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Cathedral students, staff help others despite own tragedy

Date: 6/21/2011

June 20, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

SPRINGFIELD — For decades, Cathedral High School has been said to be a place where students are not only educated, but brought up to be responsible global citizens.

When tragedy struck at home, the core values of Western Massachusetts' preeminent Catholic high school's mission statement of justice, peace, love and service shone through.

Even as a whirlwind of uncertainty surrounds the future of their school, staff and students of Cathedral hosted a tornado relief drive for the surrounding community at the St. Catherine of Siena parish center on June 14.

"It's a great reflection on the school and its students," Elizabeth Hegarty, a math teacher at Cathedral, said. "They always want to give and lead by example by doing for others."

The building on Surrey Road that has housed Cathedral since 1959 and St. Michael's Academy since 2009 was severely damaged by the tornado that ripped through one of the hardest-hit areas of the city. It has since been condemned and while the Diocese of Springfield has said it plans to reopen the school, questions still remain regarding where and when.

However, putting their own hardships aside, student and staff volunteers collected items to be donated to tornado victims, including clothing, shoes, sleepwear, towels, blankets, toiletries, diapers, baby formula, glassware and dishware, and kitchen utensils. According to Hegarty, the first ideas for a collection of this kind emerged from the student body.

"The students really wanted to do something to help those affected after the tornado hit, but they had no structure," Hegarty explained. "That's when the staff got involved. We contacted the Catholic Charities Agency to see what we could do and have organized this in cooperation with them."

Nana Le, a freshman from Springfield, said she felt the way the school was affected by the tornado has made the student body especially sensitive to the needs of the surrounding community.

"I think it had a really big impact," she said. "There was a one in a million chance that the tornado hit the school and I think that made some people think. There were also a lot of students who were affected."

Hegarty said that while she felt students would have come through in a similar fashion had the school been untouched, the fact the school was damaged added a greater sense of reality to the situation.

"I think it offered a lot of students a first hand look at what can happen to people in a split second," she said.

While volunteers hoped that their efforts would help and inspire others, some found that it was they, themselves who were inspired.

Sister Louise Lataille, another math teacher at the school, recounted how two separate women whose houses were damaged by the tornado stopped and delivered goods because they realized that some were without homes at all.

"That really amazed me. I'm not sure what I'd be thinking if something like that happened to my home, but it is heartening to see that even in desperate times people are thinking about each other," she said.

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