ABOVE: Father Charles J. Fahey helps break ground for the St. Camillus nursing home on Nov. 20, 1967. With him are architect Maurice J. Finnegan Jr., left, and attorney John J. “Bud” Costello.

Catholic Charities centennial celebration marked by joy, sadness

By Dc. Tom Cuskey, editor; Memorial by Tom Maguire, associate editor.

The planning of Catholic Charities centennial celebration in the Diocese of Syracuse has gone on for months. CC Staff, diocesan colleagues and supporting vendors have shared social media posts and a series of stories about the agency’s journey and growth; they have appeared in the pages of The Catholic Sun, starting in the spring. In the November 9 edition, Monsignor Charles J. Fahey’s contributions were the subject of the cover story. Fahey joined the social service agency as assistant director in 1961, and took over the lead role in 1967, serving until 1979.

Msgr. Fahey’s Catholic Charities legacy is immense. Everyone involved looked forward to his participation in the 9:45AM centennial Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on November 5. Unfortunately, Monsignor entered into hospice care at Nottingham Independent Living, a Loretto community in Jamesville, several days before. News of his passing was received by many close to him via text and phone messages during the Cathedral liturgy celebrating the agency he loved so much.

In memoriam: Msgr. Fahey, international champion for elderly

Msgr. Charles J. Fahey

Msgr. Charles J. Fahey was 90 years old at the time of his death. His funeral was Nov. 10 at Epiphany Parish in Liverpool, followed by the Rite of Committal at St. Mary’s Cemetery, DeWitt.

With wide wings, Msgr. Fahey soared as an international advocate for the elderly and their health care. His listing of awards and honors covers about a page and a half. Descriptions include councilor, chairman, delegate, commissioner, consultant, resource person, writer, co-author and spokesperson. His obituary says he was the Vatican spokesperson at the 1982 Vienna United Nations World Assembly on Aging and a United States delegate to the 2002 Madrid United Nations World Assembly on Aging.

The monsignor’s great friend Charlotte “Chuckie” Holstein, a “citizen trustee” who chaired the Loretto board for a long time, said: “His wings were spread very broad and wide and, fortunately, people recognized what he stood for, and what he believed in and how he spread his gospel, his thoughts, his ideas, his creativity. And certainly, I think the community of older people stand and stood to benefit from his wisdom.”

The next assignment

Msgr. Fahey started out as an assistant at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse. He next was assigned to Catholic Charities. To prepare, he took graduate studies in aging that his obituary says “launched a passion and commitment to aging services. As the director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Syracuse, Father Fahey helped open five diocesan nursing homes and created Christopher Community, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Catholic Charities that developed specialized housing for the elderly and disabled.”

Msgr. Fahey completed his service to Catholic Charities in 1979 and then moved to Fordham University where he was the Marie Ward Doty Professor of Aging Studies. He lived with the Fordham Jesuit community, and then with the Le Moyne College Jesuit community when he returned to Syracuse.

“Every once in a while people used to assume he was a Jesuit,” said Father Donald J. Kirby, S.J., a professor and the Superior of the Le Moyne Jesuits. “And he used to smile and say, ‘No, no, I’m not a Jesuit, I’m one of the parish priests of the diocese living with the Jesuits.’ He used to love that.”

“Even though he had this big international reputation dealing with seniors and health care, and he dealt with all these important people all over the world,” Father Kirby said, “Chuck Fahey was able to deal and to talk with anybody, no matter who they were, and what their position was, what their education was, what their economic level was; he always made people feel very, very much at home. And I thought that was a really good quality of his.”

Another great friend who admired Msgr. Fahey is Jack Balinsky, of Victor, N.Y., who served in a variety of roles in the Diocese of Syracuse Catholic Charities from 1971 to 1984, including as Syracuse Area Director.

Responding to Vatican II

Balinsky said Msgr. Fahey had “a vision of what Catholic Charities ought to be, what its mission statement ought to be, and also how to change in light of the Second Vatican Council.” Another contribution, he said, was the decentralization of the diocesan Catholic Charities based upon Vatican Council II’s two principles of subsidiarity and lay participation.

In an interview with the Sun in September, Msgr. Fahey said he had thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the 6:45 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Liverpool.

“Every single morning, rain, snow, sleet, he did it,” Father Kirby said. He added, “He did that for a good number of years, and he just stopped maybe three years ago. He used to go out into the snow and I used to think, Oh,  it’s probably the last time I’ll ever see HIM. But he went every morning and, boy, they really had a good community.”

“We stand on the shoulders of giants”

CC executive director Michael Melara

At a reception following the Catholic Charities centennial Mass, executive director Michael Melara welcomed staff, guests and local dignitaries, thanking them for their contributions and calling to mind those who paved the way for the agency’s success.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants at Catholic Charities,” he shared, mentioning past executive directors Msgr. Ronald Bill and Joseph Slavek. He also shared the news of Msgr. Fahey’s passing and it was obvious by the group’s reaction that not everyone in the room had heard. “Many of us would not know the Catholic Charities we have without the leadership of Monsignor Fahey,” Melara said.

Celebrating life and an agency’s success

“No one comes to Catholic Charities because they’re having a good day,” Melara proclaimed to nodding heads of staff members who know exactly what he meant by those words. With offices in each of the seven counties comprising the Diocese, Melara recognized that what they do is not easy work. “We are at Ground Zero for human suffering and need.” He observed that client needs continue to multiply and are becoming more complicated. “The resources to serve them are scarce, staff shortages have plagued us, … but somehow our doors are always open and ready to serve those who are most vulnerable and in the greatest need.”

Bishop Lucia with directors of the Catholic Charities county area offices

The good work the agency does among the marginalized has not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by recognition from government officials during the celebration. New York State Senator John Mannion and U.S. Representative Brandon Williams each presented official proclamations citing the contributions Catholic Charities makes to communities throughout their service area.

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia summed up the agency’s accomplishments in his homily, noting that this was a “day we give thanks for a legacy of love and service.”

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