Life and living is an art which takes practice and learning. I am one of many people who believes in challenging myself to Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse. For practical purposes my definition of the 3 R’s is basically to conserve resources and save money. This is the first of two posts on the wonderful benefits of recycling as a way of life.
Without realizing it, I learned the most about the 3 R’s of Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse as I began my teaching career in education, when a Catholic priest and I began an early child center at a church in Honolulu, just a block from my home. It was in 1978 that Father Joseph Turk, the pastor of a large parish in our suburban community decided to embark on his next big project. I had a chance meeting with Father Turk one day, as I was walking the neighborhood. The church had no school then, but God placed it upon Father Turk’s heart to build one! It was not a coincidence, but a God-Incidence, where God brings people together to do a work for Him.
Father Turk had a reputation of being a church developer, having previously pioneered a few other parishes. It was his vision to build a school for our community and families commuting into the city that required child care. After talking to him, and his learning of my educational background, Father Turk asked me if I would run a child center for him. Not knowing any better, I acceded to his request for help to be the new Director of a yet unbuilt school. At that time, there was nothing but a small empty lot on the church property next to a large embanking hill. It was the spring of that year when I registered 25 children and did parent interviews in the church office.
Father Turk was an amazing man with exceptional great faith to literally move mountains, just like the Bible spoke of in Mark 11:22-24. And this is what he proceeded to do! He hired huge ear-deafening heavy equipment to knock down the mountain, clearing and doubling the size of the church property for our new preschool. Father Turk purchased a large surplus wooden sales office about 2000 sq. ft. from a developer of a nearby military subdivision that was no longer needed. He paid around $15,000 or so for it, borrowed $30,000 from his priest brother’s parish in Ohio, and then made a small loan from a rich financier friend, Chinn Ho, whose company loaned him the balance he needed. (Chinn Ho was the developer of the iconic Ilikai Hotel at the entrance of Waikiki, and the film site of the famous Hawaii Five-O, TV serial). So Father Turk literally moved a mountain to make space for the new St. Philomena Child Center in 1978!
I didn’t see it, but some of the neighbors reported that a ‘large wooden house’ blocked the main intersection on our street late one night on their way home. The building was moved and transported from two miles away to the church property using many rollers and a huge truck to transport it up the slight graded hill where the church was situated. Soon after the building was secured and a new veranda and steps were built, church members and parents of prospective students formed a caravan of trucks, station wagons, and cars and drove about 8 miles across town to Waikiki. Located across the street from the famous Waikiki Beach, St. Augustine’s Church was closing their elementary school and so we loaded up everything we could use for our new school and carried away student desks and chairs, drinking water fountains and long trough sinks, cafeteria tables for our large parish dining hall, kitchen equipment and fixtures, etc. (Where the school used to be, St. Augustine’s Church built the Waikiki Health Center which today is a major community health system of clinics that serve the poor and homeless.)
On moving day, we also picked up Mother Elizabeth Seton, too, the statue at the entrance of St. Augustine School, and we placed her at the front of our school. Mother Seton was the first U.S. citizen canonized as a saint and was the founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She is considered the founder of the American parochial school system. (Years later, I saw two staff members who I trained still working there. I reviewed the history of the school with the then principal and told her that the statue in front of the school was of the canonized saint known as a leader in Catholic education and not St. Philomena, the one the church is named after!)
God’s blessings continued! Military wood surplus tables were given to us for the children’s activities; all we had to do was shorten the table legs. The Bethel Chapel Assembly of God in Waipahu closed its preschool that year and gave us shelves and library book stands. The Honolulu Community College welding class, inexpensively built the first two pieces of playground equipment- a double slide and a short parallel bar climber, and we were given a large concrete tunnel for the children to play in. I applied for and received a federal grant to build a beautiful, brand new commercial kitchen for a school cafeteria. With donations and with volunteers doing carpentry and landscaping work, the St. Philomena Child Center became the 1st all day child center with a cafeteria, federally subsidized kitchen and food program in the Hawaii Catholic School Dept. A fence around the school was installed and the instant grass was soon ready for the first class of our ‘miracle school’ that was opened in Sep. 1978, 5 months after I began to enroll children from the church office.
This was just a glimpse into the start of our school. Over the next couple of years as God continued to meet all of our needs, we became affiliated with the American Montessori Society (AMS) through Chaminade University of Honolulu and added a kindergarten. We were privileged to have two disciples of Maria Montessori come to our site to provide workshops for the staff and myself- Katherine Kennedy and Lena Gitter. Romalda Spalding conducted staff and parent workshops on teaching reading, writing, and spelling. I directed an on site training program to get my teachers and assistants trained and certified in the Montessori method of student-directed learning.
Many stories can be told about the staff making our own practical life, sensorial, language and math materials with donations, things gathered from nature, and free, used, and inexpensive materials. And in 3 years our loans were paid up. Today, almost 40 years later, there is a large, beautiful complex with an enrollment of 164 students, ages 15 mos. to age 6, at the property of St. Philomena Church in Salt Lake, Honolulu.
By writing this flashback of this early phase of my educational career I am in awe of God’s blessings and His faithfulness in showing us how to Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse materials to help young children, and their families. In its nearly 40 years of existence, about a few thousand children have received care and training at St. Philomena Early Learning Center that God started in 1978! Glory to God!