Little Disciples Preschool site is blessed at St. Mary, Pontiac; will open in August

Father Adam Cesarek, administrator, sprinkles holy water in blessing of the space that will house Little Disciples Preschool at St. Mary Parish and School next fall. A place of honor was reserved for the future preschoolers in front of the current students and parishioners after the Catholic Schools Week Mass on Jan. 31. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

PONTIAC — St. Mary Parish and School has taken the next step in building a strong community of disciples by blessing a space that will welcome the youngest among them.

With Scripture, prayer and a sprinkling of holy water by Father Adam Cesarek, administrator, Little Disciples Preschool became the newest center for early childhood education not only in this Livingston County community, but in the Diocese of Peoria.

“It was a lot of blessings coming together that God provided,” Father Cesarek told The Catholic Post. “Everybody’s pretty excited today.”

“It’s a dream come true,” said Karen Jones, principal of St. Mary School. “We’ve been talking about a preschool for the last year or year and a half. The timing was in God’s plans. Prayers — lots of prayers answered.”

Future preschoolers Brooks Lawrence and Wilson Sweitzer don hard hats and hold shovels as they prepare for the ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Room for the new preschool became available when the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Pantry moved to a former medical building that was donated by the Bank of Pontiac. The two-room addition had been built as part of a parish and school expansion in 2007.

The parish was blessed again when an anonymous donor gave $50,000 for the renovation of the former food pantry.

“It was an incredible gift that was given to us,” Father Cesarek said. “God is always coming through in one way or another.”

The project is expected to come in at about $130,000, he said, adding that they were able to cover the remaining costs with funding that was available. McCoy Construction will do the work, which should take 90 days in all.

“They said they won’t be here every day, but the plan is to have it done by early July,” Father Cesarek said.

Art teacher Katy Sartoris, who painted an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the front of the school, will share her talents again by creating murals on the walls of the preschool before the first students arrive in August.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

In addition to bathrooms that can accommodate younger students, the preschool will have a small kitchenette, with a refrigerator for snacks, and a sink, according to Jones. Doors will be cut from the preschool into the parish hall and into the gym so there will be easy access into the school.

“Eventually we plan to put a fenced-in playground behind the preschool,” she told The Post. Windows will also be added to the space and landscaping will be done to make the entrance more inviting.

The preschool will be able to take 18-20 students, but the goal is 10 for the first year. There are already seven enrolled.

Carol Hepner, who has been teaching kindergarten at St. Mary School, will bring her 25 years of experience in early childhood education to Little Disciples Preschool.

What sets Little Disciples apart from other programs in the area is that it is for 4-year-olds, all day, and five days a week. Everything else in town is half-day, Jones said.

The children will be introduced to preschool components of the math and writing programs being used at St. Mary School and develop their relationship with Jesus in the atrium of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The principal said there would still be plenty of time for play, social activities and rest.

“So we’re bringing 4-year-olds closer to Jesus and when we bring them closer to Jesus they’re going to have a deeper understanding as they grow,” Jones said.

At the same time, this has the potential to increase the number of students in kindergarten, which will increase enrollment all the way through the school, she noted.

Jones said the preschool is bringing the parish and school closer together.

“It’s not just St. Mary School’s preschool, it’s for all of us,” she emphasized. “That’s why we wanted all the kids in here and the parishioners in here. It’s the preschool for everybody.”

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