If a child proved unsuitable for the program, Ceccotti would help the parents find an alternative, Valli said.
“She did a lot of networking with other agencies.’’
Ceccotti was already in the hospital when school started on Aug. 19, so she left a letter for the entire Marian Center community.
“She asked everybody to behave and work hard to grow and to learn,’’ Valli said.
David Lawrence Jr., who wrote about Ceccotti when he was publisher of the Miami Herald in 1992, called her “the Mother Teresa of Miami [and] a faith-filled person who was literally a blessing to the community.... I never heard her talk about ‘disabled children,’ just about children.”
The Children’s Trust, which Lawrence founded, gave Ceccotti its 2010 David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for a “lifetime of achievement and dedication to children.”
In 1992, Pope John Paul II recognized Ceccotti with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. With characteristic self-effacement, she said that it wasn’t just for herself but “for the community, for the sisters who have worked to establish a tradition of love and education.”
A Herald story recounted how she briefly met the pope when he visited Miami in 1987.
As the pope left the altar in a downpour, “Sister Lucia Ceccotti saw her chance and made a break for him. From her spot with 40 elderly and handicapped people chosen to receive a papal blessing, Ceccotti ran with a 2-year-old boy in her arms,’’ Matthew Giampaolo of Fort Lauderdale, the Marian Center’s then-youngest student.
She told a reporter: “The pope put his hand on Matthew, and I grabbed his hand. He touched everybody — all the children he touched.”
Marketer Seth Gordon, who’s been working with the center on raising its profile, and therefore donations, thinks of Ceccotti as a “horse whisperer’’ with children.
“She has a wonderful, soothing impact on these kids,’’ Gordon said. “Some would be traumatized or upset, but she’d go and hug them and magic happened. All of a sudden everything was good in the world.
“But she was a strict disciplinarian. At lunch, kids sat quietly at their tables. They bused and served themselves, and she instilled all that. You got the sense there was order in their lives.’’
A 1983 Herald profile called Ceccotti “a pitiless woman, pitiless in the best sense,’’ meaning that she expected certain types of conduct — and no sniveling or self-pity.
The profile described how a mother brought in her 3-year-old son with behavior problems, and how, in the mother’s words, the nun “took him by the hand and marched him off to see the place. You could tell there would be no nonsense with her. She made me think of that woman in England who trains the dogs on TV, you know, ‘No Bad Dogs.’ With Sister Lucia there are No Bad Kids.”
A public viewing will be held from 3 p.m.-7:30 p.m.on Thursday at the Marian Center, with the wake service at 6 p.m., 15701 NW 37th Avenue Miami Gardens, 33054.
The Mass will be 10 a.m. on Friday at St. Mary Cathedral, 7525 NW 2nd Ave., Miami.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Marian Center.