by Mark Greenberg, retired Director of Catholic Charities’ Child and Family Services Division
Timothy was only 50 years old when he died. I am writing this on the occasion of his funeral. His death was attributed to chronic alcoholism, drug abuse and years of physical neglect. I first met Timothy in 1974 when he was 12 years old. He was one of the boys who resided in the Loyola Apartment at Villa Maria, now St. Vincent’s Villa. I was hired to be the Assistant Houseparent for Tim and the other nine boys in his unit. I was very sad when I learned that Timothy had died but honestly I wasn’t surprised. It was astonishing that he survived as long as he did. Timothy lived a perilous lifestyle. He struggled with chronic mental illness and frequently resorted to self-medicating with whatever was available. Timothy would call me periodically throughout the year and typically one of his calls would coincide with his birthday. I remember my conversations with him shortly after his 40th and 50th birthdays. He remarked with incredulity and amazement that he had lived long enough to see those milestone birthdays.
Over the years when Timothy would call, I came to expect that he might be a bit evasive or even confused about his current life circumstances. Details about who he was living with, where he was living, and for how long were always a little fuzzy. However, when Timothy began reminiscing about “the good old days in Loyola” as he inevitably did, his recall was flawless. Tim remembered virtually every experience he had while in our care. He remembered remote details about the outings we went on, the football and basketball games we played and the many other good times we shared. He remembered the names of every boy on the unit as well as their preferred foods and favorite toys and activities.
On occasion, Tim would tell me about his escapades and the dangerous predicaments he would find himself in. At times he relayed that he almost did something that would have been very regrettable but for some reason (a reason he didn’t understand) something held him back. Some voice deep within kept him in check, kept him from acting on impulses that would have caused serious harm to himself or others.
That leads me to the most compelling lesson I have learned, one that is reflected in Timothy’s story. Everything we do at Catholic Charities is part of an evolving art and science, and we must seek and embrace innovation and change. We need to continually search for better and more effective ways to help the people we serve. Looking back over the past 38 years with the benefit of hindsight, I can plainly see that many of the theories and approaches we employed when Timothy was a resident at Villa Maria are now antiquated and have been eclipsed by advances in psychiatry and psychology. Many of the techniques and practices that we consider to be sacrosanct today will likely appear naive and uninformed in the very foreseeable future. We need to be prepared to question and challenge everything. Everything, that is, except for how we cherish the divine within. Although we must continue to adapt our methods to better serve our clients, we must always maintain the love and compassion that our staff brings to their work with the children, adults and families we serve. That is the hallmark of our Agency and I am convinced it is the source of the “little voice” that, at times of desperation, reminded Timothy that he had been loved and therefore he was worthy of being loved.