‘Christ Is the Center of the School’: Faith Imbues Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School
Connecticut school highlights blessing of solid education and presence of religious sisters in Catholic academia.
Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School in Stamford, Connecticut, is growing by proverbial leaps and bounds, proving the attraction of, and for, solid Catholic education — and the importance of building a community to unite families.
“We started in 2018 with 17 students,” Sister Maria Alguacil, the head of school, told the Register. The Sisters of the Company of the Savior, a vibrant congregation of 100 members with more than 60% under age 45, are blessed to oversee the school.
Their temporary location quickly required a permanent one as enrollment increased. When in 2020 they acquired the campus of the former Trinity Catholic High School in the Diocese of Bridgeport with the blessing of Bishop Frank Caggiano, who conveyed to the Register he strongly supports the school and its mission, Mater Salvatoris enrollment increased steadily.
“Since we moved to this campus last school year, we increased to 120 students. This school year, we are 178,” Sister Maria said.
While the school was originally only for girls, soon parents were asking for admittance for their sons, too.
“To welcome the whole family, and to respond to the request of families that were asking for a boys division to be able to offer the same education to their sons and daughters,” said Sister Maria, the boys’ division was added in 2021 and is directed by the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Sister Maria explained, “We separate them in classrooms starting in first grade. Boys and girls are different, and we learn differently. We see this as good for them and helps to develop capacities and their talents as men and women.”
Girls’ classes go up to seventh grade, and the boys, numbering 36 students, go up to fourth grade. Only pre-K starting at 3 years old though kindergarten, has boys and girls together in class.
“The plan,” Sister Maria said, “is to go up through grade 12. A grade is added every year.”
As Sister Maria explained, “Our first mission is to accompany our teachers, modeling for them and sharing with them our mission and our spirituality, our method and curriculum,” discussing how she and her fellow five sisters direct the school, coordinate the grades, and teach religion, while supporting the lay teachers.
Since the sisters come from Spain and Venezuela, Spanish is a second language being taught in the school. “We are blessed with good diversity and enrichment from cultures and languages,” explained Sister Maria. “Because we come from a Spanish background, we are teaching that. But the plan is to offer other languages also, and Latin as soon as they get into high school.”
Mater Salvatoris is the seventh school the congregation has opened and the first one in the United States. Others are in Spain, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Benin.
Sister Maria was educated at a Mater Salvatoris school.
And the Sisters of the Company of the Savior are no strangers to education in the Diocese of Bridgeport, where they began teaching in diocesan schools in 1961 under the leadership of Bishop Lawrence Shehan. It was through Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, whom the congregation’s foundress, Mother Maria Felix, knew, that the sisters were introduced to Bishop Shehan. When those parish schools closed, the last being St. Peter School, in Bridgeport in July 2013, the sisters had the opportunity to launch Mater Salvatoris.
Sister Maria shared the approach and teaching that distinguishes Mater Salvatoris School. “The main important thing is that Christ is the center of the school,” she said. The chapel is the first room of the building, “so every day the students, the staff, the sisters, the priests, any family that comes in the school — we pass by and genuflect, make a short visit to the chapel, and then we continue. At the end of the day, we do the same. So it’s not that we are teaching religion like an isolated class or subject — we have the Lord in the midst of our school community.”
Similarly, the sisters help the young women look to our Blessed Mother as a model, just as the priests help the young men strive to emulate St. Joseph.
Next, the academic component “offers the students the opportunity to develop to their fullest capacities in all the areas,” Sister Maria said, adding that the sisters have created and developed what they call the Mater Salvatoris method.
“We integrate what we consider is the best of the different programs and curriculums and methods. We use manipulatives and hands-on activities. We have a mat floor with different manipulatives where children can write with the chalk and erase and practice. It makes it easier for them to understand the abstraction of the mathematics.”
Children use a blackboard for math and handwriting. “We do develop in language and handwriting from the beginning with the little ones,” Sister Maria explained. “We want them to learn with the whole body, so they develop different muscles to be able to write and develop penmanship and strength in their hands. That also is molding their brains, and it's helping their spelling. In more comprehensive reading, we also develop that language part. We work with them on oral presentations from a very young age and work on their vocabulary and memorization relating with concepts. We do that across the whole curriculum. This also goes on in social studies and science, at their age level, and work on different aspects in the Catechism.”
They have prayers that they practice, and memorization is key. Students learn history, theology and science, of course. The school has a chemistry lab and a physics lab for hands-on experiments. Taken together, another aim is to raise leaders able to integrate faith and reason in life.
“Our tool is not technology — it is a pen, pencil and the brain and the capacity to connect and relate and create,” Sister Maria emphasized. “We do prepare them for this world, for the 21st century. So they do have technology and robotics in the computer lab. The teachers do have an interactive panel [“SMART” board] for their use in each classroom, but not for the students to be connected the whole time to a screen.”
Another plus: The move to the larger campus, with its 20 acres, affords much space for children to develop their sports abilities and skills as well as learn teamwork.
Anna McCabe, a fourth-grade teacher in the girls' division, finds Mater Salvatoris School an exceptional place to teach and for everyone to grow in faith. “My Catholic faith is integrated with my teaching,” she told the Register. “In this educational environment, where forming the whole child intellectually and spiritually is our focus, I am free to teach the truth of our faith in every class as the opportunity arises.”
“The sisters and their care for the teachers and students create a school community that is also a family,” McCabe added. “The students thrive in this nurturing environment and learn to love Our Lord through the example of the sisters’ vocation. Their total gift of self is an example that cannot be replicated in most Catholic schools. In addition, attending Mass weekly as a school community allows the children to see what is at the heart of our Catholic faith and that worship and prayer are a natural and essential part of our lives.”
The two priests coordinating the boys’ division and teaching religion and Spanish offer Mass and weekly confession not only for the students, but for teachers, too — as well as parents.
“Their parents are more than welcome,” said Sister Maria. “They join us when they drop off their students and then they join the school committees and any special event.”
“It is beautiful to see the relationships among the families,” Sister Maria said with evident joy. “Our families are looking for the same goals, the same foundation, the same ideas and expectations. They do want to give their children a truly Catholic formation and a well-rounded education. And they meet here so they can build these friendships that hopefully will last years. It’s beautiful to see that not only in the students, but also in the families. Often we hear, ‘You feel welcome here. You are truly part of a family. And it’s beautiful to hear that work of the Holy Spirit. It is a blessing,” she said. “And for us, it is a sign that the Lord is blessing this project. It is beautiful to see.”
Naturally, the school cultivates devotion to our Blessed Mother. “All of our schools are entrusted to our Blessed Mother,” emphasized Sister Maria, noting Mater Salvatoris means “Mother of the Savior.”
“We are the Sisters of the Company of the Savior, so Our Lady is leading us. She’s the one who said, ‘Yes.’ So we follow her. We do have the same statue of Our Lady in all of our schools and chapels, so every time some alumni walk in the school, they feel at home. They’re looking at Our Lady.” She calls it a beautiful apostolate in all their schools: “to spread this love to go to Jesus through Mary — like St. John Paul II.”
For all these reasons, Sister Maria said families have even moved to be closer to the school. “They feel at home with this community, and they know their children are in a very good and healthy Catholic environment.”
Parents Kevin and Meredith Michel, who have two children attending, told the head of school, “The opportunity to send our kids to Mater Salvatoris is life-changing. In just two years, we have seen our young children grow academically by leaps and bounds. They’ve developed incredibly tender hearts full of wonder and joy. And their affection for Jesus and love for our Catholic faith is so beautiful, it inspires us, their parents.”
“I honestly cannot dream of a better scenario for our children’s Catholic education than Mater Salvatoris,” the parents added. “Being taught by religious sisters and priests who are on fire for the Lord is a gift beyond measure.”
Sean and Cecilia Fieler had similar thoughts. “Mater Salvatoris uniquely understands” that the sisters, the priests and the whole faculty and staff “can’t educate the children in isolation from their families. They promote a community of families through their example and a series of events and retreats. The Sisters of the Company of the Savior have made a tremendous difference in our family’s faith and unity.”
John and Florencia Bombardó shared their two daughters’ experience, as well. “For parents who have been searching for a revivification of the great ideals of Catholic education in our turbulent modern times, as well as an abundant community of shared values, and a place of academic and spiritual excellence, Mater Salvatoris has made this a reality.”
Sister Maria told the Register that Bishop Caggiano has always been strongly supportive, with his encouragement and guidance. “He really wanted this building to continue with the mission of Catholic education.” Along with the growth of the school spiritually and academically, she pointed out the needs for their ongoing fundraising campaign for repairs and paying the mortgage to the diocese. Constructed in 1957, the building needs renovations.
But Sister Maria is undaunted as the school continues drawing new students and revitalizing Catholic education.
“It is God’s work. He is in charge. We have to pray, ask Our Lord, and do our best to fulfill his will, only for his greater glory.”