On Nov. 6, St. John of God Community Services celebrated 50 years of hospitality by hosting a Golden Anniversary Gala at Auletto Caterers in Deptford.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan accepted the Damien O’Shea Hospitality Award, the St. John of God Children’s Bell Choir gave a performance, and Brother Thomas Osorio summarized the five decades of work and commitment that were being celebrated.
St. John of God Community Services is a nonprofit, non-sectarian agency providing educational, therapeutic and vocational programs for people with disabilities, community childcare, inclusive preschool, and grant-funded job services for people with barriers to employment.
Brother Tom recalled how five members from the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God — Brothers Thaddeus O’Connell, Eunan McGuinness, Damien O’Shea, Cornelius Lenn, and Canis Fahy — travelled from Ireland to the United States to serve a special population.
“These men had the vision and the responsibility when they took the risk in 1965. When they arrived in Haddonfield from Ireland, the house they were given was a converted convent, which had been transferred on rollers down the street from its original location to the parking lot of Christ the King Church,” he said.
He said that the community then set out to open up a school for children with special needs. It officially opened in 1966.
“Classrooms were located in the brothers’ residence and quickly became unsuitable. Archbishop Damiano agreed and the Diocese, with the assistance from the House of Charity, acquired a plot of land in Westville Grove to build a community house,” Brother Tom said.
Archbishop Damiano School opened in September 1968.
Brother Tom noted that the children are more medically fragile than ever before.
“It’s not only about providing them with a structured program in the school sense, but also how do we prepare to serve them and to serve our families as they become ill. They go through life changes and we invite the wider community to assist us in that.”
Bishop Dennis Sullivan accepted the Brother Damian O’Shea Hospitality Award.
Brother Tom stated, “Because of the bishop’s work and interest, particularly those with autism and other disabilities, it has allowed us to continue to find ways to support those who need our services. More importantly it is allowing us, through his leadership, to have the conversation of how the church could respond to children with disabilities and their families.”
Brother Tom called Bishop Sullivan a “faithful friend” who encourages us all to look at those needs that aren’t being met and who also challenges others to ask: “How can we do it? How can we move forward?”
In accepting the award, Bishop Sullivan recognized the pioneering Brothers who came and left their charism in the diocese.
“Those pioneering brothers were filled with the charism and left it here in the diocese. So it has grown and I am convinced that it will continue to grow so we give thanks to God for them and for their pioneering spirit. They were truly missionaries who took a risk,” the bishop said.
Bishop Sullivan spoke of caring for children and adults with disabilities and said: “It is a great, much needed ministry. We continue to do what we can to make sure that the charism of St. John of God continues to grow, be vital and inspires all those associated with the community services with Archbishop Damiano School.”
Archbishop Damiano president, John Pepper, accepted a proclamation that was signed by Senate President, Stephen Sweeney, Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli and Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson.