Nourishing the Body

March 20-26, 2003
Nourishing the Body
By Kristen Fox / SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Nourishing the body and spirit Father Fred Daley honored with Jefferson Award

One only has to take a walk around “Hospitality Row” in Utica to know why Father Fred Daley, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica, has been honored with this year’s prestigious Jefferson Award. From the establishment of its services, to the people living in the community –– even the front yards where Father Daley has adorned porches with flower pots and turned vacant lots into mini-gardens –– his vision and energy have touched all aspects of the several buildings along Eagle Street that provide services and facilities to the less fortunate.

“It is Father Daley’s belief that beauty begets beauty. He has put this theory to work all over the neighborhood,” said Rose White, executive director of Hope House. “The beauty of his plantings and the inspiration of his leadership have made an overwhelming impact on this community in so many ways.”

The Jefferson Awards, in honor of Thomas Jefferson, were established in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Robert Taft Jr. They are given annually as a way to honor individuals who do positive things for the community. Father Daley, one of only five award recipients from over 100 nominees in Central New York, was recognized for his dedication to social justice through community service.

Father Daley first came to St. Francis de Sales 10 years ago. Upon his arrival, he began to address a number of problems in a community which he calls “economically deprived.” With his dedication and leadership, one by one facilities were built and services implemented to help the terminally ill, the homeless, those without medical coverage, foreign refugees and a number of other community members. Over time these services developed into Hospitality Row.

Keith Fenstemacher, president and CEO of Mohawk Valley Network, Inc., worked alongside Father Daley in 1997 to help develop HealthFriends, one of the programs on Hospitality Row which provides free medications for adults and children. To learn how to better address the needs of low-income people without health insurance, Father Daley took Fenstemacher on a journey into the most impoverished areas of the community. Fenstemacher said that this experience really opened his eyes to the tremendous need in the area.

“While we were thinking of traditional approaches to improving the health of the underserved, such as health screenings and primary care clinics, our work with Father Daley taught us that the needs were more basic and tangible. There were families who could not put food on the table, clothe children, pay the rent and still pay for dentists or medications,” Fenstemacher explained.

Seemingly tiny acts such as this are part of Father Daley’s greater work to open the hearts and minds of people in the community to the needs of the disadvantaged. It is everyone’s responsibility, said Father Daley, to help the needy and stay true to the mission of “What would Jesus do.” “Jesus came for all people, but his special people were the poor and the powerless,” said Father Daley. “People in need will guide us to what their needs are if we just stop and listen to them.”

Father Daley’s work for the needy extends beyond what is done on Hospitality Row. He is a voice for those who cannot speak up, tackling social justice issues and public policy. He can be seen at many peace rallies and has recently helped the peace coalition develop a nonviolence march in Utica, followed by a variety of presentations related to peace and social justice issues.

David Bruce, volunteer director of development at St. Francis, said that whether Father Daley is working to help the poor and vulnerable, or working with congressmen to bring about reform, he continually models the behavior of Christ. “Father Daley represents what all priests should be,” said Bruce. “His leadership style is wrapped in a very humble, sensitive and compassionate manner, He seeks no recognition other than knowing that justice and the community have been served.”

Father Daley is quick to point out that while he may be the individual being recognized, he hasn’t done anything alone. He has received assistance from parishioners at St. Francis de Sales as well as clergy and parishioners of all denominations, including Jews, Muslims and Protestants. Along the journey, said Father Daley, walls that have been put up among various religious groups in the form of stereotypes and ignorance have been torn down and replaced by bridges of understanding and compassion. “One of the most wonderful things about this work is that individual religious groups have come together to create something positive for the community,” said Father Daley. “Miracles can happen when you learn to respect one another’s differences and find a common ground. Hopefully, this is the attitude which will carry us into the new millennium.”

Father Daley will be honored along with other Jefferson Award winners at a special dinner and ceremony in April and also will be featured in a special television program to be shown on WTVH-5 later this year.

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