School service fulfills sisters - Catholic Courier

School service fulfills sisters

HENRIETTA — A lot has changed during the 47 years Sister Seraphine Herbst has worked with students with developmental disabilities.

“There has been much more acceptance of our children than there was 20 years ago or 30 years ago,” she said during an interview in her office at School of the Holy Childhood, 100 Groton Parkway, where she serves as executive director.

At one time, children with developmental disabilities spent most of their lives at home with their families or in institutions, she said. Today, they’re more likely to receive education, and some are even able to land the kinds of jobs done by people without such disabilities, she said.

“I’ve been happy to find that all our children have some gifts, no matter how limited,” she said. “We just have to discover how to release them.”

Sister Herbst is one of five Sisters of St. Joseph working at the school, along with one School Sister of Notre Dame. And they are among the many area residents who were slated to join the Holy Childhood community in celebrating the school’s 60th anniversary at a dinner-dance on Sept. 30 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The school currently enrolls 106 students between the ages of 5 and 21, and 87 adults, Sister Herbst said.

Among those who have praised the school for its work are Beverly and Bill Reed, whose 21-year-old son, Matthew, participates in the adult-woodshop program at Holy Childhood. The Reeds noted that Matthew has blossomed during his 16 years at the school. He has participated in the Special Olympics; reads regularly; studies guitar and drums; uses a calculator; and is an altar server at St. John of Rochester Church in Fairport.

“The staff and all the people at Holy Childhood really helped to develop him into a young man and stretch his abilities in a variety of different enterprises,” Bill Reed said. “They essentially taught him that life is limitless and that there’s no boundaries.”

School history notes that Holy Childhood was founded in 1946 by Sister of St. Joseph Mark McMahon as a craft class for “slow learners.” The school initially was located at Immaculate Conception School on Plymouth Avenue in Rochester and, by 1947, woodworking and sewing were established as mainstays of the institution’s curriculum. Due to rapidly increasing enrollment, the school moved into Our Lady of Victory School on Rochester’s Andrews Street in 1951. The school moved again in 1972 to Buffalo Road, and established its current home on Groton Parkway in the mid-1980s.

Over the years, the nondenominational school has instituted an adult-training program; a health-care clinic; a swimming program; a bakery; and programs in weaving, ceramics and recreational therapy. The school has many achievements to its credit, among them providing staff for the concession stands at the U.S. Open, Ryder Cup and PGA Championship golf tournaments at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford. In 1994, pies made in the school’s bakery were named No. 1 in America by the magazine Conde Nast Traveler.

The women religious who serve there noted that working with children and adults with developmental disabilities is a fulfilling ministry. Sister Pius Streb, who recently retired from 49 years of teaching, said that Holy Childhood is “a great place because it’s family.”

“I love being with the children and the staff,” she said. “I have learned love, compassion, strength. I see the wonder and beauty of God and feel his closeness every day.”

Sister Evelyn Breslin, the lone School Sister of Notre Dame and the executive assistant to Sister Herbst, noted she formerly worked as both a teacher and assistant principal at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit. The move to Holy Childhood marked a significant change from a traditional educational setting to which she was accustomed at Kearney, she noted.

“Becoming involved with the dedicated staff and getting to know the special children and adults who are here every day continues to be an invigorating experience,” she said.

Sister Mary JoAnne Flynn, a nurse, said she sees the face of God in the students at Holy Childhood.

“I encounter children and adults who love unconditionally and are always happy to see you, and they put total trust in what you say to them, and that is an ultimate gift that one person can give to another,” she said.

All this good feeling benefits school administration, Sister Herbst noted.

“We have very little turnover here,” she said. “After working here awhile, you just learn to love these people.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For information on School of the Holy Childhood, visit www.holychildhood.org, or call 585/359-3710.

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