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Catholic Vancouver Aug. 30, 2015

New director takes wheel of VanSpec

By Agnieszka Ruck

VANCOUVER—VanSpec is gearing up for catechism classes this fall under the guidance of a new director.

Sister Esther Leroux, DSMP, is the new head of an organization that prepares children with special needs to receive the sacraments.

"I really hope that my being here helps the students to come to know their faith a little more," she said this summer after taking the VanSpec reins June 12.

Sister Leroux grew up as a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Coquitlam. This is her first assignment in Canada since she joined the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence 27 years ago.

"It's been very nice being close to home and close to family," she said.

For 27 years Sister Leroux has been carrying out her congregation's mission of taking care of elderly and physically or mentally challenged people in the U.S.A.

She has served in her congregation's facilities in the states of Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Illinois, most of the time as a supervisor or administrator.

Her congregation founded VanSpec in 1981, but this workplace is an entirely new one for Sister Leroux. She said it's been a challenge.

"Most of our work is with the handicapped, but its mostly in residential facilities," she said. "VanSpec is catechesis for the handicapped, for those with Down syndrome, or other developmental disabilities."

Secretary Mena Sanders praised Sister Leroux's managerial talents. "She comes from an administrative point of view, so she's super organized. It helps keep things running really well."

Sanders has been involved in VanSpec since 2008. In that time she's served under the leadership of three sisters, including past director Sister Kathy Stark, DSMP.

"It's always a joy and a pleasure to work with the sisters," she said. "It's quite an amazing thing to be involved in."

Students at VanSpec receive one-on-one instruction as they learn more about the Catholic faith and prepare to receive the sacraments in one of four Lower Mainland locations. They also participate in annual events like Christmas parties and summer camps.

"These are kids that don't quite fit in a regular PREP class," Sanders said.

There are also alumni events for those who have already finished the program, received the sacrament of confirmation, and still want to keep in touch.

"They are so faith-filled, it's like pure joy, especially when they receive their first Communion," Sanders said.

"They have been given the ability to be able to participate, and it makes them so happy. It makes their parents happy too."