Nashville diocese’s youth office hosting ‘48 Hours for Life: Nashville’ Jan. 29-31

With the national March for Life going virtual this year, the Diocese of Nashville’s youth office quickly planned a local event for high school students.

Even before March for Life organizers shifted the annual event to a virtual one for 2021, Libby Byrnes and her colleagues in the Diocese of Nashville’s youth office had decided that due to the fallout from the Jan. 6 violent riot and breach of the U.S. Capitol, paired with ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, they needed to cancel the annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.

“Our primary motivation is always the safety of our participants,” said Byrnes, the coordinator of high school youth ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. So, “we pivoted to plan a new experience in Nashville.”

“We do not want to miss the opportunity to provide an experience for our young people to grow in faith and understanding of what our Church teaches when it comes to the God-given dignity of every human life,” the youth office posted on its website,

“We have quickly pivoted and created a local experience here in Nashville! We will be staying at a hotel in downtown Nashville Jan. 29-31 for the first-ever ‘48 Hours for Life: Nashville.’ This event will have much of the same content that we provide when in D.C. and will explore the history of human dignity challenges in Nashville. We will be visiting several sites by foot and will have opportunities to pray for those who are marginalized.”

Byrnes had planned to chaperone about 80 high school students from local Catholic high schools and across the diocese to the “Pro-life and human dignity pilgrimage” in Washington and Baltimore the last weekend of January.

Instead, they are hosting “48 Hours for Life: Nashville,” which Byrnes said will be an opportunity for young people “to see the pro-life movement in action in their neighborhood.”

Events will center around the Catholic Church’s “teaching on the sanctity of life from womb to tomb,” said Byrnes, a lifelong Catholic originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, now a parishioner at Cathedral of the Incarnation.

The group will stay at a downtown hotel for the weekend, Friday evening, Jan. 29, through Sunday, Jan. 31. Some activities include: a Mass with Bishop J. Mark Spalding at the Cathedral on Friday evening; praying outside Planned Parenthood; a tour of Mulier Care’s mobile “Pregnancy Help Center”; a talk from Julie Bolles, Catholic Charities’ Supervisor of Adoptions and Pregnancy Counseling; an encounter with the Schachle family, whose son Mikey was miraculously cured in the womb from a fatal health condition; a talk from a representative of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; a talk from a representative of Room In The Inn.

All activities and speakers are designed to promote the dignity of life at all stages, Byrnes said. Participating in a pilgrimage in Nashville will help participants see that “pro-life does not live in one weekend in D.C., it’s something we’re always fighting for,” she said.

Father Gervan Menezes, chaplain for University Catholic, the Diocese of Nashville’s college ministry, had planned to make the pilgrimage to the March for Life with about 35 students, but they are shifting their plans to participate in virtual and local events instead, including the Jan. 29 Mass at the Cathedral with Bishop Spalding.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to again lead this pilgrimage and hope you will consider joining us. We are aware of the continuing circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the health and safety of our participants,” the youth office posted on its website. “We have been working diligently to ensure all precautions are taken to protect the spread of the coronavirus and have carefully selected vendors and experiences that are doing the same.”

For questions or more information, contact Libby Byrnes at or Robert Strobel at

Bishops, other pro-life leaders decry Biden action ending ‘Mexico City policy’

Women in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, demonstrate in favor of legalizing abortion Jan. 25, 2021, after lawmakers approved a constitutional reform to reinforce a ban on abortion. On Jan. 28, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden rescinded a policy that prevented nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funding from promoting abortion overseas. CNS photo/Fredy Rodriguez, Reuters

WASHINGTON. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and international policy committees said President Joe Biden’s memo rescinding the so-called “Mexico City policy” Jan. 28 is a “grievous” action that “actively promotes the destruction of human lives in developing nations.”

“(It) is antithetical to reason, violates human dignity, and is incompatible with Catholic teaching. We and our brother bishops strongly oppose this action. We urge the president to use his office for good, prioritizing the most vulnerable, including unborn children,” the prelates said.

The statement was issued by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The policy, first announced by President Ronald Reagan during an international conference on population in Mexico City in 1984, blocked U.S. funding for nongovernmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a form of family planning in other nations.

Republican presidents since then have upheld the policy and Democratic presidents have overturned it. Opponents of the policy call it a “gag order.”

“As the largest nongovernment health care provider in the world, the Catholic Church stands ready to work with him and his administration to promote global women’s health in a manner that furthers integral human development, safeguarding innate human rights and the dignity of every human life, beginning in the womb,” Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Malloy said.

“To serve our brothers and sisters with respect, it is imperative that care begin with ensuring that the unborn are free from violence, recognizing every person as a child of God,” they said. “We hope the new administration will work with us to meet these significant needs.”

A number of other national pro-life leaders also criticized Biden for his decision, which was included in a “Presidential Memorandum to Protect and Expand Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care.”

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Defense and Education Fund, in a tweet called it “a deeply disturbing move, especially when the president says he wants national unity.”

His action “goes against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Americans – in fact, consistent polling shows that 77 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion overseas,” said Mancini in her tweet. “The government should never force taxpayers to fund abortions, either here or abroad, but should work to protect the inherent dignity of all persons, born and unborn.”

The March for Life organization sponsors the annual rally and march that takes place in Washington near the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

This year participation in the event will be primarily virtual because of pandemic restrictions and unprecedented security in Washington following the riot at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Tens of thousands of pro-lifers normally come from across the country for the event.

Only a small group, led by Mancini, planned to be on the National Mall for speeches Jan. 29. Afterward, the group was to walk to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Biden’s decision to rescind the policy that began with Reagan was expected once he was inaugurated as the nation’s 46th president.

A Catholic, Biden also has said he wants to see an end to the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which outlaws federal tax dollars from directly funding abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.

A week earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and now Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the president would take action on the policy “in the coming days.”

It is part of the new president’s “broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world,” Fauci told the World Health Organization’s executive board Jan. 21. He made the comments after Biden chose him to head the U.S. delegation to WHO.

“Funneling U.S. tax dollars to abortion groups overseas is an abhorrent practice that flies in the face of the ‘unity’ Joe Biden and (Vice President) Kamala Harris promised to inspire,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, echoing Mancini’s remarks.

“Rather than rally the nation around common ground policies to affirm and promote life,” she said, “today they force taxpayers to bankroll abortion businesses overseas, opening up a slush fund for groups like Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.”

“These abortion industry giants shamefully push their agenda on deeply pro-life nations and cultures,” she added. “Americans across the political spectrum oppose the use of taxpayer funding to promote abortion and abortion businesses. Despite this, the new administration is moving forward with a payout to the abortion industry that backed their political campaign.”

Released Jan. 27, results of the annual Knights of Columbus-sponsored Marist poll on Americans’ opinions on abortion continue to show that “a majority of Americans do not support the sweeping pro-abortion changes to law that are sought by President Biden and the Democrat Congress,” noted Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

“Pursuit of this radical pro-abortion agenda shows just how out of touch they are with their constituents,” she said.

On the issue of “using tax dollars to support abortion in other countries,” a majority of respondents – 77 percent – oppose this, the poll showed. This percentage includes 64 percent who identify themselves as “pro-choice.” Overall, 58 percent of respondents “oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.”

“U.S. foreign policy – and the foreign entities we fund with billions of dollars in grant money – should consistently affirm, care for, and tangibly assist women and children – including unborn baby girls and boys,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus, said Jan. 28.

He wrote a letter signed by at least 118 members of Congress calling on Biden to reconsider and reverse his decision on the Mexico City policy. Signers include Republican Leader Kevin

McCarthy of California, Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

On Jan. 23, 2017, President Donald Trump in an executive order reinstated the policy, which had been suspended by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and he expanded it to create the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy.

In August 2020, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar issued the administration’s second report on implementation of the expanded policy. He said it showed the vast majority of foreign nongovernmental organizations – 1,285 out of 1,340 – had complied “with this policy with minimal disruption of health services and no reduction in funding.”

“Many countries throughout the world have been besieged by aggressive and well-funded campaigns to overturn their pro-life laws and policies,” Smith said in his statement. “The Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy was designed to mitigate U.S. taxpayer complicity in global abortion.”

Panelists say abortion debate has become too political, needs wider focus

Gloria Purvis is seen in this 2017 file photo. Purvis was among the speakers in a Jan. 27, 2021, webinar sponsored by Fordham University on “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Post-Roe? New Prospects for the Abortion Debate in America.” CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

RYE, N.Y. (CNS) — Overturning Roe v. Wade will not be the silver bullet many in the pro-life movement have hoped for. Even if the Supreme Court delivers a symbolic repudiation of its 1973 ruling, abortion will continue with state oversight and passions will run high on the extremes of the debate, according to speakers on a Jan. 27 webinar.

Nonetheless, a resolution to the highly polarized discussion about abortion in the United States might include calm conversations seeking common ground, positioning pro-life efforts as part of increased advocacy for human dignity and looking closely at policy changes that support pregnancy and motherhood.

Recent Pew Center research shows that 61% of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 38% say it should be illegal in most or all cases. These numbers are relatively unchanged over two decades.

Statistics oversimplify attitudes toward abortion and labels such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are not helpful, said Tricia Bruce, a sociologist of religion and an affiliate of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

“So much of the abortion conversation goes beyond abortion,” Bruce said, and includes social issues and consideration of individual circumstances and personal experience with abortion, miscarriage, infertility and adoption.

“The moral discomfort with abortion is far wider than the desire to restrict abortion legally. Many Americans don’t want abortion rates to increase, but there is a reticence to use the law to decrease abortion,” she said.

“The pro-life movement needs a political detox,” said Katelyn Beaty, author, journalist and former managing editor of Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine.

The alignment of former President Donald Trump with the pro-life movement invites charges of hypocrisy in the cause, she said, because despite his support for abortion restrictions, Trump enacted a political vision that disregarded human dignity at most turns — at a tremendous cost to Christian witness, she added.

“The political lens has eclipsed every other lens for addressing abortion rates,” including economic, feminist, spiritual and relational lenses, she said.

“As a Catholic, it’s disappointing to see the pro-life cause emptied of the Gospel and made political,” said Gloria Purvis, Catholic radio host and media commentator. “It’s alienating to hear you’re close to heaven in one party and you’re going to hell if you’re in the other.”

“We need to wrest abortion from being a political issue and make it what it truly is: a Gospel issue rooted in the dignity of the human person from womb to tomb,” she said.

Beaty said, “The stalemate of the current culture wars leaves little room to imagine a ‘Third Way’ solution to the entrenched political binary.” However, a third way of listening and finding common ground could result in unlikely friendships, creativity and hope, she said.

“Now is the time to take the pro-life movement beyond the culture wars and reinvest in the lives of women and children. Pro-life is not about beating our political enemies but about loving our flesh and blood neighbors,” Beaty said.

Purvis said the national dialogue on abortion often overlooks what steps could be taken to make a welcoming place in society for women who are pregnant or who have children. Businesses should not stigmatize pregnant employees or mothers, but should shift to accommodate all people in an economy where they can be full participants.

Mary Ziegler, professor of law at Florida State University, said Americans are “profoundly ambivalent, conflicted and nuanced” about abortion. At a time where people divide themselves into political silos, conversation with different people can reveal common ground.

“Abortion is not a cookie-cutter issue,” she said.

“Conversation exposes a lot of people who are not on the extremes,” she said. “Conversations are important and create space for people to talk in ways that are risky and unconventional but ultimately productive,” she said.

Bruce said religion is a powerful carrier of messaging around abortion, but the influence of the Catholic Church on young Catholics has waned, as it has in some other religious groups.

Purvis said Catholics can look for common ground with people who have different approaches to abortion by seeking the things they both value. “We can’t demonize those who have a different view,” she said.

For example, she said maternal child health should be a “no-brainer” for Catholics and is an area where diverse groups can advocate together.

She said some women at maternity homes and pregnancy centers “don’t have a crisis pregnancy, they have a crisis life. We have to be there with them as family. We don’t give up on making abortion unthinkable but we have to make choosing pregnancy desirable in all ways,” she said.

The webinar, “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Post-Roe? New Prospects for the Abortion Debate in America” was presented by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture.

St. Michael statue stands guard over St. Edward Parish

Father Andrew Bulso, pastor of St. Edward Church in Nashville, blessed and dedicated a statue of St. Michael the Archangel on Sunday, Jan. 24. The marble statue stands outside the front door of the church. Engraved on the pedestal holding the statue are the words, “St. Michael the Archangel, Guardian of St. Edward Church.” Photo by Andy Telli

St. Edward Parish has a new protector looking over them. The parish blessed and dedicated a new marble statue of St. Michael the Archangel just outside the front door of the church on Sunday, Jan. 24.

“There is the spiritual perspective that we’re entrusting ourselves to St. Michael,” said Father Andrew Bulso, St. Edward’s pastor. “It helps bolster confidence and hope.”

The idea to commission a statue of St. Michael came from St. Edward’s former pastor, Father Dan Reehil, currently the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Columbia.

Father Reehil decided to have the parish recite the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of Masses, Father Bulso explained. That led to the idea for a statue, which serves as a “visual reminder right outside our door that St. Michael has our back,” he added. The statue was sculpted in China. “It was a bit of a feat getting it here,” Father Bulso said.

After it was delivered in November, the parish had a concrete slab poured to place the statue upon, and parish volunteers worked to put it in place.

The 5,000-pound marble statue stands 9 feet tall – the statue is 6 feet and the pedestal is 3 feet. Engraved on the pedestal are the words, “St. Michael the Archangel, Guardian of St. Edward Church.”

The statue serves as a witness to the parish’s hope in God, Father Bulso said.

“We do need hope right now,” Father Bulso said. “That’s one of my favorite virtues. … It’s not based on us. … It’s based on God’s goodness and his power.”

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Mercy Sister Mary Thomasetta Mogan remembered for love, warmth, character

Sister Mary Thomasetta

Sister Mary Thomasetta Mogan, RSM, was remembered as a person of love, warmth and character. She died peacefully Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21, 2021, at Mercy Convent in Nashville after a short illness.

A Sister of Mercy for 67 years, she was 90 years old.

The funeral Mass at Mercy Convent and burial at Calvary Cemetery will be private.

Sister Thomasetta held teaching positions in Tennessee; served as pastoral associate at St. Matthew Church in Franklin; and ministered to the patients and their families at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Knoxville.

When Sister Thomasetta retired, she volunteered at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville. She also visited the sick and homebound and provided for those in need. She sang in the choir at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

Up until two weeks before she died, she continued to contribute in a major way to the community life at Mercy Convent. On her deathbed, she continued to ask about others.

Her commitment to God was reflected by the motto in her ring, “Thy Will Be Done.” Prayer, mercy, hospitality filled her life. Giving to others describes her life. Cheerfulness flowed from her heart.

Sister Thomasetta joined her sister, Sister Maris Stella Mogan, RSM, in the Mercy community in 1953. “I am deeply blessed to be her sister,” said Sister Maris Stella said. “She was my best friend and my Sister in Mercy.”

Her niece, Cathy Matteson, recalled Sister Thomasetta as an inspiration in her life.

“My aunt was an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Matteson said. “She was one of the few people that helped influence my life and took on the role of a surrogate mother when needed. She helped mold me not only as a person but in my Catholic faith and how I treat others. She inspired me to be the best person I could be, and I will always remember her for her huge heart and her love for the people that she encountered, whether it was her students, her family or a stranger she passed on the street.”

Sister Thomasetta was born on Feb. 24, 1930, the daughter of Joseph and Helen Mogan. She grew up in Nashville as a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. She attended Cathedral School and St. Bernard Academy, where she was taught by Mercy Sisters.

After graduating from high school, she attended Peabody College.

“I was going to daily Mass and still kind of running around; you know, pretty worldly, just having a good time. But I was just not satisfied. There was something missing in my life,” Sister Thomasetta said for a 1999 article in the Knoxville News Sentinel. “Once I was there (with the Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati, Ohio) and started studying, in training, I was just very peaceful; and I knew that was where the Lord wanted me. And I have had not one doubt since then.”

Sister Thomasetta was related to several other well-known Catholics in the community. Her cousins include Father Joseph Patrick Breen, the late Father Philip Breen and the late Mercy Sister Adrian Mulloy.

Sister Mary Thomasetta was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph and Helen Mogan; her siblings, Dr. Edward Mogan, Dr. Joseph Mogan, Catherine Childs, Dr. Thomas Mogan and John Mogan.

Survivors include her sister, Sister Maris Stella Mogan, RSM; her niece Cathy Childs Matteson (Michael); along with numerous other nieces and nephews.

Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

New bus, STEM space keep St. John Vianney on the move

St. John Vianney School in Gallatin was recently gifted a new 15-passenger bus and will soon begin offering bus service to school from Hendersonville. Photo by Lynda Mendoza

Natalie Eskert, the new principal of St. John Vianney School in Gallatin this school year, has quickly built a rapport with the school and parish community, and with their buy-in, is moving the school forward.

“Every time I’ve expressed a vision to the parents or parishioners, we’ve been able to bring it to life,” she said.

One of her visions coming to fruition this semester is a brand-new school bus, which will enable the school to offer transportation to students to and from school.

“There’s a huge Catholic population in Hendersonville, but no Catholic elementary school to serve them,” Eskert said of Gallatin’s neighboring Sumner County city.

The bus service will help ease some of the “the crazy hustle and bustle that families have in the mornings and afternoons,” she said.

The school is already using the 15-passenger bus, a gift from Wood Motor Company, owned by a St. John Vianney family, to transport the basketball team to and from games. “They say their favorite part of playing on the team is riding on the bus,” Eskert said.

When the bus service to/from school launches this spring, the first stop will be at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, with other stops possibly added along the way, Eskert said. The school is also looking into adding a route from the Lebanon/Mt. Juliet corridor, but is still working out all the logistics of the routes.

St. John Vianney, with an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, is one of the smaller schools in the Diocese of Nashville, and Eskert said the bus will be a unique recruitment tool to attract more families.

“We have a really great product, and we can bring Catholic education to more people this way,” she said.

The second of Eskert’s initiatives coming to fruition, with the support of the school and parish community, is a new “Knights of Columbus STEM Creation Space.” The addition of two different kinds of 3D printers, along with other equipment and materials set up in the converted computer lab, will help support the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Eskert said.

Thanks to the parish Knights of Columbus, St. John Vianney School also received two new 3D printers, which will anchor the new maker space at the school.

“We really want to put an emphasis on STEM at the school,” she said. The new “maker space” will be a way to “get kids to think critically, outside the box,” Eskert added.

When she first proposed the idea, “several Knights of Columbus stepped forward to cover the costs,” she said. “They took the idea and ran with it.”

She offered special thanks to members of the Knights of Columbus Bishop Choby Council 10010, especially members Brian Beddoes, a St. John Vianney parent, and his father, Richard Beddoes, as well

as Anthony Cameli and Robert Johnson, who helped with fundraising and purchasing equipment for the space.

“I want to say how grateful I am to everyone who’s taken a vision and turned it into a reality,” Eskert said. “It’s been so great being here with the families’ support.”

For more information about the school, visit

Overbrook launches new program for gifted students

Marion Cianciolo, the SOAR gifted and enrichment teacher at Overbrook School, works with student Will Becker during an enrichment class. Overbrook recently launched the SOAR program to meet the needs of gifted students. Photo courtesy of Overbrook School

Overbrook School has enhanced its academic program to meet the needs of gifted students by launching the SOAR gifted enrichment program.

The goal of this program is to identify and serve gifted and high ability students in reading and math with lessons and activities that go beyond those routinely taught in the classroom.

“Gifted students have outstanding intellectual abilities and potential for achievement. These students learn very quickly without a lot of repetition, can easily grasp abstract concepts, have unbridled curiosity, and produce original ideas and solutions to problems,” said Marion Cianciolo, the SOAR gifted and enrichment teacher at Overbrook.

“We wanted to target the gifted learner and provide them with a program that addresses their unique needs academically, socially and emotionally,” said Cianciolo, who has an education specialist degree in gifted education. “Not only do they learn faster, but they also want time to go broader and deeper in subjects.”

The gifted students in the SOAR program are pulled out of their regular classes to meet with Cianciolo for enrichment classes in reading and math. In addition to the enrichment classes, the fifth grade SOAR students meet daily to participate in an accelerated math program. She is taking them through the curriculum faster, so that when they are in the sixth grade they will be ready for the seventh-grade math coursework. This places these students on the “geometry track” for the eighth grade.

“In order to engage these gifted students and address the way they learn, I spend a lot of time planning and making sure I have everything I need to make each lesson pop for them,” Cianciolo said. “I prepare the units of study in a way that holds their interest and keeps in mind the needs of gifted learners.”

The lessons for the gifted students include activities such as brainstorming, creative problem solving, higher order thinking skills, and high interest units in reading and math that are developed and tested by experts in the field.

“I want to make sure it’s something different than what they’re doing in the classroom,” Cianciolo said.

Cianciolo, a former Teacher of the Year at Overbrook, taught at the school from 2009 to 2018, when her family moved to Georgia. She started a similar program at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Warner Robins, Georgia.

When she returned to Nashville last year, she applied to teach again at Overbrook, and administration asked her to use her experience to start a new program for gifted students. Cianciolo enthusiastically agreed, and program development started over the summer.

“It took several months to organize the program, form a school enrichment team, and identify the students based on the Tennessee state guidelines,” Cianciolo said.

Assessments in math and reading achievement, measures of creativity/characteristics of gifted, and school ability tests were given in the school wide screening process.

The assessments identified 12 gifted students in the fifth grade, nine in the fourth grade, and six in the third grade. “One third of our fifth grade is gifted, which is an extremely high percentage. We were shocked but very pleased with this number,” Cianciolo said.

The enrichment team, which includes administration and classroom teachers, developed an action plan for each student in the program, which then had to be approved by the students’ parents, Cianciolo said.

The classes for the gifted students began meeting the week before Christmas.

For the third and fourth grade gifted students, Cianciolo leads them through math enrichment projects, using units of study developed for gifted students.

For the reading classes, the gifted students are analyzing texts and using higher-level thinking.

Cianciolo also leads the school’s third through fifth grade elementary math teams, which not only includes the SOAR program students, but also other students “who are extremely bright in math,” Cianciolo said.

“We’re starting small because of COVID protocols,” Cianciolo said. We hope to expand the program next year to include identifying and serving students in the first and second grade.”

Even though the program is still new, the students involved “seem to really enjoy it,” Cianciolo said. “The feedback has been great.”

The only girl on the ice: Ryan’s Katie Cummings is one to watch

During a recent weeknight hockey practice for the Father Ryan High School Irish varsity hockey team, sophomore Katie Cummings darts across the ice and smashes the puck into the back of the net during a drill. Then she gets back in line with her teammates and prepares to do it again.

Even from a distance, spectators in the stands at Ford Ice Center in Bellevue can tell that the player in the number 4 jersey with the long braid down her back is one to watch. “She doesn’t shy away from any challenge,” said her coach, Steven Henry. “She jumps right into every situation, both on the ice and off.”

Cummings, 16, is a standout player on Father Ryan’s varsity hockey team, and one of a small but growing number of girls playing hockey in Middle Tennessee. Nurtured by GNASH, the Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey league, and the NHL’s Nashville Predators team, local youth hockey programs have begun to flourish.

Katie Cummings is the only female on Father Ryan High School’s varsity hockey team, and, as a sophomore, is already a standout on the team. She poses in front of a rink at Ford Ice Center in Belleveue. Photos by Theresa Laurence

Cummings was first captivated by the sport while attending Predators games with her dad as a young girl. She had never skated or played before, but quickly realized “I loved it and couldn’t give it up.”

She joined the Nashville Junior Predators girls hockey team while still a student at St. Bernard Academy, then went on to join Father Ryan’s junior varsity hockey team last year, and the varsity team this year.

Cummings plays second line center for Ryan’s varsity team and is on “our top penalty killing unit,” Henry said. In 12 games this year, she has scored two goals and contributed three assists, and is currently in the Top 10 on the team in points. Between her time on the junior varsity and varsity teams, she has a total of five goals and nine assists in her Father Ryan career, according to Henry.

For the last two years, she was the youngest player on the Junior Predators U19 Tier II AA travel team. A year ago, her team won a tournament, defeating teams from across the U.S. and Canada.

“I love the competitiveness and the intensity of it, how aggressive it is,” Cummings said of her love for hockey.

Coming in as the only girl on the varsity team at Father Ryan was intimidating, she said, “but I feel like I belonged as I got better.” Father Ryan “has a terrific program, and a really supportive environment” for her as a hockey player, she said.

Katie Cummings talks with her teammates on the Father Ryan varsity hockey team during practice.

As the leading scorer among all girls in the GNASH league, Cummings has more than earned the respect of her teammates and coaches. This year she became the first girl to ever score a goal for Ryan’s varsity hockey team, and she’s helping blaze a trail for the girls coming up after her. “I’m really happy to see more girls on the JV team,” she said. “It’s such great progress.”

Henry describes Cummings as “a fierce competitor who carries herself with a level of professionalism that few high school players are capable of. What she is doing as a female player in a male-dominated sport is truly inspiring, and I’m glad to see her getting the recognition she deserves.”

Cummings is not the first girl to play varsity hockey at Ryan, “but none have contributed as significantly as Katie,” said Henry, who played hockey at Father Ryan and is the son of the Nashville Predators Chief Executive Officer Sean Henry. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Katie is the first Father Ryan player to go play D1 hockey” in college, he said.

Father Ryan varsity hockey coaches watch standout player Katie Cummings, center, participate in a drill during practice at Ford Ice Center. Her coach Steven Henry said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if she becomes the first Ryan hockey player ever to play Division 1 college hockey.

College may be a few years away for Cummings, but she knows she wants to play, and already has an online profile set up for recruiters to view. There, she talks about how hockey has helped her grow as a person, on and off the ice: “Balancing school, hockey, and family life have helped me develop great time management skills, and I have learned how to take advantage of every bit of time I have,” she wrote. “Knowing my priorities in life has helped me to focus my efforts while also enjoying the journey. Hockey is a huge part of why I am the person I am today.”

In addition to playing hockey, Cummings is also a member of the choir, the French club, and a student ambassador at Father Ryan. And she maintains a 4.0 GPA while taking honors classes.

Cummings’ hockey future looks bright, and she wants it to look bright for other young girls interested in playing. “Just go for it,” she says. “If you really love the sport, you can do anything with it.”

St. Ann prepares for expansion of pre-kindergarten program

Jamie Grigsby, pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Ann School, above, works with Lily Francescon. The school is preparing to expand its pre-kindergarten program next year. Photos by Andy Telli

A changing community has opened the door for St. Ann School to expand its pre-kindergarten program.

“For the past two years, we’ve seen a big increase in interest for our pre-kindergarten program,” said St. Ann Principal Anna Rumfola.

“We have a lot of dual income families moving into the area,” she said. “Families are looking for a community where their children will not get lost in the shuffle. … They love we’re in their back yard.”

Currently, St. Ann’s pre-kindergarten program has 24 3- and 4-year-olds, who are in the same classroom. “We’re reaching capacity so quickly,” Rumfola said.

Beginning with the 2021-22 school year, St. Ann will expand the program to two classes, one for 3-year-olds and another for 4-year-olds.

The maximum capacity for the 3-year-old class will be 18, and for the 4-year-old class it will be 20, Rumfola said.

The expanded program could reach its maximum capacity as early as the 2022-23 school year, Rumfola said, but likely it will take a year or two longer.

One of the draws of the program, and the school in general, is the sense of community families feel when they visit the school, Rumfola said.

That sense of community “is what St. Ann is all about. That’s why I wanted to come back here,” said Jamie Grigsby, the pre-kindergarten teacher and a St. Ann graduate. “Parents see that when they walk in the door.”

The school also offers a full pre-kindergarten program, Rumfola said. “It’s more than a day care. There’s an academic component, a spiritual component and a social component.”

The academic curriculum is based on the standards established by the Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic Schools Office.

The students in her class arrive with a range of abilities, which requires individual attention, Grigsby said.

Grigsby and her aide, Carol McCabe, divide the class into smaller groups so they can provide the individual attention needed, “which really allows our students to thrive,” Rumfola said.

“That’s where I can meet their individual needs,” Grigsby said. “The parents love the small groups. They enjoy seeing the growth in their child in the small group because they can see we’re working on individual things for their child.”

It also allows students to progress academically at their own pace, Grigsby said. “If they’re ready, you keep going, keep pushing and help them rise to their full potential.”

The school uses the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd curriculum for the pre-kindergarten class. “It’s very hands-on,” Rumfola said. “The students can really see Christ in the classroom.”

“We visit the church once a week and have religion class there,” Grigsby said. “They see God’s house.”

For children so young, the social component is important as they learn to interact with others. “I love watching them grow through the year,” Grigsby said. “It’s important.”

Grigsby saw the importance of the social component when the students returned to the classroom last August after having been away since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You could see how happy they were to see their friends,” she said.

With the expansion, St. Ann will hire a second pre-kindergarten teacher and aide, and will use existing facilities.

The school started taking applications in November and have received 20 so far, heading into a busy recruitment period, Rumfola said. “We’re on schedule.”

When families express interest in enrolling in the program, the school first sets up an online call with them to talk about the program. If they are still interested, they will be scheduled for a tour that is held after the school day as a pandemic precaution, Rumfola said.

Pre-K teacher Jamie Grigsby, left, works with student Ruth Chinnery.

Families have full-time and part-time options. Full-time students are in the class Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Families can also choose a three-day option – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – or a two-day option – Tuesday and Thursday.

Before- and after-school care also is available beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.

St. Ann also offers a summer camp, “which parents like,” Rumfola said. “They don’t have to find a summer camp for their 3-year-olds. It’s all here.”

The tuition for full-time students is $7,240 for Catholics who receive a parish subsidy and $9,900 for non-Catholics. For the three-day option, the tuition is $4,500 for Catholics and $6,000 for non-Catholics. And the two-day tuition is $3,200 for Catholics and $4,000 for non-Catholics. All students pay a registration fee of $250.

The expansion of the pre-kindergarten program coincides with the parish and school marking the 100th anniversary of its founding in July 2021. School officials are inviting parents “to come help us grow for the next 100 years,” Rumfola said.

She believes an expanded pre-kindergarten program will help boost the enrollment in the other grades.

“It allows us to position ourselves to have a larger kindergarten class each year,” Rumfola said. Currently, the school might have 10 4-year-olds moving from pre-kindergarten to the kindergarten class. With expansion, they could have as many as 20.

“Our retention rate from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten right now is very high,” she added.

The school’s enrollment has been on a steady rise the last four years, reaching 170 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade this year. Maximum capacity for the whole school with two pre-kindergarten classes and 22 students in every class would be 218.

The school already draws students from an area wider than the Sylvan Park neighborhood where it’s located, Rumfola said. “It might not be close to where they live, but it’s close to where they work.”

St. Ann’s location just a few blocks from Interstate 40 “really helps us,” she added.

For more information about St. Ann School and its pre-kindergarten program, call the school office at 615-269-0568 or visit

Saint Thomas nurse hit by pandemic personally, professionally

Therese Miller, a critical care nurse at Saint Thomas West Hosptial who works as a supervisor of a COVID-19 unit, holds a photograph of her mother and aunt while she receives the vaccine for the virus. Her mother and aunt both died of complications from the virus.

For the last year, the COVID-19 virus has loomed over Therese Miller’s life, both professionally and personally.

Miller, a critical care nurse at Saint Thomas West Hospital for 35 years, works as a supervisor of a COVID-19 unit, helping to care for patients in the most dire of circumstances.

While she cares for the loved ones of other families, she also has felt the pain of loss in her own family. Her mother, Terry Schulz, and two aunts, Connie Lusher and Dorothy Schulz, all died from complications related to the virus.

As Miller received the first dose of the vaccine for the COVID-19 virus in December, she held a photo of her mother and Aunt Connie casually talking in the kitchen of a Gatlinburg cabin during a 1974 family vacation.

It was a silent tribute to the two women – sisters-in-law, close friends and important forces in Miller’s life.

“It was important for me to hold that photo while I received my first vaccine to remember these two women who gave so much to me and our families, to thank them for who they were in this life, and to let others know that they don’t have to lose a mother or an Aunt Connie. They just need to get vaccinated,” Miller said.

Miller’s mother died in Washington, D.C., on April 6, 2020. She got sick after sitting vigil with a dying patient in her nursing home. In her final days, one of Miller’s seven siblings was at their mother’s bedside in the nursing home, while two others stood on the lawn looking through the window. Miller and the others were there virtually.

“I was actually at work when this happened and will never forget the respect and loving care my work family extended to me as I said goodbye to my mother,” Miller said. “She died the next morning.”

Lusher, also a nurse, died in a hospital ICU on July 19, 2020, and Dorothy Schulz, a retired military nurse, died on Sept. 23, 2020.

Miller’s mother and Lusher became friends while in school at Presentation Academy in Louisville. Lusher married the brother of Miller’s mother.

Lusher “was a true sister to Mom in every way,” Miller wrote on Facebook after her aunt’s death. “They raised us all together and if one of them was after you, you knew you had to deal with them both.”

Her aunt “was a second mother to me,” said Miller, who is a parishioner at St. Henry Church in Nashville with her husband, Mike, and daughters Gracie and Dory. “She also leaves behind a host of others who feel certain that we were her favorite people because that was just the way she made us feel,” Miller added in her Facebook post.

The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on Miller personally and professionally, and she has persevered with the help of others. “My family has been essential in supporting me so I can support other people,” Miller said.

She also is grateful for the support of her colleagues at Saint Thomas West.

“We’re used to good outcomes,” Miller said of the Saint Thomas critical care staff. “The heavier burden and sadness of more bad outcomes is difficult.”

To honor the memory of her mother and aunt who died of complications from COVID-19, Saint Thomas nurse Therese Miller held this photo of them when she received her coronavirus vaccine.

“I think that in the end we support each other as a work family,” Miller said. “We talk and listen to each other. We always try to remember we’re human beings and we’re doing the best we can in a very stressful time. We talk and we validate each other and we pray together. I think that’s what’s brought us together.”

Miller falls back on the frequent advice of her mother to pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you. “She said that all the time,” Miller said.

“Every day before I go to work, I pray the litany for me and my family. I ask God to come to work with me. I ask for a blessing on the hospital and everybody in it,” she added. “God’s on the job and I do the best I can.”

Over the months, health care workers have learned more about the virus and how to treat it, Miller said. “You have to be able to adapt or you get left behind,” she said.

The doctors and others on the critical care team at Saint Thomas West have worked hard to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments in treating the virus, Miller said. “They have a network that is worldwide,” she said. “They are bringing information to us daily.”

But the virus remains “insidious,” Miller said.

“This virus hits everyone, post-partum mothers, young boys, old men. You can’t predict who will come in the door with it,” she added.

The development of a vaccine has been a big relief, Miller said. “This vaccine is such a blessing and a sign of hope,” she said. “It is a literal and figurative ‘shot in the arm’ for all of us who for a year have witnessed this virus indiscriminately work its way through our community. We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

She wants to make sure the public takes advantage of the vaccine when it is available to them.

“I saw my own mother struggling to breathe and I knew my Aunt Connie spent the last days of her life doing the same,” Miller said. “These were two women who helped shape my world as a child and the virus took both of them in this way.

“Because I have experienced it personally and professionally, I know what the virus can do and I am willing to do what it takes to try not to see one more person suffer from its effects,” she added. “I wish just sharing that with people would help them understand, but it seems that until it happens to people or someone they know they underestimate its potential.”

Ascension Saint Thomas has administered nearly 10,500 doses of the vaccine to associates, providers, community partners and Ascension Medical Group patients 75 years and older.

The Ascension Saint Thomas system is caring for a significant number of COVID positive patients. As of Jan. 20, the system reported having 226 patients, and that its larger facilities are often at capacity with a mix of COVID positive and other types of patients.