Editor’s note: This continues the Sun’s series on the 100th anniversary year for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Syracuse. The series concludes in our next issue with coverage of the CC anniversary Mass and a profile of Msgr. Ronald C. Bill, who headed the diocesan CC from 1979 to 1988.
By Tom Maguire
At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, he could palm a basketball with his huge hand and he could just about dunk. So he went to a tryout for a scholarship at Le Moyne College.
“I never was freer. I did everything,” recalled retired Msgr. Charles J. Fahey, 90. Le Moyne College athletics legend Tom Niland offered the young Fahey the scholarship but he chose the seminary.
Was he able to play hoops at the seminary?
“Oh, yeah, every day.”
For several years he even played in preliminary games to the Syracuse Nats’ NBA games. “The Rochester Rockets, we called ourselves,” he said.
“Who knows?” the monsignor said. “I might have been a complete dud [in hoops]. He added, “What’s more positive, I’m delighted to be a Catholic, I’m delighted to be a Catholic priest.”
For Catholic Charities’ 100th anniversary this year, the Sun interviewed Msgr. Fahey in September at The Nottingham, a Jamesville senior housing complex he helped create. He is now at The Nottingham on hospice care.
The big job
“He knew that the office of helping the senior citizens … was his big job,” said Msgr. Ronald C. Bill, who succeeded Msgr. Fahey as Catholic Charities director for the Diocese of Syracuse in 1979.
Msgr. Fahey’s fields of specialty were aging and health care, and the intersection of aging and health care, said his great friend Jack Balinsky, the retired longtime director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester.
Balinsky called Msgr. Fahey a visionary and pioneer who held many important leadership positions nationally, both with the federal government and also with the Catholic Church. Msgr. Fahey was the chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging under President Jimmy Carter “and worked closely with President Carter and especially Carter’s wife, Rosalynn,” said Balinsky, of the Rochester suburb of Victor.
Also, Msgr. Fahey’s team decentralized Catholic Charities so that it had local leadership in Cortland, Binghamton, Oswego, Rome and Utica. CC serves all seven counties in the diocese.
CC Executive Director Michael Melara has said Msgr. Fahey became an internationally recognized expert voice on care for the poor and aging. Under the monsignor’s leadership, Melara said, CC saw the beginning of places such as Loretto and Christopher Community, CC’s housing-development corporation; St. Camillus, a nursing care and rehab center; and the very robust health and human-service organizations that exist today.
St. Camillus was the first Article 28 nursing home built with state support and funds in New York State, Balinsky said. He explained, “It was Charlie Fahey’s contacts with state government people, and it was [attorney] Bud Costello’s genius at legal and financial activities or approaches to make it possible.”
‘I copy his style’
Msgr. Fahey’s fans include Charlotte “Chuckie” Holstein, a self-described “citizen trustee” who chaired the Loretto board for a long time. She said: “I like to copy people whom I admire and he’s one of the people; I copy his style, his thoughts, his ideas, and I don’t claim them as my own, but I certainly build on them as I can; and … he always talked about values. Is there a value in what we are doing? And to whom is it a value and, if I learned nothing else, I learned about always looking at the value of what we are doing or what we can do.”
A former Christian Brothers Academy basketball co-captain, Msgr. Fahey (Class of 1951; Distinguished Alumni Award, 2022) carried the team concept into his vocation, and not just in informal hoops in the seminary and later at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse.
One day in 1961 when he was based at St. Vincent’s, Father Fahey was summoned to see Bishop Walter Foery, who told him he was a good priest and he was going to begin in three days as the assistant director at Catholic Charities, where he would find CC’s Director, Msgr. Daniel Lawler, “‘to be a very fine person. I have another appointment. God bless you,’” Msgr. Fahey recalled the bishop saying. “I didn’t get a word in edgewise. So that’s how I got into Catholic Charities.”
Catholic Charities is glad he did. In 2022, CC presented him with its House of Providence Bishop’s Award. At that time, CC Executive Director Melara explained that Msgr. Fahey “was the chief architect of how Catholic Charities’ diocesan services were provided. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and when it comes to Msgr. Fahey, he is that giant. There would not be Catholic Charities as we know it today without his influential work,” which included the directorship of CC from 1967 until 1979, when he left for a 30-year assignment in the field of aging studies at Fordham University.
In 1961 when Father Fahey got Bishop Foery’s terse directive to be the assistant director, Catholic Charities primarily did foster care, adoptions and a little bit of family-life work. But Father Fahey’s mandate from Msgr. Lawler was to do something about the Diocese of Syracuse’s Loretto Rest Home for the Aged, which had 100 small rooms and gang bathrooms.
“That’s where things really began to change,” Msgr. Fahey said. “Because I was able to recruit three or four critical actors” — helpers who were “committed and knowledgeable and skillful.”
“I hired two people, without any money,” the monsignor recalled. One was Harry Honan, who had been the deputy county executive, and the other was developer Bob Barrett. “The pair of them were very creative,” Msgr. Fahey said, “and that’s how we got going.”
Barrett worked on Christopher Community housing, and Honan helped with Catholic Charities’ internal reorganization, said the Diocese of Rochester’s Balinsky, who served in a variety of roles in the Diocese of Syracuse’s Catholic Charities from 1971 to 1984, including as Syracuse Area Director. Another key player mentioned by Balinsky was attorney Bob McAuliffe who worked more on the human-services legal side from 1967 to 1995.
Talent finder Fahey also came up with helpers “Chuckie” Holstein and lawyer and 1942 CBA grad John “Bud” Costello, who Balinsky said worked on the legal, real estate and facility side. “I called him smoke and mirrors Costello,” Msgr. Fahey said, “because he knew how to use every kind of federal or state program that existed to get money to do things.”
Costello’s 2015 obituary says: “Beginning in the 1960s, Bud played a key role in the development of the St. James Apartments. The model developed there allowed Fr. Charles Fahey, Bud, and their associates and friends to establish the Centers at St. Camillus, Loretto Geriatric Center, the Nottingham, and the many projects of the Christopher Community.”
A good sport
“See how nice these apartments are,” Msgr. Fahey told a visitor to his Nottingham apartment, which includes a washer and dryer, an office and a patio. About two years ago he voluntarily gave up driving because he didn’t want to injure anyone. “And I think I was driving quite well at the time,” he said. His car now resides with the Jesuit community at Le Moyne.
He used to golf quite well too, winning the club championship at Lakeshore Yacht & Country Club in Cicero. And he would go night skiing with Msgr. John McGraw, who died this year. Msgr. Fahey was handy with a shovel too. A photo in his apartment shows a smiling Father Fahey at the St. Camillus groundbreaking Nov. 20, 1967, along with architect Maurice J. Finnegan Jr. and Bud Costello. Then, on Dec. 21, 1971, Father Fahey became Msgr. Fahey, Honorary Prelate of Pope Paul VI, who was canonized in 2018.
Msgr. Fahey spoke earnestly and even boyishly about his life. Asked if he still has a lot of friends, he said, “Can you believe that?” Perhaps he was the funniest kid in his foursome at Sunnycrest Park Golf Course in Eastwood where he grew up. “We all became fast friends, lifelong friends, and played a lot of good golf together,” he said.
At The Nottingham, he said, “I pray. I read. I write some for my own benefit.” The tiny plaque on the book that he writes in says “CJF 02-02-59,” his ordination date. He writes, he said, to “express what is in my heart without realizing that it’s there.” He wouldn’t let a visitor peek inside the book. So there is an introverted side to the outspoken emeritus champion of Catholic Charities.
“Oh, very much so,” he said. For the book that he writes in, he does a lot of reflection on the events of the day, his own life, the diocese. “That’s part of being human,” he said. “The human that I am is to be reflected.”