Continuing the ministry

I'm living next door to one of our Sponsored ministries - St. Joseph's Home for the Blind and the Cusack Care Center. We have another convent located in the home itself, so we have our own little community on the block. We've been invited over for Sunday dinner a few times since I've been here. I've also given a few computer lessons to our Sisters who live next door. And on Sundays, our house usually heads next door for liturgy in the Center's chapel with the residents - it's quite nice.

It's also cool to be living in the midst of our early history in this Province. Our founder Margaret Anna Cusack (who the center is named after) came to NJ from the UK in 1884 to help Irish immigrant women. She also had a desire to help the blind, who in those days were ostracized from society; either cast out onto the streets or living in isolation. She believed that the Blind were just like everyone else, deserving full and productive lives.

Our first Sisters set up services for the blind on this very block soon after their arrival in Jersey City. Their goal was to teach blind men, women and children how to be independent. The Sisters sought out occupations that would enable the Blind to achieve financial independence and build self-esteem. The Sisters' travels took them from Boston's Perkins Institute (where they learned broom and mattress making, caning and embroidery) and to the prison in Trenton (where they learned mat-making and hemp weaving.) The Sisters then set up workshops in the Home, where the Blind could learn and practice these skills to not only receive the financial rewards, but also the increased self-esteem that arises from feeling self-sufficient. Soon they opened the School for the Blind on the same block to care for the large numbers of children. The school is still in operation a few blocks from here in a brand new state of the art facility. According to our 75th Anniversary book published in the 1960's, one of our Sisters (Sr. M. Winifride) is credited with the invention of a code for Greek in Braille!

Here's a picture of the Home for the Blind in 1915. The building still stands, although it was renovated and added onto a few years ago. By the 1970's, the needs of the blind were different in society and those in the home were aging. Rather than split up their "family" in the home by transferring them to nursing homes, our Sisters decided to convert the facility to a licensed skilled care nursing facility. The home thrived as word spread that the heritage of providing love, dignity and respect was now available to all. St. Joseph's Home for the Blind quickly grew to become one of the top non-profit facilities in NJ. When the newly renovated buidling was dedicated in 2002, it was dedicated as the Margaret Anna Cusack Care Center at the Historic St. Joseph's Home for the Blind.

As I said, on Sundays we head over for Liturgy in the chapel with the residents and our Sisters that live and minister there. I've already been enlisted to lector at mass, be a eucharistic minister and help get the residents situated in the chapel in their wheel chairs. I must admit there is something special about participating in these very small ways in a ministry that our Sisters have been continuing on that very site since shortly after our founding.

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