Tonight we give special honor to a woman who is the founder of our “Hand in Hand” program here at JPII. Hand in Hand is a program for students with intellectual disabilities—and it’s a program we are very proud of. Students in our Hand in Hand Program are paired with a learning specialist, Adrienne Parks, and receive intensive educational instruction and support, even while they grow intellectually, spiritually, and morally as part of our school community. The program has been so successful that it’s been used as a model by other Catholic schools all around the country.
I can’t adequately communicate, as headmaster of the school, how special this program is to the life of our school, and how wonderful the kids who are part of it. They are generous, kind, and fun loving—and they bring out the best in all of us.
However, Hand in Hand would not exist here were it not for Mrs. Mollie Gavigan. Molly and Bill are parents of Jeannie, a young lady with downs syndrome, and there were simply no options that could meet their daughter’s needs in our Catholic school system here in Nashville.
So in the summer of 2004, Mollie met in the office of my predecessor, Hans Broekman, to make the case that JPII should start a program for kids with special needs. We spoke recently with Hans, who remembers that meeting very well. Mollie’s message was simple: “The Church is willing to give my daughter the sacraments, but it isn't willing to give her an education. I’ve tried everywhere.” Hans said he tried to put her off and delay, saying the school was still brand new and growing, and it just wasn’t a good time. “Yes,” Mollie shot back, “When I found out that Jeannie had downs syndrome, I also thought “now is not a good time.” Hans said at that moment, he was convicted, recalling, “I felt, as one does from time to time, the strong presence of the Holy Spirit in my office.” So he proposed the program to the Board, and they approved it unanimously.
Mrs. Gavigan, however, did more than begin a program: Realizing that the cost of such a program was far beyond what tuition covers, she committed to spearheading the additional fund-raising necessary to defray the school’s cost. HH began in 2004 and has been part of our school ever since. As a result of her efforts, her daughter and six others are now proud alumni of JPII-- and we, likewise, are proud of them.
We regret that Mollie Gavigan died in November of 2006 of breast cancer, so she could not be here tonight to accept this award personally. Standing in to receive this honor in her name are her daughter, Jeannie, a 2008 alum of JPII, her son, Bill, and his two children, and her husband, Dr. Bill Gavigan. Please join me in thanking them warmly for the contribution of their mother, grandmother and spouse.