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St. Bernadette's Family Resource Centre and St. Jude's Academy of the Arts.

Situated in the northwest part of Toronto, and housed in a large community centre, there is a charitable organization that has been making a significant difference in the lives of many people since 1997. St. Jude's Academy of the Arts is a not-for-profit facility that provides a safe and stimulating day program for developmentally and physically challenged adults.

St. Jude's is part of St. Bernadette's Family Resource Centre which was founded by Angie Carboni, an energetic, warm, deeply faithful, dynamic woman. According to their website, St. Bernadette's is "a non-profit, nondenominational, community-based organization that has been integrating children, youth, and adults with developmental and/or physical challenges such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, blindness, with their 'able' peers since 1992."

The story of Angie and St. Bernadette's/St. Jude's is a testament to faith and abandonment to Divine Providence. Hers is the witness of how a lapsed Catholic eventually answered Jesus' invitation to come back to the Church she had abandoned as a child.

Angie was a burnt--out social worker racked with the anxiety of meeting the needs of her special needs clients who had serious medical and developmental conditions. She was asked to start a day program for her clients but personal complications including a major car accident and a diagnosis of endometriosis added to the obstacle of a lack of facilities for her clients.

A chance encounter with a seemingly mystical woman changed the course of Angie's life. The woman told her that she would start a charity and if she obeyed God, the charity would save souls. The woman instructed her to name the charity St. Bernadette's. She urged Angie to pray to know the Will of God. Angie followed the woman's advice and her renewed commitment to prayer led her back to the Catholic Church.

Angie plunged into her work, writing and submitting proposals that were guided by her trust in Divine Providence. Her mission was to integrate special needs and able-bodied children.

Through integrated after-school and day programs, the special needs children would show the able-bodied children how to grow in love. Offers of administrative and financial help poured in. At the same time, she and her husband were blest with two children and the providential purchase of a family home. In every instance, Angie felt the strong presence of God steering every move.

Eventually, Angie started an integrated theatre program consisting of high-school students who were struggling in school and special needs clients. The troupe successfully performed their uplifting shows in elementary schools. At the same time, Angie expanded her ministry with the creation of a day program for adults with special needs and that is how St. Jude's Academy of the Arts came to be. The program initially hired high school--aged youth who had dropped out of school. They received a stipend while they were working at St. Jude's, and at the end of their term with the program, they were awarded money to help them return to school. Today, Angie has a team of energetic caregivers and leaders. The clients benefit from a program of academics and life skills. They participate in a catechism program that teaches basic truths of Christianity.

The scope of Angie's unique ministry is two-fold. St. Bernadette's Family Resource Centre offers programs for children aged eighteen months and older and their parents. The Centre offers after- school integrated programs as well as parental support. Angie's focus is on bringing Jesus to the children. Parents and their children as young as two years old benefit from Eucharistic Adoration and the children can attend a summer camp where, among other activities, they learn to pray the Rosary.

St. Jude's Academy of the Arts began as a day program but has evolved in to a youth ministry. Angie and her team welcome high school students for day retreats where they participate in integrated activities with the Academy's special needs clients. By interacting with the clients, the retreatants practice different forms of communication. Using verbal and non-verbal techniques, they learn to express themselves and listen to other people. There are team-building games, and an emphasis on breaking barriers between able-bodied students and special needs individuals. The focus of the exercises is to teach the theme: "to live as one" because in Gods eyes, we are one. As the students observe the simplicity and openness of their special needs brothers and sisters in Christ, they are asked to think about ways they can simplify their own lives.

They also participate in religious discussions that are led by Angie and her team. The talks centre on prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the attractive lies of the devil, and a right relationship with Christ and Our Blessed Mother. Angie speaks plainly to the students, urging them to choose Christ and His Church over the empty promises of the world. She tells them that the devil is seductive. She counsels them to be selective when choosing friends, convincing them to leave friendships that are a bad influence; and she assures them that God will send them the right people. The students are advised to make prayer an integral part of their lives. In a powerful prayer activity, students are given a saints relic to hold as Angie instructs them to pray for that saints intersession. Not only are the students fascinated by the experience of holding a relic, they also gain a new intercessor in Heaven. The retreatants learn about the power of the priest to forgive their sins and how the Sacrament of Confession reconnects them with God. Angie tells the story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, where the consecrated Host and wine were miraculously changed into human cardiac tissue and human blood. She connects this miracle to the Shroud of Turin where scientists discovered that the blood type on the shroud is AB, which is the same blood type found at the Miracle of Lanciano. She uses these examples in an effort to catechize the students about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Some of the students tell her that they have never been taught about the Holy Eucharist in such a convincing way. Angie believes that students of all ages need to be taught about the Real Presence of Jesus, and they need to learn about miracles and the lives of the saints.

"We have the real treasures of the world in our hands," she says. "We have to tell them."

Students who are initially reluctant to interact with the Centres clients develop relationships with them by the end of the day. Many of them find the deeply Catholic experience to be transformative, and as a result, conversions occur. Students often ask if they can return for another retreat or a private visit.

Adjacent to the grounds of the community centre that houses St. Judes, there is the Marian Shrine of Gratitude. It was built by Father Basil, a priest who lives in a nearby home. In 2004, Father Basil sustained an eye injury that doctors concluded would cause permanent blindness. He prayed for healing through Our Lady's intercession, and when his sight was restored, he erected the Shrine. The Academy's clients and retreatants as well as other visitors regularly come to pray at the Shrine. Time spent here is one of the most touching moments for the high school retreatants and many visitors claim to have been healed of physical, mental, and spiritual ailments.

Angie's vision reaches beyond the work at St. Jude's and St. Bernadette's. The organizers of World Youth Day, Germany, 2005, were looking for a musical band that included special needs young adults. Angie and her team formed a musical group and were chosen to represent Canada at the event. They had never attempted anything like it before but their strong trust in God's plans for them was rewarded.

Over the years, she has organized youth rallies with the permission of the papacies of Pope St. John-Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The first rally was held at Toronto City Hall. Subsequent rallies have been held on the grounds of the community centre and attendees have benefited from the presence of the Marian Shrine of Gratitude. At each rally, she consecrates the youth to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

What began as a not-for-profit day program of integration for special needs clients has become a dynamic ministry of charity towards one's neighbour, and a powerful witness of trust in Divine Providence. Angie and her team not only serve the immediate needs of their clients, but they also serve the spiritual needs of all who encounter St. Bernadette's Family Resource Centre and St. Jude's Academy of the Arts. In a wonderfully unique way, Angie and her team carry out the Gospel admonition to go out and make disciples of all men. (cf. Matt. 28:19)

For more information about St. Bernadette's Family Resource Centre and St. Jude's Academy of the Arts visit their website: You can also learn about the rosary bracelets handcrafted by staff and clients. They are sold for fundraising purposes.

Terry McDermott writes from Toronto and is the proud mom of six handsome young men and two beautiful young women. Check out her blog on
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Author:McDermott, Terry
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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