Parish Portrait — Georgia Katsigianopoulos

Everyone who is a part of St. Peter’s Orthodox Church knows Georgia K. who teaches the children in the Sunday school class. Step inside the classroom and you will see a colorful scene: artwork and icons adorn the walls; lessons explain the Liturgy to eager young people; and special treats await the students at the end of each session. The miracle occurring is that Georgia has students in one room, ranging from five years to twelve years old. How can one teach such a diverse group of children? Yes, she has cheerful and helpful assistants—Miss Mercedes and Miss Sophia—and she gives these two women lots of credit, but managing energetic chaos takes a special and imaginative person to accomplish this miracle. Georgia is that person.

Georgia is a native New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan. She is proud of her Greek heritage and appreciates the courage and determination of grandparents who migrated from Greece. Imagine being uprooted from ancestral roots and making the fearful journey to the new world and an unfamiliar life in America. She loved her grandmother, a strong woman who bore three children and worked in a fur factory for most of her life. Georgia remembers hearing stories of her grandmother walking the picket line to form a union for protection of employees from unfair working conditions.

Georgia’s father, a very handsome young man, worked in the Merchant Marine, and “jumped ship” for a better life in America. Even at that time, he was considered to be an illegal alien. He rented a room in the apartment building where her young and beautiful mother lived with her parents and two brothers. They, of course, met, fell in love, and married.

The two brothers served in World War II. Sadly, one brother, who was a fighter pilot, died when his plane was shot down over France, one day before D Day. The other brother was a part of the OSS, and parachuted into Europe behind enemy lines to work with the underground in Germany, France, North Africa and Indo-China. Both of them were true heroes.

As an illustration of her wry sense of humor, Georgia related a funny story from her childhood. When she was four years old, she told her Uncle Harry that she loved him and wanted him to wait for her to grow up so they could marry. Alas, Uncle Harry found another woman and married Claire. Georgia admits that she was devastated and jealous. Although she admired Claire and was respectful, she never warmed up to her.

When she grew up, Georgia enrolled at the City College of New York where she met John, her future husband. The two eventually moved to Newtown, Connecticut (site of the mass shootings of children and teachers in Sandy Hook School; Georgia knew some of the people affected by this tragedy). There she was hired by Pepperidge Farm Corporation where she worked in various capacities for thirty years. When the company downsized, she “retired,” and her husband suggested that she relax and enjoy that retirement.

But not Georgia! She wanted to be more productive, and applied for a position with a special needs program for three to five year old children in Newtown. Many of these children were severely mentally and physically disabled, and Georgia describes their parents as especially courageous as they dealt with their children’s disabilities. Not an easy task.

When Georgia talks about her work with these little children, she positively glows with warmth and will say that it was the best experience of her life. The love and tenderness she felt toward these little people would melt even the most hardened heart.

One of the many children Georgia worked with was severely handicapped with multiple birth defects. When she came into the program, she was “all curled up” and not responsive to outside stimulus. Her coloring was a stone-like grey and she had to be nourished through a feeding tube. But her large, beautiful eyes began to respond to Georgia’s attention. She learned how to smile, and Georgia and other staff members showered attention on her. Georgia laughs when she says that she cannot “sing very well,” but every day she would sing to this little child —“Somewhere over the Rainbow,’— and the little girl would fall asleep. When she died at age five, Georgia and the rest of the staff mourned her passing.

This child and all the others in the program were loved by the team, all gifted people: the psychologist, speech therapist, physical therapist, special needs teachers and assistants. As Georgia describes them, “they made miracles,” insisting that this was one of the best group of people she ever worked with. They were remarkable, talented and, most of all, loving people. When Georgia talks about these experiences, she says that she just “fell into this miracle. God sent me where he needed me.”

When Georgia and John decided to move to Florida, the staff prepared a special tribute for her in a book with sayings and photographs of the children. The photographs are extraordinary; the children are happy, and their real beauty and joy shine through in these photos.

After Georgia moved to Naples, she began attending St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church. At the behest of Fr. Hans, she became the G.O.Y.A. Director and also taught their Sunday School class for ten years (thirteen to eighteen year olds together). Although it was a far different responsibility from her earlier experiences, she loved working with teenagers.

And finally, today St. Peter’s is blessed with Georgia’s talents in our own complex Sunday school. Just visit the classroom and you can view her creative efforts. She likes to use hands-on projects as a teaching method for the children to learn about their Orthodox Church and their heritage. Georgia loves children, has a sense of humor, thinks they are funny, and she appreciates their talents, enthusiasm and zest for life.

At Christmas time, I walked into the classroom when they were singing carols. All the children (except three year old Zoe who was visiting the class that day) were lined up, singing their hearts out, and Brandon was directing this “choir.” Young Zoe, was sitting quietly at the table, concentrating on a coloring project, begun by another child in the class. It was an amazing sight. God bless Georgia!!