At Potomac parish, new home blessed for women with developmental differences
Oct 15, 2019
Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland, officially welcomed a new neighbor on Oct. 13, as Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory presided at the dedication and blessing of the James M. Sullivan Memorial House on the parish’s campus, a home for three young women with developmental differences.
The home, sponsored by Potomac Community Resources, Inc., honors the memory of James Sullivan, who in 1994 with his wife Joan, with Msgr. John Enzler, then their pastor at Our Lady of Mercy, and with a group of parents founded PCR to promote inclusion of persons with intellectual and developmental differences into all aspects of community life. Sullivan died in 2018, and PCR which he helped found now provides 35 therapeutic, recreational, social and respite care programs serving more than 500 teens and adults with developmental differences throughout Montgomery County.
“This is a fulfillment of a dream,” said Msgr. Enzler at the dedication. The priest, who now serves as the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and as the chairman for PCR’s board, said James Sullivan and his family dreamed of providing such a home. Noting the parish, archdiocesan and community members and government officials present, he added, “Thank you for dreaming with us and making this a reality.”
PCR in its program for the event noted that “residential opportunities for persons with developmental differences are few and far between.” The group noted that such people deserve “homes that are safe and comfortable, where they can lead lives of independence and dignity, included fully as members of the community.”
The advocacy of James and Joan Sullivan was inspired by their daughter Patricia, a young woman with significant developmental differences who couldn’t speak or walk, but whose spirit and love inspired her family and friends and was the spark for PCR’s beginning at Our Lady of Mercy. Patricia died a few months after PCR started. Now PCR’s signature program, the Tricia Sullivan Respite Care Program, is named for her, and provides therapeutic activities for people with significant needs like she had.
In a 2016 interview with the Catholic Standard, James Sullivan said Patricia’s life demonstrated to their family and parish that “all people need to do is have experiences (with people with developmental differences) and say, ‘Gee, these people are just like me. They’re human beings. Look what they can do!”
At the home’s dedication, Father William Byrne, the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, said, “This house stands as a witness of hope and love and family.”
He noted that outside Our Lady of Mercy Church, a meditation garden in memory of Patricia Sullivan includes a plaque with quote from St. John Paul II: “What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator.”
Father Byrne, who volunteers with PCR and serves on its board, said, “This is what we’re all about – the dignity of all people, and the grace to know we’re not a family until we’re all at the table.”
He also said he appreciated having such “awesome neighbors.” The residence for the parish priests is next door, down the hillside, and a pathway from the James M. Sullivan Memorial House leads to Our Lady of Mercy Church, the parish’s school, and Byron House, an assisted living facility for the frail elderly operated by the archdiocese’s Victory Housing and named for a former pastor there, Father Joseph Byron, who died of Alzheimer’s disease.
Repeating St. John Paul II’s words, Father Byrne closed his remarks saying, “What’s at stake is the dignity of the human person.”
At the ceremony, Joan Sullivan and the Sullivans’ three surviving children along with the family’s grandchildren were present to unveil a bronze plaque honoring James Sullivan, with his portrait. The plaque’s inscription honored him as a “devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather” and as a “man of faith, visionary leader (and) tireless advocate” who as a cofounder and president of Potomac Community Resources served people with developmental differences and their families.
The plaque’s inscription closed with the words, “His legacy lives on in PCR’s work, and in the individuals who make the James M. Sullivan Memorial House their home.”
Taking center stage at the dedication ceremony were the three women who are living at the home – Elizabeth Grimberg, Diana Krolikowski and Deborah Lim, along with their residential counselor from Jubilee Association of Maryland, Olubukola Folaranmi.
“Thank you for coming to my beautiful home,” Lim told the guests.
Archbishop Gregory asked God to bless the house, those who made the house possible, “and those who will live in the house and make it holy.”
The archbishop prayed that Christ will bless the house with His presence, and “may he always be here among you.” And just before sprinkling the home with holy water, he prayed that the house above all else, will be “a dwelling place of Christ’s goodness and love.”
The program for the ceremony noted that the partners in the project included Our Lady of Mercy Parish and the Archdiocese of Washington, which made the land adjacent to the parish campus available. The parish for many years has provided space for PCR’s administrative offices. PCR secured funding for the James M. Sullivan Memorial House from the state of Maryland through bond bills approved by the General Assembly, and from Montgomery County.
The government officials attending the home’s dedication included Maryland Del. Kathleen Dumais and Sen. Brian Feldman of District 15-Montgomery County and Montgomery County Councilmembers Gabe Albornoz (At-Large) and Andrew Friedson (District 1). Also in attendance were Aseem Nigam, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Housing & Community Affairs; Bernard Simons, the head of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration; John Brennan, the deputy assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities; and Dr. Odile Brunetto of Montgomery County’s Department of Health & Human Services.
Potomac Community Resources, Inc., has partnered with the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Special Needs Ministries and with Catholic Charities’ Parish Service Program to work with local parishes in replicating programs to serve teens and adults with developmental differences, including Upcounty Community Resources in Montgomery County, Brookland Community Resources in Northeast Washington, Southern Maryland Community Resources, Prince George’s Community Resources and Comunidad de Recursos Hispanos serving Spanish-speaking individuals and families.
After the ceremony dedicating the James M. Sullivan Memorial House, Katie Tyson spoke about her father’s legacy and the home named for him.
“It really is just his dream come true,” she said. “It’s amazing how far PCR has come and what it has done for adults and teens. Before there wasn’t a lot when you (had developmental differences and) turned 21. Now this is taking it to the next level with services for those who need it.”
Tyson said her father “was a very welcoming person. He loved to be around people. He was very good at building community. All of those things will happen here. It’s such a reflection of who he was.”
In interviews, the home’s residents expressed happiness about living there.
“It’s nice and big,” said Diana Krolikowski, who enjoys watching TV upstairs in her room, and added that she has known her new neighbor, Father Byrne, for a long time, since he earlier served as the Catholic chaplain at the University of Maryland and her sister was a student there.
“He’s very nice… I hear his dog barking in the morning,” she said of Father Byrne’s dog, Zelie, a black Labrador retriever named after St. Zelie, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Deborah Lim said, “I’m happy I’m living here.” She added, “I like the cook. I set the table for dinner and lunch.”
Elizabeth Grimberg said her new home is “awesome.”
“I’m lucky!” she said with a laugh. Grimberg, who has Down syndrome, now lives next-door to Our Lady of Mercy School, which has an inclusion program. “I used to go here,” said Grimberg, a graduate of the school.
On its main level, the home has a large living room with sofas and a flat-screen TV, a roomy kitchen with an island, and a back porch with wicker furniture.
Stephen Riley, PCR’s executive director, noted how a pathway connects the James M. Sullivan Memorial House, so residents can walk to Mass at the church and volunteer at the school and Byron House, and parishioners in turn can visit them.
“Having it on the campus of the parish and having the path (shows how) PCR is all about inclusion into all aspects of community life,” he said, adding that the path offers “two-way inclusion traffic.”
The James M. Sullivan Memorial House, he added, reflects “what Jim had in his heart. It was his leadership and encouragement that kept the process going. His spirit is with us today. The house is a permanent manifestation of his love and care for people with developmental differences.”
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