Opening the public’s eyes to another world

St. Joseph’s School honored during ‘Blindness Awareness Month’

Although Bojana Coklyat greeted the people admiring her art during last weekend’s Jersey City Studio Artists Tour, she was unable to see most of them.
Coklyat is one of 259,000 legally blind people living in New Jersey, approximately 3 percent of the state’s overall population. For years, the sightless and nearly sightless were an almost unnoticed minority.
Then, last December, Gov. Jon Corzine decided to take on the issue of raising awareness about preventing, treating, and curing blindness and other serious visual difficulties by signing into law a measure designating October of each year as “Blindness Awareness Month” in New Jersey.


259,000 legally blind people live in New Jersey

Coklyat is also an art teacher at the Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School of the Blind in Jersey City, the oldest school for the visually impaired in the state of New Jersey. She was in attendance at a special dinner on Oct. 2 organized by the school in honor of Blindness Awareness Month (BAM) at the Manor in West Orange.
Receiving honors at the dinner were former and current Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Peace, who founded the school in 1891, and famed graduate and renowned sportswriter Ed Lucas, who also works at the school.
The school serves those who are blind and have other disabilities, from infancy to the age of 21.

Light that still shines

Many of the attendees at the Oct. 2 dinner were reminded of a world without sight.
There was the speech by the keynote speaker, state Sen. and New Jersey Lt. Governor candidate Loretta Weinberg, who read proclamations by the state Legislature honoring the Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Peace, and a letter from Gov. Jon Corzine prepared in Braille, the official alphabet for the blind. Weinberg also spoke of her own mother’s legal blindness most of her adult life and of her friendship with Ed Lucas.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise also honored the school with a proclamation for Blind Awareness Month while telling the audience about having a daughter with a developmental disability, and how one learns to love a child with this condition “more, not less” just as the sisters at St. Joseph’s have done.
The school presented a video of their students speaking about how St. Joseph’s has helped them to learn to survive and flourish in the world.
Then, Sister Kristen Funari, former executive director for Jersey City’s York Street Project and a longtime St. Joseph sister, lauded the work of her fellow sisters.

Dispelling misconceptions

Ed Lucas, 70, has lived with blindness for 58 years, after a line drive hit him in the face during a pickup baseball game and he lost his sight.
But he credits his years at the St. Joseph School of the Blind with putting him on the path toward attaining accomplishments not thought possible: graduating from Seton Hall University as one of the first blind college graduates in the United States, and becoming one of the first blind sports reporters in the country.
He made history in 2006 with his wife Alison, also legally blind, as the first couple (disabled or non-disabled) to be married on the field in Yankee Stadium.
As he looked back at his childhood, both at the Blindness Awareness Month dinner and in an interview at his office a few days earlier, Lucas spoke fondly of what helped him get to his current place in the world.
“Tough love, which I got from the nuns here at St. Joseph,” Lucas said last week in his office. “I remember my teacher, Sister Anthony Marie, who is still alive, saw me walking with my hands out and told me, ‘Edward Lucas, we don’t walk with our hands out, but at our sides.’ ”
Lucas said that experience and many others helped him not to be the “poor, blind man standing on the corner with a cup in his hand.” Unfortunately, Lucas says, that is still sometimes the perception that the public has of the blind. It’s a perception he hopes Blindness Awareness Month will dispel.
“Blindness is the one of the least things that people understand,” Lucas said. “There are many things that blind people can do, we are human.” – RK
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at

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