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Distinguished Graduates recall fond memories of St. Joachim

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webmaster | 07/01/03

The annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week at St. Joachim School commemorates the benefits of a Catholic education.

Each year during Catholic Schools Week the school nominates an alumnus to the National Catholic Educational Association to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award.

Since the program's inception in 1991 the relatively new honor has been presented annually. Many of the recipients have continued in the field of education in one form or another.

The first recipient of the award was Cecilia Ann Massetti, Ph.D. The Madera County Office of Education director of curriculum and pupil personnel services is an example of the educational foundation St. Joachim's provides its students. Following Massetti's 1968 graduation from St. Joachim she attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, St. Mary's College, University of San Francisco, California State University Davis and University of Southern California.

Massetti's position with MCOE represents her commitment to the education of Madera's children.

"When I recall my days at St. Joachim's School three words come to mind, family, faith and foundations," Massetti said.

"Our family has a long tradition with St. Joachim's. Our father, Fred Massetti, Sr. graduated from the school in 1929 and Uncle Angelo in 1933. The next generation found 17 Massetti cousins attending school and 12 family members made up the third generation to attend St. Joachim School. I suspect the fourth generation will be started off with Trevor (a great nephew) graduating in the class of 2017. The educational program was one based on understanding and developing one's faith and building the foundations for learning.

"The blending of this instructional program was played out for me in parish life and community activities. As a child we volunteered to serve at the parish dinners, the annual Harvest Festival and we had fun with our Camp Fire group," she said.

"As an adult the community has just gotten larger but those fundamentals of family, faith and foundations for learning are still true," Massetti said

Recalling an era before there were uniforms in the public schools "Ah, and the uniforms...they really weren't all that bad!" she said fondly.

In 1992 Louise Houlding was given the honor of the Distinguished Graduate Award. Houlding graduated from St. Joachim in 1961, attended Madera High School, Dominican College of San Rafael and then California State University Fresno.

Her commitment to education led to five years on the Madera Unified School District Board of Trustees. She also served on the Cantua Creek Elementary School Board of Trustees in the mid-1970s.

"St. Joachim School started me on a lifelong quest for excellence in education not only for myself and my family but for the children and families in the communities in which we have lived," said Houlding. "The standards of education, the standards of life and the commitment of families at St. Joachim School has taught us all-important fundamental lessons that have driven us through lives we could have never imagined as children," she said.

"Thank you, St. Joachim School, for 75 years of excellence."

The 1993 the Distinguished Graduate Award went to the Rev. Larry Toschi. Toschi followed his St. Joachim education with attendance St. Joseph's Seminary in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara University and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. Toschi stayed involved with the school and is now pastor of his childhood parish.

The 1994 Distinguished Graduate Award found Rev. Philip Massetti as pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Bakersfield. After St. Joachim Massetti attended St. Joseph's Seminary in Santa Cruz, St. Patrick's College in Mountain View and the Theological Union in Berkeley.

Another St. Joachim's alumnus who stayed involved in education is retired Madera High School history teacher and coach Frank Brunolli, the 1995 Distinguished Graduate. Brunolli attended MHS followed by Fresno City College and the University of San Francisco.

"At St. Joachim School I was given a good religious back ground that has helped me all through my whole life," Brunolli said. "The education I received prepared me well and gave me a strong foundation for high school and college." said Brunolli.

He served on the St. Joachim's School Board during what could be described as one of its darkest hours.

In the late 1970s the Sisters of St. Joseph who ran the school were reassigned to San Francisco. For a while it looked as though the school would be forced to close.

"We needed a miracle and we got one," Brunolli said.

The Sisters of Immaculate Conception, an order of nuns from Spain, were supposed to be assigned to a parish in Merced. The nuns who were in Merced decided to stay there and the order was offered to St. Joachim's for the school.

"We held a lot of festivals and dinners," Brunolli said.

"A lot of the Brunollis went to St. Joachim's. It has been a big inspiration to us," he said.

Retired business woman and 1941 St. Joachim's School graduate Paula Baraldi was selected the Distinguished Graduate in 1996. She attended Madera High School and owned and operated DeCesari's Stationary and Gifts. The bridal registry at DeCesari's outfitted many newlyweds with their first good china and silverware for holiday dinners.

Baraldi sent her three children to St. Joachim School. Alan Baraldi, Nancy Myers and Laura Brandon all graduated from St. Joachim's School with honors. Her grandchildren are also graduates of St. Joachim School. Myers now runs the family business that carries her mother's maiden name.

"I always remember my time at St. Joachim School fondly," Baraldi said. "We had the largest graduating class to date, 14 students."

Her classes were taught in what is now Griffin Hall.

"Every morning we began the day by singing "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean," she recalled." Its funny the things that stick out in your memory."

During the 60th anniversary of St. Joachim School eight of the 14 graduates attended the celebration.

"That's a pretty good turnout," Baraldi aid.

Popular Madera physician, the late Robert Butler Rowe, M.D., received the 1997 Distinguished Graduate Award. Dr. Rowe attended Reedley High School, Reedley College, University of California Berkley and University of California San Francisco.

James E. Martini was selected as the 1998 Distinguished Graduate Award recipient. He attended Madera High School followed by a long career with Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Retired California Highway Patrolman Donald D. Sellai received the 1999 Distinguished Graduate Award. He attended Madera High School and Reedley College. For many years, 2003 included, Sellai has been one of the driving forces behind the MHS Sober Grad Party.

Sister M. Lucille Van Hoogmoed is the 2000 Distinguished Graduate Award recipient. After graduating from St. Joachim School she attended Queen of the Valley Academy in Fresno, Mount Saint Mary's College in Los Angeles, followed by Saint Anselm and Gregorian University both in Rome, Italy. She presently serves as regional vicar and local superior for the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master.

Richard Donati was selected the 2001 Distinguished Graduate. A 1954 graduate of St. Joachim's School, Donati runs the drug and alcohol diversion program for Madera County Superior Court.

Susan Venturi nee Deming is the most recent Distinguished Graduate Award winner.

Following her graduation from St. Joachim's in 1956 she graduated from Madera High School and then Four-Cs Business College. She and her husband, Jerry, own Venturi's House of Music. They have shared their love of music with generations of Madera youth providing band instruments for school kids.

A special Mass is held during Catholic Schools Week for the presentation of the Distinguished Graduate Award followed by a reception for the friends and families of the recipient.


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