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Educator Sister Mary Ventura O.P.

Sister Mary Ventura O.P.

Sister Mary Ventura O.P.

If the worth of a life is measured in the lives one changes, then Sister Mary Ventura O.P. is pure gold, and an example to all who work with children and young adults in the name of literacy.

A teacher for 67 years, Ventura directs the Essential Learning Solutions lab at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy in Evergreen Park. She could’ve rested on her laurels long ago, but Ventura still puts in 10-hour work days. She’s worked at the , lab for the past 20 years.

Sister Mary has received many awards over her prolific career, but the one she calls “my favorite” was the Leonardo da Vinci Award for Excellence in Education from the Order of the Sons of Italy, bestowed in May 2010.

“The best part of my job is helping children no one else can help,” she says. “Our program is computerized and well researched, so it helps students who’ve never been helped before to succeed.”

Though it can help smart students get smarter, “We have students with different developmental problems,” she says. “We have students struggling because of autism, ADHD, or with other disorders.”

The ELS program seeks to improve sensory processing, memory skills, concentration, listening skills and a host of other issues — including self-esteem and confidence — through the work Ventura does. The corrective therapy is designed to help children become independent learners.

The work is not strictly limited to kids, though. “We have one man who came in at age 58 because he never learned how to read and he is now reading a book,” Ventura says, adding: “We also helped a lady who was in her 80s; she was able to do the program at home using our materials.”

Trying to explain this woman’s energy, enthusiasm and selfless spirit proves a formidable task at best. When you ask her to define the secret of her success, she turns the spotlight away from herself and instead points to a divine guiding light.

“I just am so happy to be able to work with God’s people and I love to see the faces of the children and adult’s faces when they do well — and especially as an Italian, because I’m really, really proud to be an Italian.”

Both of Ventura’s parents hailed from Sicily, in Caccamo, a town in the Palermo province. She’s also published collections of recipes from the Italian American Women’s Club of Chicagoland. The profits from this and other books she’s published have exclusively sponsored scholarships for Italian American female students.

Ventura entered Springfield’s Sacred Heart convent in 1945 and belongs to the Springfield Dominicans. And if you can believe this, it’s to Springfield she may return to start a new phase of her career. She’s not exactly sure what her eventual assignment will be; it will likely involve literacy work. But even at this stage of her lengthy career, she relishes the opportunity to embrace change.

“As long as I have the strength and the ability to do it,” she says, “God gave me a skill and I want to use it.”

Essential Learning Solutions is located at St. Bernadette Academy, 9311. S. Francisco Ave., Evergreen Park. Call 708-857-2005 or visit www.sbschool.us/Essential_Learning_Solutions.htm

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.