A feeling of contentment and peace envelope those who visit the campus of The Marian Center, a truly blessed place that educates and cares for children from 5 – 22 years old, who are challenged by certain developmental disabilities. Located next to St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Sister Lucia has spearheaded the growth of school for the past 47 years with a goal of providing a quality education to students with developmental disabilities, at the highest individual level each is capable of achieving. It was former Bishop of Miami, Coleman F. Carroll, who initially asked The Sisters of St. Joseph Cottolengo to start a school specifically to serve this population. Thus begins the story of The Marian Center School when eleven Sisters traveled to Miami from Italy on October 21, 1963. Sister Lucia was accompanied by Sisters Consolata, Enrichetta, Giuseppina, Carla, Paola, Ada, Enrica, Maria, Giovanna and Giulana. Of the four experienced Sisters still there, three have been here since 1963 (Sister Lucia, Sister Carla, Sister Paola) and Sister Lidia, who came from Italy in 1996. In addition, those sisters are aided by a specialized and caring staff of professional teachers, aids, therapists, and support staff.
The School, ensconced in a pastoral setting with beautifully maintained classrooms and facilities, has grown over the years providing a warm, inviting setting that serves as a second home for the students. It does not take long for a visitor to realize that this committed staff has become extended family for the students as well.
While many students pay tuition, a good number are on scholarship and, contrary to popular belief, the Center receives no funding from the Catholic Archdiocese. The Center has a shortfall of approximately $600,000 every year that needs to be raised through private donations in order to maintain their incredible programs. Despite its long history, the Marian Center is one of our community’s best kept secrets. You see, the humble sisters and staff running the school are focused on taking care of their charges and impacting the lives of countless individuals and families over the years. So, the board of directors, PTA and Auxiliary are charged with fundraising events and soliciting donations.
Of course, the easiest way to raise funds is just to listen to Sister Lucia speak of her students, something she does with so much love that one cannot help but be touched to the very core. She says her students have been given God’s greatest blessing, that of being eternally innocent. The says it all. The students are eager to please, affectionate and without a bad thought.
Visitors touring the campus will see well mannered, loving and engaged children who appreciate and enjoy their classes. For educators, the experience is especially interesting as they have an opportunity to discuss learning techniques that have proved helpful , picking up tips that can cross disciplines.
From reading and writing basics to the arts and music, the curriculum for each student is based on each one’s ability to learn, being taught one on one. Taking advantage of the Center’s art and ceramics classes, students also make beautiful pottery creations and cards that are sold to visitors, one way the school helps pay for those arts programs.
Of course, to really appreciate what The Marian Center offers, one needs only to speak to parents who have seen their children blossom under the loving care of the staff. For those graduating out of the school, The Marian Center also offers Adult Day Training and Supported Employment program. Supported employment opportunities are also available for students with the ability to work in the community. In-house work is also available, as well as vocational training.
For more information, visit www.mariancenterschool.org.