesthood or entering a social-service profession.
Josue said he’ll be driven to succeed in adulthood by the desire “to prove others wrong” — those from his past who told him he couldn’t achieve his dreams. Though he’s not yet certain where his career path will go, he does have a definition for success.
“To enjoy life as it is, and not let anyone bring me down,” he stated.