July 22-Aug. 4, 2004
House of Faith
By Father John Donovan/ SUN contributing writer
Nazareth Farm Celebrates 25 Years
When asked for one significant memory of his experience of Nazareth Farm, Bruce Nudd of Downers Grove, Ill., responded, “You must be kidding, I wrote a book about memories and didn’t even get them all in there.” Nudd published his diary of volunteer weeks at Nazareth Farm, A House by the Side of the Road, to share with others the transformation in his life that was effected by his service at Nazareth Farm, Center Point, W. Va.
As 60 former staff, board members and families gathered at Nazareth Farm on Memorial Day weekend to commemorate the opening of its doors in 1979, the theme of “too many memories to count” prevailed. All 25 years of staff and board members were represented to share stories, pray and work, with some never having met until then. What became Nazareth Farm began as an extra-curricular activity at Catholic Central (later to become Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton) in 1972. Groups volunteered a week at time and traveled to Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The work varied from summer Bible camps to home construction. Under Bishop Frank Harrison, permission was granted to make it a full time ministry. The search for the property began in West Virginia, with that location determined because Bishops David Cunningham of Syracuse and Joseph Hodges of Wheeling-Charleston, sat next to each other during the conclaves of the Second Vatican Council.
Opening its doors June 1979, Nazareth Farm has served over a thousand households in Tyler, Ritchie, Harrison and Doddridge Counties. It has assisted with home construction and repair, food distribution, tutoring children and numerous other ways that companions may be of aid. By this time of silver jubilee it has also served over 20,000 volunteers. Nudd, the chair of the board of directors 1999-2004, said, “It would be presumptuous to believe that all have been touched, but it is certainly within reason that many have.” The mission of Nazareth Farm is not limited to a group’s one week of volunteering. Rather, the experience of the Nazareth Farm is ongoing for the volunteer. As Nudd said in his book, “It is the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the encounter of the Risen Word, the words burning in their hearts and their need to rush back and share with the others that they have seen the Lord! Countless thousands have been touched by the latter experience!”
Kay McCluskey of Poland, N.Y., director of Nazareth Farm 2000-2004, said, “Nazareth Farm is a place where we learn to be our best selves. We learn the true meaning of social justice: putting someone else’s needs in front of our own.” Under McCluskey’s and Nudd’s leadership, the intent of the celebration was to echo the cornerstones of the Nazareth Farm: simplicity, prayer, community and service. The group painted a barn, built a new outhouse and bucket shower stall and gardened. There were opportunities to visit with families who had been served over the years. Most Reverend Bernard Schmitt, Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, arrived for lunch Saturday and blessed the farm premises afterward. Pentecost Sunday was celebrated around a bonfire, followed by a prayer service and dedication of the “Sandora Family Garden,” in memory of Ralph Sandora, a neighbor whose impact was broad and who passed away in January 2004. Patrick Taylor from Liverpool was one of the original volunteers at Nazareth Farm in 1979. He attended with his wife Christine and their sons Ross and Jared. He returned because “Nazareth Farm means a retreat from all of the hustle and bustle of everyday life and a place to find God’s creation. I came back [from Nazareth Farm] with a richer need for a prayer and a better understanding of the Eucharist.”
Pat mentioned to many at the anniversary celebration that he had brought his wife Christine to Nazareth Farm before proposing. They agreed that the faith they grew into through Nazareth Farm is the foundation of their family life. Donations and participants’ fees fund Nazareth Farm. The Diocese of Syracuse assists by allowing Nazareth Farm representatives to participate in the annual Propagation of the Faith Missionary Cooperative Appeal.
In the past 25 years, several parishes, Catholic high schools and campus ministries of the Syracuse Diocese have worked at Nazareth Farm. Several staff members have come from the diocese as well. Volunteers and staff now come primarily from 11 different states and 30 different dioceses. Participants of the jubilee celebration reflected that demographic. The enthusiasm, humor, compassion and sincerity were worn on the sleeves of the participants. An old burlap and felt banner hangs in the living room of the main house that has been there since before the first volunteers arrived. It reads: “Nazareth Farm, there are no strangers, only friends we have to meet.” Although they came from different areas and eras, the participants have lived that truth in the past, at the present, and most likely in the future. As Nudd said, “I see the future in the volunteers who will lead us in the coming years. I see my church in action, not just words.”