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Carol Silva has been working in religious education for nearly 25 years. As the director for the newly combined Parish of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, she’s trying to do things differently. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Ever since East Haven’s Catholic churches merged into the Parish of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, things have changed. For Carol Silva, now the director of religious education for the whole parish, it has been “a year of change.”
Carol has been working in religious education for nearly 25 years. She started as the director of religious education for the St. Vincent de Paul Church, but now she’s responsible for all 425 kids in the parish.
“We started new, which is great,” Carol says. “It’s worked out very nicely.”
This year, she’s changed up some of the typical programming to keep education relevant to the students.
“I think if [kids] understand what they’re a part of, then we can embrace something a little bit more contemporary; something that makes them feel that…they are a very important part of the future of the church,” she says.
The program begins for 1st graders and stretches all the way to 10th grade with monthly classes.
“We also try to engage them in service projects to kind of make them aware of helping and knowing how fortunate and how blessed they are as well,” she says. “The kids have really embraced that whole concept of thinking past themselves.”
Kids in the program make visits to local nursing homes and care facilities like Apple Rehab, Laurel Woods, and Whispering Pines for the holidays, bringing cards and rosaries for the residents.
“I’ve asked them this year…to think past themselves, to see how they could bring Jesus to people, and how they could find Jesus or be Jesus to someone, to really do what we’re asked to do as followers,” she says.
In addition to the Midnight Run for shelters in New Haven run by the older students, this year the kids have stepped up their service to the homeless by working with the Brian O’Connell Homeless Project (BOHP) to produce Brian Bags, packages of provisions handed out to the homeless.
Carol’s friend Donna Finneran founded the project in honor of her late brother, Brian, who struggled with homelessness, alcoholism, and 9/11-induced PTSD until his death in 2017. The group’s mission is to supply those in need with provisions in the form of Brian Bags.
This year, kids in Carol’s programs raised money to put together 220 Brian Bags filled with food, first aid supplies, and toiletries.
“They keep them in their cars and if they see someone on the street that’s homeless, [they] just hand it to them, and the bag contains everything that they would need,” Carol says. “I’m very proud of my students…[and] the team that I have here. It can’t be done unless you have an incredible team of volunteers and teachers.”
These projects are an important part of the students’ religious education, but they also help to make Carol’s job more interesting.
“They make me work harder,” she says. “They make my job a pleasure…to be a part of their passion and their kindness.”
The consolidation of several churches into one parish has affected the way parish celebrates Easter and Christmas. As of June 29, 2017, the Parish of St. Pio of Pietrelcina comprised Our Lady of Pompeii and St. Vincent de Paul churches. The parish also ceased celebrating masses at East Haven’s St. Clare Church at the same time. The students now run a Stations of the Cross ceremony as a merged church.
“The kids did a great job. This year we decided to take it in a new direction, a different direction, to update it a little bit,” Carol says. “Very modern. The first time we had something like that here.”
The new performance used scenes in silhouette behind an illuminated screen accompanied by readings. Teenage actors also performed a live reflection of the stations in front of it.
“The music that was chosen, the PowerPoint that was done, the script that was chosen were really all geared for teens and had a really good message for them,” Carol says. “The twist to it was…the teenage reflection which brought the station from all those years ago and compared it to what teenagers face every day.”
Comparisons to the modern day offered tangible advice for teens to take with them, a departure from the traditional Stations of the Cross presentation.
Carol says she is hoping to continue to modernize the religious education program. This year, the church will put on a Christmas pageant and, though planning is still in the early days, she expects that performance will have its own modern twist.
“We do need to keep incorporating the young people into this parish,” Carol says. “That’s been our goal this year and it’s going to continue to be our goal as we move into the next year.”
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