“Find some time today to thank God for all the special ways he loves you.”
Bishop Nelson Perez gave that advice to the 125 students at Julie Billiart School in Lyndhurst during his visit on Oct. 2. He toured the school, visited with therapy dogs Dexter and Beatrice, celebrated Mass for the Julie Billiart community and chatted with students, teachers and staff members.
The fact that it was the feast of the holy guardian angels made the visit even more special, the bishop said. “They’re in your midst,” he told the students, encouraging them to look around at their teachers and other staff members.
“You also should thank the Sisters of Notre Dame. They started all of this 65 years ago,” he added.
Julie Billiart offers high-quality education for students in grades K-8 with high-functioning autism, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and other specific learning differences. The school has a low student-to-teacher ratio of 6:1 in grades K-2 and 8:1 in grades 3-8, which allows intervention specialists to adapt their teaching methods to meet the different learning needs of each student. It is named after St. Julie Billiart, a French religious leader who founded and was the first superior of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
As he often does during school visits, Bishop Perez asked the students what made their school – Julie Billiart – so special. Hands popped up around the gymnasium, where Mass was being celebrated. Student responses included “double recess,” making new friends, “it’s heaven on earth,” reading and drawing, the teachers, “it gave me the most privileges” and games.
“They really do get double recess,” said Anne Jarrad, director of advancement for Julie Billiart Schools. She said the extra break helps the students reset and get ready for their lessons and other activities.
When asked about their favorite lunch, he got an enthusiastic response to pizza.
Bishop Perez also reminded the students that one thing makes their school extra special: It’s a place with God at its center. “As your minds and hearts grow, know that deep inside your heart, your parents, teachers, the sisters, even Dexter and Beatrice all love you. These are some ways that God shows you he loves you,” he said.
Mass is offered regularly at the Lyndhurst campus, Jarrad said. Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries is a frequent celebrant. She said an after-care program is available, as are other extracurricular activities like choir, musical instrument instruction, chess club, art club and Snapology (a program that encourages building and learning with LEGO bricks) for Julie Billiart students.
The Lyndhurst campus is housed in the former mansion of Charles and Grace Arter. Arter was among the partners in the former Cleveland law firm Arter & Hadden. Grace Arter died in 1944 and after Charles Arter’s death in 1957, their sons -- Calvin and Charles -- donated their parents’ estate, which included a 22-room mansion on six acres of land, to the Sisters of Notre Dame for use as a school. The property allowed the sisters to increase enrollment at Julie Billiart, which had been operating in space at Notre Dame Academy on Ansel Road and Superior Avenue in Cleveland.
The mansion was transformed into a school and Julie Billiart began operations there in January 1958. After two additions and expansions, the school can accommodate 130 students.
A second campus – a ministry of St. Sebastian Parish – opened in Akron three years ago and there are plans to open additional campuses.