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Bishop sees positive effect of arts and music during visit to St. Joseph University School


Bishop Michael W. Fisher celebrated the good works of Catholic education institutions by touring several elementary and high schools during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 4.

On Feb. 1, Bishop Fisher and Dr. Tim Uhl, secretary of Education for the diocese, visited St. Joseph University School. Adjacent to the SUNY Buffalo Main Street campus, the pre-K through eight school welcomes students from all over the city, with many from Buffalo’s East Side.

“It’s no longer a territorial school,” explained Father Jack Ledwon, pastor. “When they come to us, a lot of the kids have remediation needs, but if they’re with us long enough, they graduate, they get into the high school of their choice, and a lot of them go on to college. We’re sort of giving them a life raft for their future.”

Bishop Fisher and Dr. Uhl met with teachers and students during their visit.  

An open area known as the Commons houses a library/media center, art studio, the FLIGHT initiative gifted and talented program, as well as providing a gathering space for assemblies and prayer services.

The FLIGHT students had just wrapped up a philosophical discussion when the visitors showed up. 

“Music and art are really the core of what we believe in; helping students find their talents,” said Anne Wojick, director of Curriculum and Partnership.

Tina Lojacono, the art teacher, explained how she teaches for artistic behavior, meaning she gets the students to engage in their craft, to use their imagination, to learn about the art world and use that within their work. She tries to teach the kids the basics of art and following directions, but then gives them plenty of room to make their own choices.

“By the time they reach intermediate and middle school, they very much work on their own,” she said

The bishop then poked his head in the music room to see the students rehearse a musical about a group of kids trapped in a grocery store after hours. The students sang an ode to junk food.

“My goal is for every child to bring their parent in to see their child do well. The kids work like this because they know what they want most is for their parents to come and say, ‘We’re proud of you,’” explained Michelle Thomas, the music teacher. 

The seventh graders are putting their English/Language Arts skills into action by writing children’s books for different grade levels. Their teacher, Gary Stillman, is applying for copyrights with hopes of seeing the books in the Library of Congress. The class also staffs the school newspaper, interviewing teachers, selling ads, and creating word searches themselves. 

Stillman presented Bishop Fisher with letters from the sixth, seventh and eighth grade school leaders. The bishop said he would say a prayer with each letter he read.

The student body of the school is atypical of a traditional Catholic school. Ninety percent are minority and 85 percent are non Catholic. Father Ledwon said the vast majority live below the poverty level.

“It’s very much faith-based,” Father Ledwon said about the school’s mission. “Our kids are 99 percent Christian. We’ve had the occasional Jewish student or the occasional Muslim student, or even an Asian student who may be a Buddhist, but the vast majority are all Christian. Fifteen percent are Catholic. They go to church on Sunday. Many of them spend a lot more time in church than we do.”Bishop Fisher closed the day by reading a prayer over the school’s PA system.

Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.