By Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers

Every morning my youngest son wakes up and asks the same question: “I have school today?” And when the answer is yes, he bounds out of bed, his happiness and excitement almost contagious.

And every afternoon, when he is dropped off and I ask him how school was, his answer is always the same: “Bantastic.” Quickly followed with the information I really need, if he got a green light for good behavior or red for bad. Fortunately, his red-light days, now, are few and far between.

Matthew is a student at, arguably, the best school the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has to offer: St. Katherine’s Day School.

I couldn’t appreciate, respect or cherish a school more than St. Katherine’s. {{more}}

My older two children are also products of Catholic education. So when my husband and I were considering the schools available to Matthew, we were in a dilemma. We wanted for him what our older children had, a quality Catholic education.

But since Matthew has Down syndrome, we figured our choices were, at best, limited. We tried to convince ourselves that a public education would serve him best. And then, spanine intervention … on the night of my older son’s confirmation.

While at a restaurant following the confirmation, two women, with several children in tow, struck up a conversation with us. One of the older kids had Down syndrome, so there was an immediate connection. One of the women asked where Matthew would be going to school, and I rattled on about my concerns and issues.

The woman said four words in response: “St. Katherine’s Day School.”

I told her I never heard of it.

Her daughter, she said, just graduated from SKDS, and then spoke at length of the great qualities of the school, the administration, the teachers, the therapists.

I called the next day.

I believe running into that woman was indeed spanine intervention, and it set Matthew on a course that could not be surpassed, let alone matched, by a public school.

My first visit to St. Katherine’s was a little unsettling. I didn’t expect to find wheelchairs and other physical therapy equipment in the hallways. But those feelings left me when I saw the kids.

I had never seen such joy radiate from the faces of children like I did that morning. And now, my child radiates that joy.

Believe me, many prayers were answered the day I enrolled Matthew in St. Katherine’s.

In many ways, St. Katherine’s is like any other school. They perform in Christmas shows, have a prom and dances and parties for special occasions. They have computers and Smart Boards and gym class. But that’s where the sameness ends.

Because every day, in subtle ways, a miracle happens at St. Katherine’s. I don’t know if that can be said for other schools.

For typical kids, learning to read, write, add and subtract are all givens. Typical kids will learn at a pace that’s pretty much standard. For the students of St. Katherine’s, those things will probably all happen but at a much slower pace, and with so many other circumstances blocking the end result.

So when a kid at St. Katherine’s “gets” something, it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve seen it with my son. But before we get to the point where he “gets” it, we have to get through a lot of hurdles. Honestly, it’s a frustrating, aggravating process because he struggles with things that came so easily to his brother and sister, and because sometimes I fail in trying to help him.

At those times I thank God for Rene Gallagher, Matthew’s teacher. And I thank God for Peg Devaney, the principal, and for the staff at St. Katherine’s.

When the announcement was made that Kennedy-Kenrick High School would be closing and my son would not be graduating from the school that had deep family connections, we had a choice. Thomas could go to Lansdale Catholic, Archbishop Carroll, the new Pope John Paul II High School or even public school.

Our commitment to a Catholic education never faltered, and understanding the path that was set before him, we knew he would graduate from PJPII.

I pray that I will never have to make that decision for Matthew. Because, honestly, there are no choices. What St. Katherine’s Day School gives kids can’t be found anywhere else.

Miracles aren’t that easy to come by.

Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Norristown.