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Alumni remember their days at Butler Catholic School

CJ Singleton, left, and Lori Portman-Lewis, stand with their Distinguished Alumni Awards from Butler Catholic School Sunday, April 21. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle
‘This is like my Oscar moment’

After a more than 17-year absence, Butler Catholic School honored three graduates as Distinguished Alumni Sunday morning, April 21, which was followed by a tour of the school for everyone in attendance of the brunch ceremony.

CJ Singleton, a 2018 graduate; Lori Portman-Lewis, a 1972 graduate; and Robert Grecco, a 1976 graduate, were the distinguished alumni award winners chosen this year. Bruno Zuccala, a member of Butler Catholic’s advisory committee, said the school has not had the awards since 2016, and the committee decided to bring it back to honor graduates of the school who have moved onto serve the community.

Zuccala said the alumni committee put out a call for nominations, and selected three distinguished alumni to honor for the award’s return.

For Portman-Lewis, being nominated was an honor in itself.

“God has put me in this place and has given me this award, and I’ve been touched by so many people that I need to graciously accept it,” Portman-Lewis said. “It really honors me, it honors me a great deal.”

Zuccala, who attended Butler Catholic alongside Portman-Lewis, said her work in the community has led to her being selected as a Distinguished Alumni. According to Zuccala, Portman-Lewis’s studio has developed a dance class for people with disabilities, and her students frequently perform at events around the county, as well as for other people with disabilities.

Portman-Lewis said she was happy to be presented the award by such a close friend.

“I feel like this is my Oscar moment, because it really does mean a lot to me,” Portman-Lewis said. “I was really taken back when my friend Bruno, who I love dearly and we’ve become so close the last year or so, announced to me that I was nominated.”

Grecco, who Zuccala said could not make it to the event Sunday, holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in the same field from Clarion University. He was a first-grade teacher at BCS in the St. Michael building from September 1985 to June 1988. He left teaching to pursue ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, subsequently obtaining a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts degree in theology.

The most recent graduate of Butler Catholic, Singleton, attends the University of Notre Dame, and is involved in several Christian organizations on campus, as well as in sports.

Singleton accepted the award Sunday morning, and said the school gave him the tools necessary to pursue his goals during his college career.

“My dad went here, my sister went here, I went here, my mom worked here so Butler Catholic’s been a big part of my life,” Singleton said. “I would not be... where I am without my time at Butler Catholic. Where I hope to go would not be possible either.”

In addition to awarding the distinguished alumni, John Hazur, principal of Butler Catholic, spoke about his goals for the school now that he has been in the role for nearly a year. He said education remains a top priority for the school.

“We’re working on expanding our robotics program next year,” Hazur said. “As well as working on our curriculum — constant change of curriculum. Mathematics, language arts, all the standard things that Butler Catholic School has offered.”

Hazur also said the school aims to support students through difficulties they encounter.

“One of the biggest things right now that’s being pushed throughout the diocese and throughout education in general, our students’ mental health,” Hazur said. “We need to make sure we are monitoring and watching our students’ mental health — we’re not overwhelming them, we’re not overloading them — we’re supporting them.”

Having started his job at the school this school year, Hazur said he has already become acquainted with many legacy families in the school, who have attended the school for generations. On Sunday, he accredited families for keeping the school strong in tradition.

“I am very appreciative of all the alumni that come out and support the school, because without you guys Butler Catholic School wouldn’t exist,” Hazur said. “It goes generation to generation, and now having you guys return to where you were so many year ago, it’s amazing.”

Zuccala, too, said the intergenerational support some families of the district have given the school is “beautiful.”

“The cool thing is that I get to see that next generation,” Zuccala said. “It gets a little mushy for me a little bit, but it’s really kind of cool that we have that beautiful connection of family here at Butler Catholic.”

Bruno Zuccala, a member of Butler Catholic School's advisory committee, right, speaks at a Distinguished Alumni breakfast Sunday morning, April 21, as the school's principal, John Hazur, looks on. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle
Lori Portman-Lewis admires her Distinguished Alumni Award from Butler Catholic School Sunday morning, April 21, during an awards breakfast at the school. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle
CJ Singleton, right, speaks about his experiences at Butler Catholic School after receiving a Distinguished Alumni Award Sunday, April 21, as the school's principal, John Hazur, looks on. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle

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