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  • May
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Worcester helps Venerini Sisters with school

Posted By May 10, 2012 | 1:20 pm | Lead Story #1
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By William T. Clew

Worcester people show up in the most unexpected places.
For example, a Worcester woman who grew up on Belmont Hill and was taught by the Venerini Sisters on Edward Street is the principal of St. Rosa School, a nursery and primary school in Enugu, a city in southeast Nigeria.
In addition, a large part of the cost of building the school was met by members of her family. And people in the Worcester Diocese, including students at Venerini Academy and parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fitchburg, continue to help.
Sister Maria Cravedi entered the Venerini Sisters in 1962, right out of high school, and professed her vows in 1965. She subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree from Regina Coeli College and a master’s degree in special education from Fitchburg State College, taught at Venerini Academy, worked in hospitals as a chaplain and spiritual director and, before her current assignment in Africa, did mission work in New Mexico.
Her African adventure began when the Venerini Sisters decided to open a convent in Nigeria.     Sister Maria began her mission in Enugu, the capital of the state with the same name, is predominantly Christian city where the Catholic Church has had a presence for many years. There already were other Catholic groups there, including the Sisters of Notre Dame and a group of priests and brothers of the Immaculate Conception, who were leaving the house they leased for new quarters.
The Venerini Sisters took over the lease in 2002 and Sister Maria, Sister Hilda Ponte, superior provincal of Venerini Sisters in the United States, and a Nigerian Sister cleaned it – hot, sweaty work in the hot season in a hot country near the Equator. They opened it as a house of formation for young Nigerian women who wanted to become Venerini Sisters.
Sister Maria came back to the United States to finish her chaplaincy and spiritual direction. She returned to Africa in 2004, she said. By then, the Venerini Sisters had bought land that had been a dumping ground. Sister Maria worked with the builder on plans for a convent there.
Money for the land and the convent came from the Venerini Sisters in Rome. However, the furnishings were paid for by Sister Maria’s brother Paul Cravedi of Worcester, she said. The new convent opened on May 7, 2005, the anniversary of the death of Saint Rosa Venerini, foundress of the Venerini Sisters, who died in 1728 in Italy. Paul Cravedi and Sister Hilda were among those who attended the opening ceremony.
The postulants who had become novices were in the old house. They moved to the new convent and, the next year, four of them professed their vows.
The convent is a two-story building with private rooms and  dormitories. It has a chapel, library, sitting room, sewing room, kitchen, dining room and laundry. It is home to 10 Sisters, all Nigerian except for Sister Maria, and six postulants.
At first the Sisters taught religious education in the parishes. Now they have a school.  It was built across from the convent on land used as a garden. It is on a hill, Sister Maria said, and it took a lot of pick-and-shovel work, with labor hired in the neighborhood, to prepare the site. Construction began in 2007 and students began classes in the new school in 2009.
“Worcester people have  been very involved” in the building of the school, she said. “It’s like a Worcester school.”
Donations have come from parishes in the Worcester Diocese where Venerini Sisters minister. St. Anthony’s in Fitchburg has been a regular contributor. Sister Maria has been in the United States for a few weeks – she is scheduled to return to Nigeria May 15 – and when she visited Venerini Academy last Monday she was given a $500 donation for the school, raised by the Venerini students. Venerini alumnae also continue to contribute.
But her own family has  been especially supportive. Her aunt Alice Anguria, who celebrated her 100th birthday recently and is the only surviving member of her immediate family, took the money saved over the years, kept enough to support herself, and gave the rest of it to the school.  It paid for most of the construction, Sister Maria said.
Sister Maria’s brother Richard, who owns the Wexford House, a restaurant on Shrewsbury Street, had planned an addition to the restaurant. But when she told him the school needed a roof, he said that a roof on the school was more important than an addition to the restaurant, and gave her the money. He has since added a room to the restaurant. He recently underwent heart surgery. Coincidently, the surgeon, whom Sister Maria has met, is from Enugu, Nigeria, she said.
The school, St. Rosa Nursery and Primary School, is a three-story building, she said. Administrative offices and a multipurpose hall with a stage are on the ground floor, the school has 10 regular classrooms. The top floor will have a library and a computer room, she said.
Sister Maria said she also wants to begin adult education classes for the women in the neighborhood, which has many poor families. She said she wants to empower women, who often are treated as second-class citizens there.
She said the teachers are all Nigerian and accredited. Sister Maria is the principal, but said she wants to train a Nigerian to replace her.
Now there are 222 pupils in the nursery through the second grade. Those second graders eventually will be the first St. Rosa graduating class, she said. Classes include English (Nigeria was a British colony until 1960 and English is widely used) French (French is spoken in some neighboring  countries, which once were French colonies) and agriculture. The tribal language in the area is Igbo. Parents pay tuition, but the Sisters help poor families meet the costs.
Sister Maria, who has been in Worcester for the last few weeks,  also is buying books for the school’s library. She said a Nigerian man in Worcester will ship them to Enugu. She said that, eventually she wants to get computers for the school.
And there are other things on the wish list. The school and convent has an eight-year-old car which will need to be replaced. There is a new grotto with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Sister Maria said she would like to add to it the statues of the three children to whom Our Lady appeared.

– Those who wish help St. Rosa school may send donations to Venerini Sisters Mission Fund, 23 Edward St. Worcester, MA 01605, care of Sister Hilda Ponte, MPV.