Former Catholic school teacher reconnects with student from 40 years ago

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Cladia_Photo_page_8By Claudia Mathis
Staff writer

UTICA — To Elaine Clark-Gaffney, a substitute receptionist at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, it seemed as if she was embarking on a new adventure. She had just discovered that a former student of hers, Susan Martellotto-Januszewski, was teaching her new-employee orientation class on her first day on the job back in December.

As the staff development coordinator and a nurse at St. Joseph’s, Martellotto-Januszewski taught the new employees about the Carmelite Sisters and their dedication to caring for the aged and infirm. “I found her to be enthusiastic, knowledgeable and dedicated in her role,” remarked Clark-Gaffney. “She was so emphatic about being sure that the dignity of the residents be uppermost to each new employee.”

Clark-Gaffney had taught Martellotto-Januszewski when she was in seventh grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Utica. The former teacher remembers that her former student was positive, intelligent and articulate and that she also had neat penmanship.

Clark-Gaffney taught third, sixth and seventh grades at Our Lady of Lourdes School from 1969 to 1975.

“Every teacher should have the blessing of meeting up with their students 40 years later — it brought joy to my heart,” said Clark-Gaffney. “What a blessing it was for me to see her professionalism, her beautiful personality and her caring for the residents here at the home. Susan is a perfect example of what a Catholic education hopes to achieve.”

Clark-Gaffney is a life-long parishioner of St. Paul’s Church in Whitesboro.

She retired from the position of personnel director at General Electric in 1988. After her husband passed away, she felt the need to socialize. She had volunteered at the nursing home for a number of years entertaining the residents by playing her musical keyboard during activities such as Christmas parties, ice cream socials and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Because she focused on performing, she said, there wasn’t much time for her to socialize.

Clark-Gaffney asked St. Joseph’s Activities Director Sister Robert Anthony Didas, O. Carm., if she could work at the reception desk of the home on a part-time basis. She was then hired to fill in for the regular receptionist when she is absent. She has worked at least once every week since being hired in December. “I love the job,” she said. “The job is perfect for me.”

Clark-Gaffney is reconnecting with many of the visitors to the home, people she hasn’t seen in years. Some are former students whose parents or relatives are now residents at the nursing home.

Clark-Gaffney said that it was heartening and enlightening to watch Martellotto-Januszewski at work. “After a few weeks on the job, I observed her dedication to the residents and their needs,” explained Clark-Gaffney. She said that she’s often seen Martellotto-Januszewski come into work on her own time — after hours or even on weekends.

“I can’t take the credit for the person she has become but I do take a personal joy in observing her commitment to her career and observing the obvious spiritual connection that permeates her being through all of her actions,” said Clark-Gaffney.

Clark-Gaffney said that she has always enjoyed working in a Catholic environment. She feels the presence of the Lord in such a place. She also said she admires the dedication exhibited by the religious. “I enjoy working with the nuns. I feel that they are the backbone of the Catholic Church,” she said.

The Catholic environment at St. Joseph’s suits Martellotto-Januszewski as well. She displays prayers in her office and she said  it is common for the staff to pray at meetings. She attends Mass every day at the nursing home’s chapel. Sometimes, Clark-Gaffney joins her.

Martellotto-Januszewski is a devout Catholic. She has served as Regent of the Catholic Daughters of America and she is a parishioner at St. Mary of Mount Carmel-Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica. She graduated from Utica Catholic Academy and it is there, she said, that she learned to have compassion for the less fortunate and also the importance of forgiveness. “My philosophy is that I don’t work for the nursing home — I work for the Lord,” she said. “I try to reach out to my co-workers and the residents. God is working through me.”

Martellotto-Januszewski said that she tries to do what she can to encourage people spiritually. The staff at the nursing home often comes to her for guidance. She has given them some of the pro-life literature she brought home from her visit to the Catholic Women’s Conference in Syracuse last October. “I always try to have something spiritual in my pocket to give to someone,” she said.

Martellotto-Januszewski has also opened a library at St. Joseph’s. In its early stages, she has stocked the library with three books: Godly Glimpses by Peggy Eastman, Mother Marianne of Molokai by Mary Cabrini Durkin, OSU and Quiet Places With Mary by Rev. Isaias Powers, CP.

Clark-Gaffney is extremely grateful for her reconnection with Martellotto-Januszewski. “Little do we know in life the impact that a teacher has on her students, but what might not be so obvious is the effect the student has on the teacher,” she said. “This whole experience has been a great blessing in my life.”

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