Fergal McCormick always points to his collar when he speaks about his older brother the priest, Father John McCormick, rector of St. James Cathedral in Orlando. Fergal has Down syndrome and has lived in a group home outside of Dublin, Ireland for most of his life. Knowing the difference quality care has made in his brother’s life, Father McCormick was an early supporter of Bishop Grady Villas, a residential community for adults with disabilities located in St. Cloud, and has continued to be involved since it opened in 2004. He is this year’s recipient of the Bishop Grady Villas Lifetime Legacy Award for his advocacy on behalf of children and adults with disabilities.
“I was 11 when my brother was born. I was there for the first 6 years of his life and then I took off to seminary but would often wonder what my parents would do as he got older. Now he is in a home and receives superb attention. It’s a tremendous opportunity that the Church in this diocese has been able to offer as well and I pray to God that someday there will be more similar facilities.”
Bishop Grady Villas supports persons with disabilities to use their God-given gifts to achieve greater independence, physical and emotional well-being, and spiritual growth. The men and women there learn life-skills; work at schools, offices, stores, and theme parks; participate in social activities; and are supported in achieving their individual goals. They also provide services to adults with disabilities throughout Osceola County.
Father McCormick remembers once being surprised at a speech his brother gave at their sister’s 25th anniversary, not thinking it was something his brother would ever be able to do. Father McCormick believes people with disabilities are capable of so much more than society may think and have a lot to offer the world. Bishop Grady Villas gives each person the chance to reach his or her full potential.
“The main value they teach us is that they’re people just like you and me. Unfortunately it’s human nature to put a tag on a person so that they’re identified not by who they are but by what they are.”
“Seeing is believing,” says Father McCormick. He explains that while no one needs to be convinced of the goodness of the Bishop Grady Villas program, it is not until you witness the lives of the people there personally that you can really understand how worthwhile it is.
“I think that’s one of the realizations you have when you visit, that these men and women at Bishop Grady Villas don’t feel sorry for themselves. From the outside looking in you may feel like you’re going to do this good thing for these nice people and bring them a little cheer but many of them are happier than we are! They have a life just like anyone.”
Nowhere is this more evident, he says, than at the Harvest Ball, the annual fundraiser for Bishop Grady Villas which will be held October 11 this year. Each year, supporters and all the residents gather together for a gala evening of fine dining, music, and dancing, including a performance by the Bishop Grady Villas bell choir. It is an event to which the residents look forward all year.
“They are out for the evening just like any adult would enjoy going out for the evening and dancing,” says Father McCormick, who has served on a number of Harvest Ball committees in the past. “That in and of itself is enlightening for people. It is one of the happiest evenings.”
For more information about the Harvest Ball and Bishop Grady Villas, visit www.bishopgradyvillas.org.