Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jun
  • 21

Mercy Centre marks 50 years

Posted By June 21, 2012 | 1:19 pm | Lead Story #1
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By William T. Clew

The Mercy Centre has spent the last nine months celebrating its past 50 years.
It took 11 years to go from a vision to a reality and has seen as much growth as those youngsters who have attended the school.
In 1959 the Sisters of Mercy bought about 30 acres, part of the old Brooks farm, as the site of the proposed Kennedy Memorial in-residence school for exceptional children.
Bishop Wright had proposed such a school soon after the Worcester Diocese was formed in 1950 out of the Diocese of Springfield. But the Worcester tornado of June 9, 1953, postponed the project, according to a short history provided by the Mercy Centre. It had also been suggested that the school be located in Leicester at what now is the McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys, but the water supply there was not adequate for the school.
So the founding of the school, then called the Our Lady of Mercy School for Exceptional Children and now known as the Mercy Centre, was delayed until the Sisters bought the land, which has about 900 feet frontage on Chester Street.
In 1958, the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation gave the Diocese of Worcester $560,000, of which $360,000 was to be used to establish a school for educable exceptional children. Lt. Kennedy was killed in World War II.
Bishop Flanagan, accompanied by Edward M. Kennedy, president of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation and later U.S. senator from Massachusetts, broke ground for the school on Oct. 23, 1959. The school, opened on Sept. 11, 1961 and on Sept. 17  dedication ceremonies for the new school building were held.
The school was to be staffed by the Sisters under the auspices of Catholic Charities. According to an article in the Sept. 8, 1961 edition of The Catholic Free Press, the first class of 20 to 25 pupils would arrive each school day at 9 a.m. and leave at 2:15 p.m. They would be placed in one of three groups, depending on their mental ability. Eight Sisters of Mercy made up the school staff.
“Our early days were filled with work, play, prayer and many good times, with plenty of room for the children as well as living quarters for the Sisters of Mercy who made up the staff,” the Mercy Centre history says. The school served developmentally delayed children 7 to 16 years old and classified  as educable.
The Centre opened its doors for the first class of students at Marian High School, who used the facilities until the new high school building was ready for them in 1964. Some of those students later volunteered at the Centre for several years, according to the Mercy Centre history.
In September 1969, the Centre opened a vocational training program and, in 1970, began a program for pre-school children.
“Many of those children continued to progress,  enrolled in our educational, and in time, our workshop program,” according to the Mercy Centre history.
Since the Centre had become more than a school over the years, in 1972 its name was changed to the Mercy Centre for Developmental Disabilities. Sister Mary Daniel, a school psychologist, joined the staff full time in 1973. In 1977 a physical education program was added. Students began to take part in games and competitions, including Special Olympics competition.
The Centre began to provide physical therapy services in 1981 with the hiring of a full time registered physical therapist.
“With all those services,” the Mercy Centre history says, “we became more and more crowded. Through a wonderful donation from the Knights of Columbus, which was matched by the generosity of hundreds of faithful friends, our new addition became a reality in September of 1982. A beautiful gymnasium, classrooms for the communication disorder clinic, a warehouse for the workshop and a three-car garage were dedicated by Bishop Flanagan.”
Msgr Edmond T. Tinsley, at a Mass last September marking the beginning of the Centre’s 50th anniversary celebration, said that the Sisters of Mercy who opened and staffed the Mercy Centre did not look at the students as disadvantaged, but as advantaged, each individual created in the image and likeness of God.
Over the years  the Mercy Centre has seen a continual growth of the number of lay people on staff. The number of Sisters of Mercy involved with the day-to-day activities of the Centre has diminished as their numbers in the Congregation grew smaller and the Sisters have grown older.
Today they are no Sisters of Mercy working at the Centre, though they still come to functions and celebrations, according to Heather A. MacDonald, administrator.
The Centre runs three programs for adults age 22 and older and a school program for students 6 to 22 years old with intellectual disabilities, Ms. MacDonald said. It has 61 full-time employees.
The adult programs include employment training, community-based day services and day habilitation skills. There are 107 adults in those programs, about 25 of whom work in the community full or part time, she said. Those programs are state funded. The school program has 22 students. The towns or cities in which they live pays their tuitions.
Of the 107 in the adult program, more than 50 have been at the Centre for 10 years or more, One woman has been there since it opened in 1961, Ms. MacDonald said.
The Mercy Centre also receives well over $100,000 from Catholic Charities, according to Catherine Loeffler, executive director of Catholic Charities Worcester County. Discretionary money from donations, wills and other sources, including funds from the diocesan annual Partners in Charity Appeal are used to help fund a number of Catholic Charities agencies, including the Mercy Centre, she said.
Support for the Centre also comes from donations from individuals and from such organizations as the Emerald Club and the Friends of the Mercy Centre, which hold fund-raisers.
In 2005, there was some question as to whether the school program could continue. The school population was falling as some towns and cities found it less expensive to educate those children in their own schools.
However, after parents, friends and organizations rallied to support the Centre, the directors of Catholic Charities announced a five-year self-sufficiency plan and the school program has continued. The Friends of the Mercy Centre, a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, was formed, and has continued, to help raise money for the Centre.
Mercy Centre kicked off its 50th anniversary with Mass with Bishop McManus last September and closed its celebrations with a catered meal June 8 which the bishop also attended.
At the meal, “certificates of excellence” noting “years of service and dedication to Mercy Centre” were presented to students and participants in the adult programs who have been there more than 10 years, Ms. MacDonald said.
“It’s amazing how much it grew,” said Betsy Nestor, an adult program participant, who’s been there 42 years. When she came, the building she was standing in was not there, she said.
John Theodosis, who’s been there 35 years, said he works in the workshop and is taken out to job sites.
Does he like it?
“Love it!”
He had other good news too: “I made the basketball team.”
“I just love this place,” said Donna Lyons, program assistant in the adult programs, as Bishnu Koirala, one of her program participants, clung to her. “I just love these guys. I think I was meant to be here. They’re just great people.” Ms. Lyons has held various jobs in her 38 years there.
Amanda Morse, an adult program participant, said she likes Wii bowling. Her mother, Tammy Andrews, said Amanda was there for a year when she was 7, then attended a school in their town.
“She turned 22 and we decided to send her back,” she said. “We looked at several programs and we decided this was the best fit for her.” It provided for many social needs, she said, and also has a behavioral program.
“We loved the people, the director,” she said. “The staff was just amazing. She likes it.”

– Tanya Connor contributed to this report.