After 31 years teaching, St. Mary preschool director will retire

The preschool director of St. Mary School, Joan Calendrillo, has enjoyed a wonderful 31 years teaching preschool, but now she is ready to retire.

Although it will not be easy to say goodbye, Calendrillo said, she looks forward to retirement. She plans to spend a great amount of time with her five grandchildren. She also wants to make time to read, crochet, volunteer, and travel with her friends.

Those who have worked with her have a tremendous amount of admiration and will miss her at the school.

“The holidays and special events with Mrs. Calendrillo were my favorite days,” said Calendrillo’s assistant, Marion Turiano. “She always made them special and memorable. I will miss sharing my days, our conversations and her sense or humor, not to mention her cornbread muffins,” Parents at St. Mary’s said they think highly of Calendrillo and can put their trust in her.

“Mrs. C. is a wonderful lady — she reminds me of Meryl Streep. She is just so graceful and classy, and gives you that feeling that everything will be OK,” said Sarah Nielsen, whose 5-year-old son, Cooper, is a student of Calendrillo.

In 1987 Calendrillo began her career at St. Mary School as a preschool teacher. She became the preschool director in 2007 as the preschool grew. Teaching has always been her calling and she loves to work with children.

“I always seemed to know that early childhood education was the career path I would follow,” she said. “It is such an exciting and challenging experience. Each child is uniquely different, and the joy of watching a child grow in faith and knowledge is very exciting.”

Calendrillo earned her early childhood degree from St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. She taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) at St. Agnes School for quite some time and she worked with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, an accreditation association.

She was also the faculty liaison of the Parish Twinning Committee at St. Mary’s for many years. One of her roles was to inform students about St. Mary’s twin parish in Marbial, Haiti, where she even visited four times as part of the medical missions. The first time she went to Haiti was in 2009, when she met the pastor and parishioners of St. Therese in Marbial to help determine their needs and to see how St. Mary’s could be of assistance.

Calendrillo said she has always loved being part of the St. Mary’s community and believes everyone who is involved lives by its motto: Live the Message of Jesus.

Earlier in her career, Calendrillo became involved with the Connecticut Storytelling Association. She said reading to children is her favorite part of being a preschool teacher, and is something she will miss the most. She is always delighted to see the smiles on children’s faces when she reads to them.

“They are eager to learn about everything. What better way than to read!” she said.

Parents and staff members said they will miss Calendrillo.

“I will miss her advice, both personal and professional, but mostly I will just miss her presence in the preschool building. For as long as I’ve been there she has been the backbone of the program,” said Rosann Farrell, co-teacher of one of the part-time 4-year-old preschool classes. Pendleton Juarbe, who was once a student of Calendrillo, now has a 4-year-old son, Aiden, who is in preschool and adores Calendrillo.

“Aiden will spout out some fact or story or sing a song that I didn’t know he knew, and when I ask him how he knew, the answer is almost always, ‘Mrs. Calendrillo taught me.’ I am so thankful that my son got to have her as a teacher before her retirement,” said Juarbe.     

Calendrillo’s time at St. Mary’s has been full of memories she said she will cherish forever.

“My greatest memory of St. Mary's is watching the children grow through the years and graduate from eighth grade,” she said. “They are successful, happy and faith-filled.”