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Issue Date:  March 25, 2005

Knights noted for longtime fundraising for disabled

Across the nation those serving the developmentally disabled can count on the support of the Knights of Columbus, who have been fundraising for disabled people for decades. The Knights’ youth apostolate can be traced to its founder, Fr. Michael McGivney (1852-90) and more recently to Bishop Charles P. Greco of Alexandria, La.

-- CNS

Bishop Charles P. Greco

Greco was supreme chaplain to the fraternal order from 1961 until his death in 1987. During that period he built Holy Angels Institute in Shreveport, La., and St. Mary’s Residential Training School in Alexandria, both designed so that their retarded residents “should have the opportunity for happiness and the help they need to achieve it,” Greco penned in his memoirs.

Greco visited the homes he founded almost daily. One day at the Shreveport facility, a woman approached him to tell him she would be 25 years old the next day. Greco asked her what she wanted him to buy her for her birthday.

“I would like to have a green bra and girdle,” came the reply. The bishop instructed the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, who ran the institute, to make the purchase and send him the bill.

Greco was struck by the joy the residents displayed, writing that they made him appreciate the simplicity and sincerity that Christ called for when he said that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter God’s kingdom.

Although it is not known how many other prelates Greco inspired, it’s clear many bishops have conceived similar projects and that some of them were and are fellow Knights. Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh is a member of Duquesne Council 264 and serves as president of the board of the St. Anthony School Programs (see story).

Wuerl is the fourth Pittsburgh bishop to receive substantial support from the Knights for diocesan programs to aid the mentally disabled -- both those in the St. Anthony School Program and those in McGuire Memorial Home in New Brighton, Pa. Run by the Felician Sisters, McGuire provides medical care, education, faith formation and job training for about 100 severely retarded children. Last year the Knights donated $171,000 to the two diocesan projects, known as the Bishop of Pittsburgh Project for Exceptional Children.

Contributions from the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Malta, and from a number of dioceses and businesses have helped to fund several schools for the mentally disabled in Florida. Bishop Joseph Hurley of St. Augustine opened the first Morning Star School in Jacksonville in 1956.

The school serves 112 “moderately disabled” students ages 5 to 14, said its principal, Terri Aschlinan. Students learn organizational, reading, speech and other skills that prepare them for the regular classroom. “We have college graduates,” Aschlinan said.

Other Morning Star Schools followed in Orlando, Tampa and Pinellas Park, and a Morning Star inclusion program has opened in Pensacola. The four schools serve some 200 students, ages 6 to 14.

The schools take their name from the first star in the sky, which is a symbol of hope, said Mary Lou Giacobbe, principal of Morning Star in Pinellas Park. A measure of its success comes from parents who “enroll their child because he can’t speak, and by the end of the school year report that he talks too much,” Giacobbe said.

The Marian Center in Miami Gardens provides an inclusive preschool and ungraded classes for students ages 6 to 21 with mental disabilities. In addition, more than 100 adults receive educational support and training in adult day and evening school. The program is in its 40th year and is run by Italian Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo. A clinic and rehabilitation center is also on the center’s 50-acre site.

Sisters and lay staff prepare students for the sacraments. “Contrary to what some might think, the church encourages people with handicaps to be given the sacraments and to be prepared as best they can to be fully participating in all the life of the church, especially the life of grace,” said St. Joseph Sr. Paola Norfori.

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 2005

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