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A Visit to Dutchess

May 10, 2007

Oakley L. Thorne was a Quaker and a very wealthy resident of the town of Millbrook in Dutchess County. In the mid 1920s, he built a splendid home on 62 acres in Millbrook as a wedding present for his daughter. She and her husband lived there for only a short time, preferring to reside in California.

Mr. Thorne was an admirer of Patrick Cardinal Hayes, the Archbishop of New York from 1919 to 1938, and gave the Cardinal the house and the land he had meant for his daughter with the understanding that it would be used for charitable purposes. Cardinal Hayes was known as the "Cardinal of Charity." Mr. Thorne was therefore confident that his expectations would be fulfilled.

In April of this year, along with the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin L. Sullivan, I visited two splendid institutions of charity that occupy the house and the land that constituted Mr. Thorne's gift. They are both named in honor of Cardinal Hayes, and they are everything for which Mr. Thorne might have hoped.

The first is the Cardinal Hayes Home for Children. It is sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary and cares for children who are developmentally disabled with such afflictions as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, epilepsy and neurological impairment. They reside in the facility in rooms full of color and light and receive the most professional and loving care that anyone might imagine.

The executive director is Mr. Fred Apers, a smiling, dedicated gentleman whose devotion to his charges shines through in his every word and gesture and clearly inspires his entire staff. One by one, he introduced me to the youngsters, many of whom are fed through their stomachs and virtually all of whom need assistance in performing even the most elementary tasks.

Joining Mr. Apers and his staff for my visit were the members of the Board of the Cardinal Hayes Home, led by the chairperson of many years, Mrs. Elizabeth Wolf. All beamed as one of the residents succeeded in pulling a button off my suitcoat. There was laughter and applause on every side. It was as though a small victory had been won and all were sharing in it. The place was so filled with Christlike compassion and deep-down goodness that I frankly hated to leave.

But leave I did, for the Cardinal Hayes School for Special Children on the same grounds. The Franciscan Sisters and Mr. Apers are in charge here as well. It is a school for students with many handicaps who are trained in the most basic of skills according to their abilities. They live with their families and are brought to the school each day. The Sisters told me of the religious formation that is provided and made special mention of the interfaith and ecumenical character of this facet of their work. On the wall were photographs of a child in the arms of a rabbi in full vesture, of a child being blessed by a Protestant minister, and of a child being confirmed by Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. Staff and visiting parents beamed as they recounted stories about each of the photographs, stories of faith, understanding and encouragement.

Fortunately, I had an opportunity to speak with several of the parents. To a one, they told me how delighted they were with the program of the school and how difficult it would be for them if the school were not available. One summed up everything in seven words: "This is a place where love resides," she said. And all of the other parents standing nearby warmly agreed.

As I was leaving, I saw on the table near the door a stack of elegant monthly magazines about Dutchess County and asked if I might take one with me. It contained an article about the two Cardinal Hayes institutions, the last paragraph of which included these statements: "I do not presume to tell anyone what to believe, but I can tell you with certainty that I found God in the observations of personal interchanges and relationships at Cardinal Hayes. I urge anyone who reads this to visit Cardinal Hayes Home for Children...I guarantee you will be enlightened." And inspired too, I would add.

The visit to the Cardinal Hayes Home and School provided me an opportunity to make two additional stops in beautiful Dutchess County. Msgr. James T. O'Connor was present for my visit to the two Cardinal Hayes facilities and assured me that a visit to the elementary school of St. Joseph's parish in Millbrook, where he is pastor, would be most welcome. Thus, we followed him in our car to the school and found in the auditorium all 200 of the students, gathered with their teachers and their principal, Mrs. Rosalie Fagan.

We had a great time, singing, praying and even trying to decide whether we should be Yankees fans or Mets fans. After spending time with so many severely handicapped youngsters at the Cardinal Hayes Home and School, I was struck by how bright and lively the students of St. Joseph's proved to be. As I gave them my blessing before leaving, I thanked the Lord for the splendid academic training and no less splendid spiritual formation they are receiving, thanks to the sacrifices of their parents and the love and skill of their teachers. "Give them the same spirit of compassion for others that I saw at Cardinal Hayes," I begged the Lord; and I somehow had no doubt that my prayer would be answered.

Another pastor who was with us for the visit to the Cardinal Hayes Home and School was Msgr. William J. Belford, pastor of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish in nearby Lagrangeville and vicar of Dutchess County. Blessed Kateri is in the process of building a magnificent house of worship that will seat 1,000. Msgr. Belford gave me a tour of the construction, which is well under way. He told me of the extraordinary support of his parishioners and multitude of programs that he and they have in place to make their parish an authentic community of faith. I wanted to stay to chat but dare not to do so. We needed to get back to Manhattan by dinnertime so that I might give the opening blessing and offer some remarks at the annual gala of the Terence Cardinal Cooke Healthcare Center at the Pierre Hotel.

I slipped into my chair next to the dais and looked over my notes. I wished I could tell the guests about my day in Dutchess County, a day about Christlike charity, Catholic education and the worship of our God. I looked down at my suitcoat and noticed a button missing. Maybe I should not have another sewed in its place, I told myself, just to remember what a blessing it was to spend a day in the County named for a Duchess.*

*The reader might be interested to learn that the Duchess for whom the County is named was Anne of Modena, the Duchess of York, who was the wife of King James II of England and a devout Catholic. No one seems to know how the ÔtÕ got into the name of her County.

With prayerful best wishes, may I remain
Very truly yours in Christ,
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York

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