In 1965, five members of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God journeyed from Ireland to the United States to lay the foundation for an agency that would become St. John of God Community Services (also known as the School for Special Children).
Preparations are underway to celebrate its 50-year journey to fulfill a mission “to assist persons with disabilities from birth through adulthood to develop their skills to the fullest potential, and to offer them opportunities to be included within the community.”
Like every journey, this one began with a first step. Brothers Thaddeus O’Connell, Eunan McGuinness, Damien O’Shea, Cornelius Lenn and Canis Fahy began their work by providing early intervention services in Christ the King Parish in Haddonfield. The new program thrived, and in response to growing community needs, it soon expanded and moved to a new and larger facility in Westville Grove in 1968.
“The founding Brothers had a vision,” recounts Brother Thomas Osorio, OH, director of mission and values, Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God.
“Their vision was to provide quality services to children with disabilities. At that time, there was very little or no funding for these types of services. I feel they laid the foundation that manifested itself to become St. John of God Community Services/Archbishop Damiano School,” he said.
The journey continues today, as St. John of God expands its programs, updates its services and meets the challenges and needs of the community it serves by maintaining its founders’ mission.
The dedication of the staff, volunteers and brothers has helped earn St. John of God the reputation as one of the finest, most comprehensive special education programs available, providing a scope of services that is unsurpassed in the region.
To honor the vision and dedication of the founding brothers, and to celebrate St. John of God Community Services’ role in the community, a committee—made up of parents, friends, staff and business partners — has been charged with the task of organizing a 50th anniversary gala.
“The gala committee represents the breadth and deep commitment of those who have brought the founding brothers’ dream to reality,” explained Brother Tom. “It is our hope that the community will join us for our 50th anniversary celebration, as so many neighbors, friends, businesses and organizations contributed to building and supporting the St. John of God Community Services family.”
The Gala will take place on Friday, Nov. 6, at Auletto Caterers in Deptford Township. The goal is to raise funds to help further the scope of services and programs offered by St. John of God Community Services, and to maintain its position as a recognized leader in the field of special education.
The gala will also honor Bishop Dennis Sullivan with the Damien O’Shea Award for Hospitality, representing the commitment and dedication of His Excellency for his advocacy and care for those with disabilities.