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NORFOLK -- Terry Ferraris didn’t think the program she initiated was so ingenious. But parents of young children at St. Jude Parish might disagree.
Some years ago, Ferraris began an intergenerational preschool program in her parish: The Pre-K/K Family Program.
“The Pre-K/K Family Program is a three-year revolving program,” explained Ferraris, “which is not a drop-off preschool program, but rather a family-inclusive program.”
According to Ferraris, every first Sunday of the month, families with preschoolers meet and participate in arts and crafts, listen to stories and other age-appropriate activities, all related to a particular theme. For example, last month’s theme was “The Little Boy who Shared his Lunch,” based on the Gospel story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Despite the program’s success, Ferraris is slow to take praise.
“This was just a concept I had that just worked,” she shrugged.
In addition to running the preschool program, Ferraris is also the director of religious education at St. Jude’s, coordinating a program that teaches close to 1,000 children each year.
“When I started in 1985, we only had 400 students,” she said. “Our parish is very family-friendly and, without question, I think it is a very young parish. There are certainly more baptisms than funerals!”
In addition, Ferraris said she “fills in with whatever’s needed.”
Ferraris praised her pastor, Msgr. Peter Conley, for his involvement and his ability to make everyone feel welcome at St. Jude’s.
“He is certainly the most reverent role model I have ever met,” Ferraris said.
“Over the years I have worked with a lot of priests and he’s tip top on my list,” she continued. “[St. Jude’s] is a happy place; it is a joy-filled place. It is a joy to work here.”
She also complimented Father Robert Rivard, FMSI for his involvement in the religious education program.
“Father Rivard always makes himself available to us,” she said.
Ferraris, 59, grew up in Colorado. She and her husband of 37 years, Al, moved to Norfolk after being in the military for several years. The couple has three children.
Ferraris credits her grandmother and her parents for impressing the importance of faith on her at an early age.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten along without it, through life’s doorways -- the difficult doorways and the happy doorways,” she said.
Looking at the children in the religious education program, Ferraris confessed, “It is easy to get bogged down and discouraged because people have so many more options in terms of activities. Many times religion just isn’t high on their priorities.”
However, she hopes her parish’s religious education programs provides “a good experience and a happy memory, so that hopefully when [the students] have to go through a difficult doorway, they have a place to turn to.”