A flower blooms in autumn as bishop blesses  
first-of-its-kind early learning center in Attleboro


By Dave Jolivet
Co-Editor
davejolivet@anchornews.org

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Usually in this neck of the woods, autumn means the changing colors of leaves prior to their exodus from the tree limbs, and flowers and plants hunker down in their own ways for the upcoming winter season. It’s a time of hibernation until spring when life begins anew.

But in Attleboro earlier this fall, a new flower emerged, filled with color and the hope of a bright future — traits of April and May, not October and November. The new blossom was the Little Flower Early Learning Center located a stone’s throw from St. Vincent de Paul Church.

Little Flower, named after St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the first-of-its-kind in the Diocese of Fall River, is a Catholic educational child-care center with a faith-based curriculum based on Gospel values. The center will offer an education geared to preparing children ages six months to 3.9 years old, for Pre-K and Kindergarten.

Scheduled to open in the near future, the center was blessed and dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 1.

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The center is bright, warm and colorful — a perfect balance to introduce young minds to working and playing with others in an environment that isn’t afraid to recognize the God as the Father of all.

In the classrooms are colorful area carpets depicting Biblical scenes, including a precious Noah’s Ark scene. Holy pictures, books, cards and sayings adorn the cheerfully painted walls and shelves.

Superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Fall River, Steve Perla welcomed guests prior to the ribbon-cutting and tour of the facility. “We are real pleased to be here and it’s really taken a lot of work to get to this point,” he said in his opening remarks. “We are really excited to be able to open this new facility to really expand the services of our Church through our Catholic schools.”

By serving such a young student base, Perla and those involved with Little Flower Early Learning Center hope, “it will be a feeder system to our Catholic schools in the nearby area. But more importantly,” Perla continued, “I think we’re going to be able to provide very young families and their young children a faith-based educational experience.”

Perla further addressed those who question providing such services to children at such a tender age. “Recent studies have shown that faith development starts at a very young age and I feel it’s very important that we provide to our young children the opportunity to encounter God and to encounter Christ.”

Perla told the gathering that it took the hard work and commitment of many people to make the Little Flower Early Learning Center a reality, including the center’s inaugural director Christine Barrett and her staff. 

“First, I’d like to thank Father Dariusz Kalinowski, pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes. Father and the parishioners have been absolutely terrific,” he said. “They have been extremely supportive, collaborative and we are most grateful to them for the partnership.

“I would also like to thank Noelle D’Intino, who has been our consultant working on this project and quite frankly, we would not be standing here this morning if it wasn’t for Noelle’s guidance, time and just unbelievable energy and helping us pull all this together.”

Perla also expressed kudos to diocesan assistant superintendent of Schools Sandra Drummey. “Sandy has been working diligently with Noelle and the team here to make sure that this happened.”

The superintendent acknowledged the great assistance provided by the Diocese of Fall River Central Catholic Schools Board whose “support was necessary to advance some of the projects and they provided some wonderful guidance and great direction.”

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School Board director Roger Sullivan told the gathering, “We are thrilled to be able to witness the fulfillment of the board’s mission to provide a faith-based education to any child who wants it from Pre-K, early age, and all the way through high school. Moreover, we’re thrilled to be able to offer an opportunity for the community to have a service. Here is a young, vibrant, new, alive environment for these young children to be, and yes, to learn a little bit about their faith and a little bit about religion. As one of the instructors was telling me before, it’s wonderful to be able to talk about Christmas and the real meaning of Christmas and that’s a wonderful thing for a child to hear.

“And perhaps most importantly, we’re thrilled to be able to offer an opportunity for parents of young children. The parents themselves are struggling very hard to make ends meet and in order to do that they need multiple incomes in their household. So we’re very pleased to be able to offer an affordable option for them. It provides a safe environment, a holistic education that’s integrated with the rest of our school system.”

Barrett, who has a bachelor’s degree in English and an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education, has 24 years of experience as a center director and preschool teacher. She is married with twin daughters and is a resident of Cumberland, R.I., where she is active in her parish, St. Basil the Great in Lincoln, R.I.

“I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing me to be the first director of Little Flower,” she told those in attendance. “It’s an honor and a blessing. I am really looking forward to working with all the children and their families and I feel very confident as the days pass by. We’ll be blessed with an abundance of children [14]. I promise to all of you I will carry on the mission of a faith-based religious day care with love and prayers.”

Barrett introduced her teaching staff: Kathleen Harrington, Tamar Ghajanian, Kelly Gordon and Elizabeth Silvia.

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., told the gathering he was thrilled to be at the opening ceremony “and bless and dedicate this wonderful place for parents and children who come through these doors and will learn and grow. What a beautiful place and it is beautiful that this institution is dedicated to St. Therese, the Little Flower of the Child Jesus, who, in her simple ways of life has touched so many hearts throughout the world. If we have the blessing and protection of St. Therese, we know we’re not going to go wrong.”

Perla shared a story regarding the institution’s namesake. “When I had called the previous pastor of St. Vincent’s (Father Christopher Peschel) about this project, he had asked me, what are you going to name the facility? And I said we’re going to name it Little Flower. And he said, ‘Steve, you’re not going to believe this. When I first came to the parish and I was looking around in the facility, where Little Flower is now in place I found in that facility, relics of St. Therese.’ And I said Father you are really kidding me, right? And he said, ‘No, Steve I’m being very honest.’ So since that day we’ve had great confidence that we have St. Therese prayers and blessings and great confidence that this will be a great success.”

The bishop also said, “I want to congratulate everyone involved in this beautiful project. I am so happy to bless and dedicate this place and congratulate the teachers, administrators, staff and everyone involved. They all did a great, great work and it was really a team effort to put this together. Everyone deserves recognition and the credit.”

Bishop da Cunha gave a reading from the Gospel of Matthew: “Then children were brought to Him that He might lay His hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to Me and do not prevent them. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.’ After, He placed His hands on them, He went away.”

The center is also adorned with a plethora of brand new toys, graciously gifted to Little Flower by Catholic Social Services. Perla told the gathering the opening of Little Flower has been the collaboration of many people and ministries. “It’s really important that we collaborate and work together and that we not work in silos. As you go through the rooms, you’ll notice some terrific toys and those toys were all donated to us via Catholic Social Services. And I need to tell you that of those toys, many of them were gathered by Fred Ramos and the group called Celebrating the Beauty of Every Child. 

“I was telling Susan Mazzarella, the CEO of Catholic Social Services about the center. I said we’re about to go shopping for toys. She  said, ‘Don’t do that. Come to our place. We have all kinds of toys now.’ When I went there it was like a Toys ’R Us, all brand new, not secondhand toys. So we are very grateful to Fred and his group and CSS for the work they have done to support this whole effort.”

A reception and tour of the facility followed the ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony. And on a chilly raw day, a beautiful flower bloomed in autumn in Attleboro.


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