Diocesan News

Event to benefit ‘hidden treasure’

Annual dance raises funds for Villa Marie School

By Tess Wahlmeier

WAVERLY (SNR) - Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children is a Catholic boarding school near Waverly which serves special-needs children from ages 7 to 18.  Principal Sister Jeanette Rerucha, M.S., calls it a hidden treasure because many people are unaware of its existence.

Villa Marie was founded in 1964 by Msgr. James Dawson, who retired from active ministry in 2005.

The school is approved by the State of Nebraska, and all of the teachers are certified in special education. Msgr. John Perkinton is the director of Villa Marie, and the school is staffed by the Marian Sisters, as well as several lay staff members.

“The students really thrive here because they are loved and they’re accepted for who they are,” Sister Jeanette said.  “It’s kind of like a family.  They experience love and acceptance from the sisters and the staff and from each other, too.”

Sister Jeanette said how beautiful it is to see the older students helping the younger ones. 

The children like to “compete” for the Msgr. Dawson award, which is given to the student who exemplifies the service that Msgr. Dawson had.

“A lot of them, if they see a need they’ll just do something good without being told to do so, and they’ll be helping others out,” she said. “They want that award, and they’ll try to go the extra mile to be of service, so that’s nice to see, too.”

At Villa Marie, students take classes in reading, math, religion, science, social studies, cooking, art, music, computer skills, and P.E.

“We try to get them as far as we can in reading and math, and we give them a lot of individualized instruction,” Sister Jeanette said. “Each child is on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), and so we try to gear the instruction to the goals stated on their IEP.  It’s amazing to see the progress the students make, and we celebrate every little achievement. We call them ‘baby steps.’”

Mass is also a very important part of the childrens’ day at Villa Marie. Many priests from the diocese volunteer to come out to the school and celebrate Mass, and just recently, the children had a visit from Bishop James Conley.

“The students sing very well at Mass,” Sister Jeanette said, “and their prayers, when they offer intentions, they’re just from the heart and I know God hears their prayers.”

Students also learn job skills by doing chores after lunch, such as dishes, trash, vacuuming or laundry.  If students are boarders, they take turns setting the dinner table and cleaning up afterward, as well.  Sister Jeanette said the students also learn to give back to their community. Every year, they do a trash pick-up along the roadsides, and they also serve a meal at Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach in Lincoln.

Villa Marie has many different visitors who come to play and pray with the children.  Some students participate in sports through Special Olympics, and last year, the girls’ basketball team from Waverly High School invited the students out to practice with them. They also invited the Villa Marie students to their basketball game. 

God-Teens groups, Varsity Catholic, Knights of Columbus, Aquinas basketball, and many other groups and individuals visit the students often, including the novices and postulants of the Marian Sisters.

While Villa Marie is a boarding school, students get to go home over the weekends, during vacations, and many go home several nights a week to be with their families. Some students live at home and attend Villa Marie during the day. Through the love and encouragement of their families and those at Villa Marie, students go on to be successful even after their days at Villa Marie are over.

“Most of the students go on to the 18-21 program at public schools, and LPS has a VOICE program, which is on-site vocational training,” Sister Jeanette said. “We’ve heard from the people in charge of the VOICE program that our Villa Marie students are very well prepared for that because of the education they receive at Villa Marie, so that’s always nice to hear.  Some of them have gone on to have regular jobs and some of them have gotten drivers’ licenses, so it just depends on their abilities.

“Some of our graduates have held the same job for more than 30 years and have been very successful,” she continued. “It was nice to see many former Villa Marie students at our 50th anniversary celebration two years ago.

“We just try to help each student reach his or her full potential and become the best person that God intended them to be,” she added.

Villa Marie is not affiliated with any particular parish like other Catholic schools are, so they depend on benefactors for support. Their annual dance fundraiser will be Friday, Jan. 29 at Pla-Mor Ballroom, 6600 W. O St., Lincoln. The dance will be held from 7 to 9 p.m., and all are welcome to attend. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for college students, and $10 for school children. Children under 6 enter free. The tickets can be purchased at the door or by contacting Villa Marie.

The event will also include a raffle and a silent auction. 

This year’s theme is, “God Bless America,” and Sister Jeanette said the concessions will include “good American food” like hot dogs, chips, and apple pie.

Sister Jeanette said the dance is one of the highlights of the year for the students.

“It’s just a fun opportunity to get together,” she said.  “The kids get to dress up, and it’s their night. They talk about it all year long and have a great time there. It’s really about the kids.”

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