Two hundred “little saints” ages 6 weeks to 5 years old are cared for at Lakewood Catholic Academy Early Childhood Program, which is located in the former convent that is connected to LCA. It is one of the largest Catholic early childhood programs in the state, according to Brian Sinchak, LCA president.
The LCA Early Childhood Program, formerly known as Holy Family Learning Center, has been on the LCA campus for nearly 30 years. It opened when the all-girls Catholic high school St. Augustine Academy was there. SAA, which was a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and later the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, operated from 1921 to 2005. During SAA’s peak years the CSA sisters lived in the convent, which was built in the late 1950s to replace an older, smaller structure that once stood on the eight-acre lakefront property adjacent to Lakewood Park.
LCA, formed by the merger of three Lakewood Catholic parish schools -- St. Clement, St. James and St. Luke schools – opened in the fall of 2005 after the high school closed. Five years later, the merged Transfiguration Parish’s school also joined LCA, which educates 425 students in grades K-8.
Sinchak showed off the newly renovated first floor and the renamed LCA Early Childhood Program during a blessing on Sept. 9. Father Joseph Workman, pastor of St. Clement and St. James parishes, conducted the blessing.
“This is a dream realized,” Sinchak said, noting that the staff – many of whom have worked at the center for more than 20 years -- and its dedication make the program special. He said it is important to keep the Holy Family legacy alive, so that history is incorporated into the graphics on the first floor.
Jennifer Berardinelli, who took over as executive director of the program last year, said the idea was to make the space as special as the people. A new window was installed so those in the LCA lobby area can see into the hallway of the early childhood center.
“It helps connect the two spaces, both of which are under the LCA umbrella,” she explained. Berardinelli said lively, energetic colors were introduced in the space as well as new artwork on the hallway walls. Accent colors of blue and green were chosen because they are calming, refreshing and renewing. She and Sinchak said a special touch is the way the ceiling was refreshed to resemble a sky with “clouds” painted onto the light fixtures.
“It’s like a little bit of heaven” Sinchak said.
The renovated first floor includes improved security and reconfigured space to make the operation more efficient. Berardinelli said infants were moved to the first floor and an app was launched that allows parents to get real-time information about their children.
The renovation, done by Regency Construction, took place between June and August. Berardinelli said there was no interruption of service during the work, and the project was completed on time and under budget.
Sinchak also mentioned that donors were able to sponsor items like new cribs, changing tables, rocking chairs and other furnishings for the renovated infant space on the first floor.
LCA board members, city officials including Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers, Frank O’Linn, secretary for education and superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Monica Dietz, assistant superintendent, Regency representatives, Ursuline Sister Kathleen Ogrin, who served as director of the early childhood program until her retirement last year, Father Workman and Sister Marian Durkin, CSA, were among those at the blessing and tour of the facility.
“This renovation was possible because of the leadership of Sister Kathleen and others,” Sinchak said, adding that the space is dedicated to her. He also said the Sisters of Charity, who came to Cleveland in 1851 from France, have been involved in social services – including education and health care -- since their arrival.
“Their faith and continuing support helped us dream these dreams and we thank them for their financial support,” Sinchak said. “We thank them, the donors, staff and others who helped make this project a reality.”
For more information on LCA and the LCA Early Childhood Program, click HERE.