Principal Cecilia Felix recognized by local paper for her dedication to education and community service

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — When Cecilia Felix, newly-graduated from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth) followed her calling to teach and influence young minds, the cost of a postage stamp was 13 cents; bread was 39 cents a loaf; and a gallon of gasoline went for 59 cents.

The year was 1977, the place was Holy Family-Holy Name School in New Bedford. Four decades later, prices may have inflated many times over but Felix and her mission to educate young minds academically and Spiritually hasn’t changed a bit.

Felix, beginning her 29th year as principal of HF-HN, was recently announced as the recipient of the [New Bedford]Standard-Times 2018 Educator of the Year Award — an honor she hardly expected.

The Standard-Times contacted me with a list of questions,” Felix told The Anchor. “I thought it was because I was nominated. I know that an educator in a Catholic school rarely gains the award. I was surprised when I discovered it was me. I credit the Standard-Times for awarding it to a Catholic school educator.”

The Standard-Times story on Felix stated: “For her nearly 40-year tenure at Holy Family-Holy Name as both teacher and principal, and for her leadership, dedication to her craft and selfless service to her school community and beyond, Felix is The Standard-Times 2017 Educator of the Year.”

Felix was very quick to tell The Anchor, “This is not a one-person award. This is for all the teachers and staff at Holy Family-Holy Name; past, present and future.

“There is a saying: It takes village to raise a child. The same goes for educating a child. It takes parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, staff and friends — a village — with God as our leader.”

For Felix, bringing the Spiritual aspect into her teaching and leadership methods is second-nature; or perhaps more accurately, first-nature.

“When I was growing up in New Bedford, everything in my family revolved around the Church,” she said. “My parents’ first priority was Mass attendance. We didn’t have much of the material things children have today, but we had a great upbringing.

“My father was a mill worker and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. They did everything they could to send my brother and me to Catholic school.”

It was at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in New Bedford where Felix was influenced by the Sisters of St. Dorothy. “They were wonderful,” said Felix. “They not only were concerned with teaching, but with taking care of the poor and those in trouble. I can remember Sisters walking through the New Bedford streets bringing food and clothing to people in need — like the first St. Mother Teresas. At school, they made Christ come alive.”

Family and Church were the kindling that set Felix’s heart afire with the desire to teach and help those in need.

Her example and outreach has touched thousands of lives in the New Bedford area over the past 40 years.

She has been an advocate for children who have come from families that are struggling to make ends meet. Felix has been there to meet their corporal and temporal needs.

Felix is very involved with community outreach in New Bedford through service agencies that help families with shelter, food and clothing.

“When you go out with her for breakfast or a bite to eat, it never fails that someone will come up to her and thank her for something she did for them,” HF-HN vice principal Beth Mahoney told The Anchor, “whether it is something personal or for their children.”

Just a couple of years back, the father and brother of a kindergarten student at Holy Family-Holy Name went missing while working as fishermen off the coast. It was just before Thanksgiving and Christmas and Felix encouraged the creation of a fund for the family, and at Christmas Felix encouraged others to meet the gift list of the student and her older siblings.

Mahoney said that Felix “is a pioneer in Catholic education and a living witness on how to live the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy.  There is never a time when she is not asking staff, teachers or parents how we can help this family or student.  She is constantly looking for solutions to problems, and creating the means to achieve the help that is needed. 

“She created an after-school program for the families. She was concerned with the working families that needed day care and investigated what could be done to help them.”

It’s no wonder Felix is at the school at 7 a.m. and heads home at or after 5 p.m. “When I first applied for a teaching position at Holy Family-Holy Name, it was for a third-grade opening,” said Felix. “That was where my studies were concentrated. I didn’t get the job, but was later contacted for a seventh-grade teaching position there.

“I had to really think about it. I talked to my dad and others and was told to follow my heart.

“I accepted the position, and it was difficult. Middle school children, even then, were different than third-graders. They could be tough.”

But it was a Sister of St. Dorothy who spent time with Felix after school hours to guide her and instruct her to mentor seventh-graders.

“The next year the third-grade opening became available again. I stayed with the seventh-grade,” Felix said.

Felix said there were many teachers in her life who were prime examples of what a Catholic teacher should be.

“Cecilia designed a Christ in Action service program for the students at the school,” said Mahoney. “The program allows students to render service within the school in the morning, after lunch and after school. The students learn what it is to help others, to take responsibility for their actions and to live the Golden Rule.”

“I’m not a holy-roller by any means,” said Felix, “but I do know faith is today’s priority in our Catholic schools, and that has to be at the forefront.”

Felix said she has seen many types of students come and go, and some were not easy to reach or teach. “No matter what the child is like, or from what circumstances they come, they are all a child of God,” she said. Felix told The Anchor she recently received an email from a student who was problematic. “He told me I was the first one who ever made him feel like he was someone.”

Felix said many children have come through the doors of HF-HN. “I remember what our old friend Msgr. Tom Harrington told me. He said, ‘Cecilia if only one seed takes, you got it.’

It appears more than one seed has taken over the past 40 years.

“Since it’s been announced that I received the Educator of the Year award I have received emails and contacts from many former students and teaching peers. It’s nice to reconnect.”

This isn’t the first time former students have “reconnected” with Felix. “Over the many years as an educator she has taught thousands of children, now these students are bringing their children to the school, to receive the same education that they experienced,” Mahoney told The Anchor.  “Because of this, there is an outpouring of resources available to her from electrical work, to plumbing issues to carpentry — it seems that she can pick up the phone and the answer is, ‘Whatever you need Ms. Felix, just let me know.’”

In a press release available on its website, the Diocese of Fall River Catholic Schools Alliance wrote: “Congratulations to Cecilia Felix, principal of Holy Family-Holy Name School, for being recognized as The Standard-Times 2017 SouthCoast Educator of the Year!

“Ms. Felix has dedicated the past 40 years to the Holy Family-Holy Name community and made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of students.

The Standard-Times highlighted just a few of her major contributions that extend well beyond the walls of the school:

“‘In her nearly three decades at the helm, Felix has established a preschool program, before and after-school care programs, and a Faith in Action Community Service Program.

“‘She’s organized curriculum development workshops and faith-focused workshops for Greater New Bedford area Catholic schools.

“‘She sought funding for an on-site counselor, and coordinated the establishment of the North Street Central Neighborhood group — that group sought funding for the Mother Teresa Playground.’

“The Diocese of Fall River Catholic Schools Office is tremendously grateful for the years of service Ms. Felix has dedicated to Holy Family-Holy Name. She has made a lasting impact on not just the school community, but also the city of New Bedford and the diocese as a whole.”

Cristina Raposo, principal of St. James-St. John School in New Bedford told The Anchor, “I have been in the diocese for 20 years working in the deanery of New Bedford working with Cecilia. 

“She is a wonderful colleague who is always willing to help. She is a wealth of knowledge and has always been our go-to person whenever we have questions. 

“Cecilia truly believes in Catholic education and is a great asset to our diocese and community. The families and children of our community are very lucky to have her. It has been a pleasure to work along side her and I look forward to a future together.”

Dr. Patricia Wardell, principal at Holy Name School in Fall River has known Felix for all of the 13 years she has been in the Diocese of Fall River school system. “The dedication, commitment and devotion Cecilia Felix has for her faith in Jesus Christ and the students and families of Holy Family-Holy Name School places her in the top one percent of all educators and women of faith,” she told The Anchor.

“Cecilia is the epitome of an outstanding principal and is more than deserving of The Standard-Times Educator of the Year. She is quick to respond to a email or phone call for assistance, to help with the implementation of school policies, to share ideas for raising funds for scholarships and school materials, and the like.  Cecilia is quick to encourage other educators during their many times of trial, to offer positions to many seeking a start in teaching or administration, to use creative ideas for school management, as well as to encourage parents who want Catholic education for their children but lack the financial means. She definitely has the personality to see ‘a glass as half full, not half empty.’

“Over the last 13 years Cecilia was always someone I knew I could call for help or assistance — she lives what she teaches and believes. She is a great woman of faith, faith in good times, and faith in trying times, faith when health is good, and faith when the cross of illness occurs.  She is a true Catholic educator.”

It’s not only Felix’s peers and former students who know and appreciate her dedication and hard work. Felix has also had second-generation students whose parents went to HF-HN as youngsters.

“I encourage them to send their children to Holy Family-Holy Name — it’s a safe haven,” said Felix. “And when a former student sends his or her children here for an education, I say, ‘See it wasn’t so bad after all.’”

Felix will continue the mission she learned from her parents and the Sisters of St. Dorothy for as long as the Good Lord allows. And during that time, prices will continue to rise and the world will continue to change. But two things are sure to remain constant: one, the children who walk through the doors of Holy Family-Holy Name School in New Bedford will be treated as the children of God they are, and two, Felix will continue her selfless, faith-based approach with those students, their families, her staff, and the New Bedford community as a whole.

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