John F. Suggs is a longtime Westporter, regular “06880” reader and former Jesuit. He is also passionate about keeping Jean Donovan’s memory alive. John writes:
Forty years ago today, 4 U.S. churchwomen were kidnaped, tortured, raped and killed in a remote section of El Salvador. They were targeted for openly living with and caring for the poor in the midst of El Salvador’s bloody civil war.
According to a 1993 United Nations Security Council report, the women were ordered killed by the US-trained and funded Salvadorian military, which covered up their involvement in the murders and obstructed initial investigations.
Three of the churchwomen were Catholic nuns. The fourth — Jean Donovan — was a 27-year-old lay Catholic volunteer who grew up in Westport.
In many ways, Jean was like any other Westport kid. She marched in the annual Memorial Day parade with her Girl Scout toop, made her first communion at Assumption Church and her confirmation at St. Luke.
A member of the Staples High School class of 1971, she played on the basketball and field hockey teams. An accomplished equestrian at Westport’s Fiddle Horse Farm, Jean managed the tack room after school and supervised youngsters assigned to work in the stables.
Jean Donovan, at Fiddle Horse Farm. (Photo courtesy of Ray and Patricia Donovan)
She was the quintessential Westport girl next door.
Until she wasn’t.
Only 6 years after graduating from Staples, after finishing grad school and starting as an account executive at Arthur Andersen, Jean put her career on hold to pursue something radically different.
She applied for a volunteer position with the Catholic Maryknoll Lay Mission. The program required a 2-year commitment living with and serving an impoverished community in El Salvador.
Accepted into the program, Jean quit her job, to begin training and coursework.
Today it is common for young Westporters to go on service or mission trips. Some expect a transformational experience. Others pad their resumes to help get into competitive colleges.
As parents, we sign permission slips and write checks, knowing that at least the trip gets our kids out of the Westport bubble. We hope their experiences in communities of poverty might have a beneficial impact on them — something lasting, beyond serving as a great subject for a college application essay.
I believe it was here that Jean began to differentiate herself from the quintessential Westport girl next door.
A tribute to Jean Donovan and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.
Jean had already been accepted into the right undergrad and graduate schools. She had completed her studies, and landed that important first professional job.
Jean had no need to make this 2-year service commitment to help advance her career. If anything, her decision derailed it — at least with Arthur Andersen.
So why did Jean do what she did?
Though I never had the pleasure of knowing Jean personally, I’ve worked hard over the years to help keep her memory alive in Westport. So I have given this question a lot of thought.
Based on all the information that I’ve gathered, I believe her decisions to not only quit her job and make this commitment, but also to stay in El Salvador as the violence escalated, were the result of her making a spiritual discernment.
This centuries-old decision-making process seeks to assist an individual in determining their best course of action. The person first becomes aware of the interior movements and deepest desires of their heart, then tests and evaluates its validity in alignment with God.
A tribute to Jean Donovan hangs outside Assumption Church. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Two weeks before Jean died, she wrote a friend in Connecticut about the final decisions and actions she was about to take, based on what I believe were the results of her spiritual discernment.
The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme, and they were right to leave….
Now I must assess my own position because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.
Today let’s remember and honor this once quintessential Westport girl next door, whose discernment and subsequent action culminated in making the ultimate commitment to protect and care for the most vulnerable of all.
(Jean Donovan will be remembered this Sunday [December 6]. during the 11 a.m. mass at Assumption Church. Attendance is limited, due to COVID; click here to reserve a seat. The mass will be livestreamed.
(In progressive Catholic social justice networks, Jean Donovan is considered a saint. A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University — a Jesuit school — supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
(Her story was told in “Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who directed it too, as his 1st major film — the character based on her life was played by Cynthia Gibb. Amazingly, she too is a Staples High graduate, exactly 10 years after Jean Donovan.)
An educator for over 43 years in the Catholic school system, she had a remarkable impact on students and families. She helped countless elementary and middle schoolers grow and learn.
Madeline Bayliss met Maureen when both were kindergartners at Assumption School in Westport. Years later, Maureen returned to teach there.
After 13 years at Assumption, she moved to St. Cecilia (now Catholic Academy of Stamford) in 1991. She taught 5th grade math, science and religion, and became assistant to the principal there. In that role she ran the after-school program, working with children while ensuring their safety and comfort.
Dr. Joann Borchetta, her principal for 24 years, calls Maureen “the best teacher I ever worked with….a mentor and a quiet leader.”
Among her many honors, Maureen received the Tim Russert Award. The Diocese of Bridgeport hosted a large banquet for her.
Maureen Belford (left), at a Washington ceremony honoring the Catholic Academy of Stamford as a Blue Ribbon School. Her principal, Dr. Joann Borchetta, is on the right. The award was presented by a Department of Education official.
Her principal added that Maureen could have been on the Weather Channel if she wanted. She brought meteorologists to visit class, and often took students outside for weather experiments.
In teaching religion, Borchetta said, Maureen embodied the school’s mission statement. She was a strong advocate of the school’s yearly Cultural Enrichment program.
Every year, Madeline says, she called Maureen a few days after school began. The educator had already assessed each child, figured out their personalities and how they learned, and knew how she would work with everyone individually and the class as a whole. She was passionate about inspiring lifelong learning.
She was also not afraid to try new technology. When the school installed SmartBoards, Maureen embraced them. She asked her students to help her learn. Her principal says “they loved her honesty and transparency.”
Middle school students often returned to visit Maureen. She boosted their confidence. Many of those relationships — and those with fellow teachers and parents — continue today.
Maureen Belford (left) acknowledges applause from 8th graders, at this year’s graduation ceremony.
“She is a treasure,” her principal says. “Parents say she was one of the best teachers their children ever had. She is firm but loving. Her students always felt secure and important in her classroom. She is one of those incredible people who are truly authentic, and cherish their faith, family and friends.
“Everyone should have a Maureen in their lives. Some of us did, and are blessed.”
A lifelong Westporter, Maureen remains an active Assumption parishioner. She chaired the Parish Council, and still serves as a Eucharist minister.
Because of COVID-19, Maureen’s retirement took place without public fanfare. But “06880” will not let it pass without this well-deserved, Unsung Hero shoutout!
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
As of today (June 13), doubles play will be allowed at the tennis courts at Longshore, Staples High School, Town Farm and Doubleday (behind Saugatuck Elementary School).
Also as of today, dogs will no longer be required to be on leash in the off-leash area of Winslow Park or other town property where dogs are allowed.
As of Wednesday (June 17), one pickleball court at Compo Beach will be open for singles play with restrictions. It’s first come, first serve.
Also as of Wednesday, both platform tennis courts at Longshore will be open for singles play with restrictions. Advanced reservations are required, and can be booked online 5 days in advance, or by calling the Longshore tennis office at 203-341-1180 2 days in advance. No walk-ups allowed!
Registration for Parks and Rec and Wakeman Town Farm summer programs begins Wednesday. To see programs and register, click here,
And in more Parks & Rec news: The Compo Beach bathrooms are open. They bear these signs:
Coming attraction: Movies in the Imperial Avenue parking lot.
A “drive-in theater” will be set up there this summer. The Remarkable Theater — the initiative employing men and women with disabilities — is behind the project, which got a unanimous go-ahead from the Board of Selectmen.
Four films will be shown on a 40-foot-wide screen over 2 weeks at the end of June, said Remarkable creative director Doug Tirola. Up to 80 cars can be accommodated in the lot, which during the day is both a commuter parking lot and the site of Thursday Farmers’ Markets.
Film titles and more details will be announced soon.
A pair of Norwalk food pantries — St. Philip’s and St. Vincent de Paul — feed 350 families a week. Both the families and the pantries are in desperate need of help.
Tomorrow (Sunday, June 14, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), the Knights of Columbus will conduct a “drive-through food drive.” The site is the Assumption Church parking lot (98 Riverside Avenue).
You don’t have to leave your vehicle. K of C members will pick up your donation from your trunk or back seat.
Food that is needed:
Small bags of rice
Small packets of pasta/macaroni
Bags of dried black beans
Vienna sausage – regular or chicken
Cereal – oatmeal or cornflakes
Checks are great too. Make them payable to Church of the Assumption; in the memo line, write “Food Drive.”
Assumption Church (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)
Staples High School and University of Southern California journalism student Becca Rawiszer recently interviewed Board of Education chair Candice Savin about where Westport schools go from here. Click here to download the Persona Interviews app to watch the full interview — and ask Savin a follow up question.
Last weekend, residents of Center Street enjoyed an amazing performance.
Their neighbor John Karrel, and fellow Westporter and friend Jeff Chasnow played beautiful selections from Bach and Vivaldi.
The musicians were socially distanced, on John’s porch. But they — and all who heard — were drawn emotionally together.
“It was so lovely sitting in the garden surrounded by spring blossoms, with the best weather of the year so far,” says Heidi Curran. “I hope they will treat us to more!”
John Karrel (left) and Jeff Chasnow)
Every Christmas, the tree next to Assumption Church is hung with lights.
This spring there’s something new on Riverside Avenue: face masks.
They’re hand-sewn, washable — and free for anyone to take. Be sure to pick up sanitizing prep pads too (donated by Knights of Columbus) — and a prayer card.
Everyone needs positivity. Savvy + Grace has it, for sure. In fact, it’s called a Positiv-A-Tea Basket.
That’s just one of the many fun, fine products the Main Street gifts-and-more store has for Mother’s Day (and the rest of the pandemic too).
Owner Annette Norton — downtown’s biggest booster — offers both shipping and no-contact curbside pickup (weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Her Easter baskets were a huge success, so Mother’s Day is a natural follow-up.
For gift baskets — or options to built your own gift box from their great selection of clothing, lounge wear, cashmere, fine jewelry, food items, bath and body products, and gorgeous home items — click here, or call 203-221-0077.
Positiv-A-Tea gift basket.
Tomorrow is National Nurses Day. As they and their colleagues bear the brunt of the pandemic, we can show support by signing up to feed a team (about 20 people) at Norwalk Hospital.
Ordering online through for this meal train helps them — and your favorite restaurant. Click here; it’s easy, quick and important.
Volunteer Lisa Power says, “If you’ve already signed up, and/or already donated to one of the many other places or people in need, please pass the link along to others. Spread the word!”
Speaking of Meal Trains: Garelick & Herbs participates. And they donate 20% of the price of any order to Jewish Family Services.
The popular market offers “Do Good, Feel Good” meal trains for Norwalk Hospital (20 staff members), Greenwich Hospital (50), Carrollton Nursing Home (35), and 5 options for police and fire department shifts.
They’re all on Garelick & Herbs’ website (scroll way down to the bottom). While you’re there, check out the huge variety of options for yourself, either curbside or delivery: breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, noodle bar, dinners, quiches, breads, pastas, desserts and more.
Plus Mother’s Day brunch, dinner, gift baskets, cakes — and a special “You Cook for Mom” feature.
In 6th grade, Emma Borys was diagnosed with epilepsy. The teenager is now an outspoken advocate for research and education.
The Walk to End Epilepsy — which she has raised plenty of funds for — has been canceled by the coronavirus. She also will not be able to take part in her long-awaited graduation walk at Weston High School.
But Emma is not deterred. She organized a virtual Walk to End Epilepsy — and promises to walk 2,020 steps (get it?) every day, from now until graduation, in return for pledges to the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut. Click here to help.
The Avery Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology now offers COVID-19 antibody testing to determine whether you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, even if you have no symptoms. It’s by appointment, at 12 Avery Place. Call or text 203- 227-5125.
And finally … a couple of years ago I saw “Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.” (Remember Broadway?!)
It was an evening of poetry, passion and power. Among the most powerful moments: a stripped-down version of this song. As always, The Boss says it best:
Posted onApril 27, 2019|Comments Off on Have Faith: Church And Temple Teens In B-Ball Battle
Last week, Easter and Passover coincided. Across the globe, Christians and Jews celebrated important holidays at the same time.
Tomorrow (Sunday, April 28), 2 religions converge again. This time the setting is local. At 6:30 p.m., teenagers from Assumption Church, St. Luke, Temple Israel and the Conservative Synagogue meet on the Westport YMCA basketball court.
They’ll compete in the 4th annual Full Court for Kindness tournament. The round robin event is for bragging rights in the Staples High School cafeteria and on social media, sure.
But it’s also a fundraiser. Proceeds from the player and spectator entry fee of $5 (or more!) go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation (in honor of Christopher Lanni, a St. Luke parishioner who died while at Staples) and the Catch a Lift Fund, which provides physical and mental recovery therapy to wounded veterans.
Captains of the 4 faith youth groups, and organizers,meet before last year’s tournament.
Last year’s event drew a packed house. Staples Orphenian Brody Braunstein sang the national anthem. A priest and rabbi delivered blessings. A moment of silence followed, in memory of Christopher.
Then the 4 teams took the court. They battled hard. This was not Sunday school.
Still, there were tons of smiles. Everyone understood the tournament values: friendship, kindness and tolerance.
Temple Israel won last year’s tournament. Another highlight was St. Luke’s come-from-behind victory over rival Assumption.
Who will win tomorrow?
God only knows.
Defending champs: Temple Israel.
(Hat tip: Michele Harding)
Comments Off on Have Faith: Church And Temple Teens In B-Ball Battle
Longtime Westporter Carol Mata died last week, at 73.
She was an entrepreneur, starting a doll-making business in Peru, and an Ecuadorean handcraft store in Westport called El Rondador. Carol also managed many rental properties.
She was a host mother to many foreign exchange students throughout the years, and an adopted mother and grandmother by countless people around the world.
She was an accomplished entertainer, party organizer and self-taught chef. She welcomed hundreds of people into her home with warmth, elegance and epicurean treats.
Carol was also deeply involved in Westport activities. Her daughter — Staples High School art teacher Angela Simpson — sends along this remembrance:
Last week, Westport and the greater community lost a humble and generous servant. Carol Mata, a resident of Westport for approximately 50 of her 73 years, passed away peacefully but unexpectedly in her sleep.
Carol’s generosity extended beyond her kindness to her family. She dedicated her time and talents to the Westport Woman’s Club (in particular the Yankee Doodle Fair), ran Fairfield Prep annual auctions, fundraised for Staples marching band uniforms, and always opened her pocketbook to support charities, especially Al’s Angels and Caroline House.
She was a fixture at St. Matthew’s Church in Norwalk, where she served as a eucharistic minister, delivered home-cooked meals to those in need, and assisted with accounting and event planning.
She also served for years as a CCD instructor at Assumption Church in Westport. She took her lesson planning very seriously, and was delighted to have one of her own grandchildren in her class.
Carol’s philanthropy extended outside Fairfield County, and even outside the country, but her greatest gift was her genuine care for all people. She did so much for so many, and never expected recognition.
Carol was a breast cancer survivor, and understood the importance of cherishing family and friends. From Carol you could count on original, personalized Christmas cards, along with her signature “Christmas Coffee Can Cake,” heartfelt and handwritten thank-you notes, and multi-course gourmet meals served from chafing dishes, always accompanied by beautiful floral arrangement.
Carol will be missed by many. But the many organizations and individuals that she touched are the better for her efforts.
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