By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

BLUE BELL – Four-year-old John Shapiro came to pre-kindergarten Monday, Sept. 14, at St. Helena School in Blue Bell, Montgomery County.

It was a dream achieved for the boy who had become accustomed to seeing his older siblings off to school, dutifully biding his time until he, too, would officially enroll.

It was also a significant milestone for the youngster who is battling brain cancer.

At his tender age, there is much John can teach his peers about patience and perseverance. ##M;[readmore]##

He was just 2 years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2007. He underwent surgery and radiation and although there is currently no evidence of that particular tumor, John was diagnosed with a new brain tumor in October 2008. He has undergone two successive surgeries and additional rounds of radiation and is currently receiving chemotherapy treatments every two weeks.

The happy-go-lucky boy was beaming on his first day of school. He could barely contain himself at home that morning as he watched the clock and repeatedly exclaimed, “Let’s go.”

John received a rousing welcome as he arrived at the school. There, he was greeted by the principal, Mercy Sister Cathe Shoulberg, and his teacher, Theresa Poulos. Representatives from the Archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Education also reported to the school to greet John on his first day. Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools, gave him a relic of St. John Neumann, the Archdiocese’s fourth bishop and first canonized saint who helped found the Catholic school system in the United States.

Accompanying Rochford was Deborah Bachor, assistant superintendent for elementary educational services.

Cardinal Justin Rigali is scheduled to visit John at the school Thursday, Sept. 24.

The principal acknowledged how gregarious and generous young John is. She cited as an example how exuberantly he greeted his classmates the first day of school. As he introduced himself, he offered each a sticker from his personal collection. “He is Mr. Personality,” Sister Cathe said. “He is just delightful.”

When his teacher confirmed that Play-Doh was part of the curriculum, young John was pleased. In fact, it was practically all he could talk about when he got home, his mother said.

Before bedtime, John was still reeling with excitement as he reviewed his big day. “It was fun,” he said.

John is the fourth of five children of Ron and Nancy Shapiro. Andrew, 8, is in third grade at St. Helena School; Katie, 7, is in first grade there. Kelsey, 18, is a college freshman; and 2-year-old Christopher is at home.

“Everyone showers him with attention, and he loves it,” his mother said.

An arts-and-crafts aficionado, one of John’s favorite pastimes is to trace the numerous get-well cards he received during his hospitalization.

The 4-year-old has informed his parents that when he grows up, he would like to be a fireman so that he can help others. “He has an old soul,” his mother said.

The child’s disposition and faith are awe-inspiring to his principal.

“It’s a privilege to journey with him,” Sister Cathe said.

To congratulate John on his status as a pre-kindergartner at St. Helena School, send correspondence to John Shapiro, St. Helena School, 1499 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215- 587-2468 or