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Touring Europe -- in South Florida

Marian Center teaches clients about six lands

MIAMI GARDENS | Clients of the Marian Center School “traveled” Europe in an imaginary tour, sampling history, culture and other facets of six lands.

About 125 students, residents, teachers and parents took part in the Feb. 2, 2024, event at the center for people with developmental disabilities.

“It’s good to learn about other countries,” said Sister Lidia Valli, executive director of the center and principal of its school. “Some of the people here may never get the chance to travel.”

The Feb. 2 program began with the center’s clients filing through an archway meant to simulate a gate to an international flight. Marian Center staffers checked small booklets resembling passports.


Once seated in the auditorium, the clients saw a video of a plane taking off, to the folk song “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Then they were divided into smaller groups, each assigned to one of six European nations: France, Greece, England, Italy, Poland and Ireland.

At each national section, a teacher, parent or religious sister greeted the listeners and told a little about each country. Some information bits: St. George is the patron saint of England; St. Francis of Assisi, Italy, invented the Nativity scene; the harp is the national symbol of Ireland.

The speakers also told of famous saints associated with their countries, including Patrick for Ireland, Nicholas for Greece and Padre Pio for Italy.

After each eight-minute presentation, the clients were given “souvenirs” of their visit, including small flags, photos of St. Pope John Paul II, and sunburst medals for charm bracelets.

The wrap-up assembly took the form of a return “flight” to the tune of “That’s Amore.” The clients then were challenged to recite some of the facts they'd learned. Gloria Oyarzun, the school’s coach, tossed a volleyball-size globe to each person who offered to answer.

“They feel important when they know something new,” said Sister Filomena Mastrangelo, who addressed students at the table for Italy. “Then they go home and tell their parents about it.”

Lunchtime provided a final taste of the day’s fare, with a cafeteria line of national dishes including lasagna, croissants, baklava, Greek spinach pie, Polish sausage and English fish and chips. Most of the food was donated by families of the clients.

The make-believe trip was the second by the Marian Center for the clients. The first, last fall, told them about 10 Latin American nations for Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Marian Center is part of the Archdiocese of Miami, but it’s run by four Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo. The order was invited to South Florida in 1963 by Bishop Coleman F. Carroll, the first bishop of the diocese.

“They're interested in bringing out the best in the kids,” said Beth Long, who still volunteers at the school although her daughter graduated in 2005. “There’s a lot of love here.”

Comments from readers

Sister Lidia Valli - 02/07/2024 11:45 PM
We had a lot of fun together and under the protection of our saints we had a joyful and intense trip. Thanks be to God.