Catholic Free Press

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  • Feb
  • 28

Sisters offer Beacon of Hope with their ministry of caring

Posted By February 28, 2013 | 1:12 pm | Featured Article #4

By Tanya Connor

David Fredette congratulated Brett Leary for winning the game. Laura Vautour helped Sarah Ranno with a simple task.
These developmentally disabled adults got to interact this way in part because of how Religious Venerini Sisters have lived out their vocation.
The “friends,” as the handicapped people are called, had gathered for a Beacon of Hope respite night Feb. 15. Sister Loretta Ciccarelli visited with some. Sister Janet Badagliacca played cards with others.
These two Venerini Sisters aren’t the only people working with the friends through the non-profit organization they helped start for this purpose. The Venerini congregation, individual sisters, Venerini associates, and other people, help in various ways. But almost synonymous with Beacon of Hope are the names of Sister Loretta and Sister Janet.
Sister Loretta said their order’s foundress, St. Rosa Venerini, used the motto: “Educate to liberate.”
“That was our purpose with beginning the Beacon of Hope,” she said. She said they conversed with the developmentally disabled and helped them perform tasks and help one another, so they could build self confidence and learn responsibility.
“We made a presence for them to be in one another’s company and enhance their social skills,” she said. “It was that whole thing of developing the whole person.” They also wanted to “help to change the image of the disabled person in society.”
Two Venerini Mother Generals visited Beacon of Hope and were “charmed,” Sister Loretta said. “One of them couldn’t get over the dancing.”
Feb. 15 the friends had a prayer service and meal, played games and gave out hugs.
“This is why we say, ‘You have a bad day, and they’re hugging you and kissing you,’” mused Denise Roy, a volunteer from St. Cecilia Parish in Leominster. (So much for the bad day.)
“It’s my husband’s birthday tomorrow,” she said. “We started volunteering here with the nuns 12 years ago on his birthday.” (It was a good birthday present.) Sister Loretta said Mrs. Roy became a Venerini associate because of seeing the sisters’ work at the Beacon.
Mrs. Roy recalled one of the mothers saying, “There’s something special about the program; I think it’s the nuns.” The sisters add compassion, she said. Pointing to Sister Loretta, she asked, “Who wouldn’t love that face?”
To see the face of God, St. Mark’s pastor, Father James Craig, suggests coming to Beacon of Hope, she said.
“I always go home happy,” said volunteer Patricia Fitzgerald, secretary of the board of directors and a Venerini associate, from Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Leominster.
Her fellow parishioner Peter “the Politician” Ciccone, one of the friends, said he comes there for fun.
“I originally got started because my great-aunt Phyllis came here,” Ashley Brooks, a high school junior who volunteers, said of Phyllis Bachand, now deceased. “She absolutely loved it. She would wait outside two hours to catch the bus to come here. … It was such a good program I really felt I should stay with it, because it gave back, it gave her a life she wouldn’t normally have had.”
That’s what the Beacon has been about from the beginning. Its story, as told by Sister Loretta and The Catholic Free Press files, goes like this.
In 1983 and 1984, family members of developmentally disabled adults attended seminars and visited a L’Arche community, where handicapped and non-handicapped live and grow together. Wanting one locally, they formed a support group.
Sister Loretta said she got involved because she was the only family contact for her cousin Carol Ciccarelli after her release from a state facility. Sister Loretta said she was a licensed social worker and Sister Janet was a certified counselor and a teacher, so it seemed they could help these families, who wanted alternatives to state services. Their congregation backed them.
The sisters and Sheila  Fredette (David’s mother) formed a steering committee and the group was named Beacon of Hope. It was incorporated in 1987 and gained tax exempt status in 1988.
In November 1989 Beacon of Hope held its ribbon cutting at St. Anna’s House, the former convent at St. Anna Parish in Leominster. The parish donated the space and utilities.
Sister Loretta and Sister Janet lived there and co-directed the house, where they and other minimally paid staff and trained volunteers worked. Families could get supportive services. The developmentally disabled adults came for religious/cultural and social activities, which gave their families a respite from caring for them. (Sister Loretta said people of all religions are welcome; they work on bonding together in a diverse society.)
Funding came from clients, the Venerini congregation, grants, donations and fundraisers.
In 1999, after St. Anna’s began making other plans for using the house, Beacon of Hope moved to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Leominster, which also donates the space and utilities, and provides some volunteers, Sister Loretta said. She said especially supportive Catholic parishes are Our Lady of the Lake in Leominster and St. Patrick’s in Whitinsville.
At St. Mark’s, the Beacon holds Wednesday and Friday respite nights, religious/cultural celebrations and cooking and budgeting classes, she said.
Last November Beacon of Hope celebrated its 25th anniversary with its annual harvest dinner dance fundraiser, she said.
“I like to come here,” said Stephen Decker, one of the Beacon’s first members. Sister Loretta said that his father, Robert Decker, brought him to St. Anna’s House and said that his son, who had a paying job, would tithe to the program.
“The wonderful thing about it – it was like being in your own home,” the elder Mr. Decker, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Lancaster and a former president of Beacon’s board of directors, said of the early days at St. Anna’s House. “It was like a large family. Of course, the Beacon has come a long way, with the number of people that are involved in the program, more adept in fundraising,” with many volunteers. (Sister Loretta said they could serve a maximum of 15 families at St. Anna’s House, but now, with more space, they have almost 40.)
“When Stephen tells us what he’s going to do” it’s always a Beacon activity he mentions, his father said. “There might be a great movie, but there’s no way he’s going to miss Beacon of Hope.
“If it wasn’t for the sisters, we never would have gotten under way, without their … view of what this means for the handicapped and for the families.” He said it gives families time to do other things, “knowing that their sons and daughters are enjoying a social life.”