Gingerbread Houses, Song and Prayer: Archbishop Dolan Visits for Christmas

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Archbishop with gingerbread houseThe Bronx Free Press and Catholic New York covered Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s Christmas visit to Catholic Charities affiliate agency, St. Dominic’s Home, in the Bronx. On December 21, 2011, he visited with preschoolers in the TORCH program and their parents, and helped the children decorate a gingerbread house. St. Dominic’s Home helps more than 2,300 individuals daily throughout the Bronx and Rockland and Orange Counties.

From the Bronx Free Press

by Sandra E. Garcia

The children of Saint Dominic's Home TORCH Preschool in the Bronx received a pleasant surprise on Wednesday, December 21st – just in time for the holidays.

No chimney entrance, no middle-of-the-night sneaking of cookies.

No Santa Claus at all, but one very jolly fellow: the New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, of the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Dolan was visiting with Saint Dominic’s Home therapeutic preschool on Andrews Avenue, a unique institution that provides comprehensive special educational and therapeutic services in monolingual and bilingual fashion to children ages 2.7 to 4 years who are classified as having a disability.

Around 10 am, Archbishop Dolan arrived to the great surprise of the children, and immediately took a seat alongside a group of the young children to aid in making a gingerbread house.

“Who put that there!? Who!? That was great thinking! That peppermint looks just like a star,” exclaimed the Archbishop to the delight of the students building the edible confection.

Archbishop Dolan, who has served as the Catholic Church’s spiritual leader in New York State since 2009, spent the morning moving around the school’s various classrooms, speaking with teachers and administrators at length.

But his focus never swayed from the students, engaging them at every turn. At one point, Archbishop Dolan took the chain off from around his neck, and his ring from his finger, to allow students to wear both pieces of precious metal.

“We are going to sing ‘Old McDonald,’” one of the teachers said to Archbishop Dolan, as he neared the end of his tour, and ducked into the last classroom.

Sporting a wide smile, Archbishop Dolan sang along with the students, happily joining in to make cow, elephant and duck noises.

In the late morning, parents crowded around the seating area in the auditorium to catch a glimpse of their children performing for the archbishop.

Archbishop Dolan first issued a short prayer expressing hope. Approximately 50 preschoolers soon filed in and took to the small chairs in the room.

They broke into song, one group singing in Spanish the other in English, which was followed by a communal sing-along to “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano.

The archbishop then gave each student a gift, which included books and small play musical instruments.

“He is very pleasant, very happy, and very polite,” commented TORCH instructor Jimmie Tyler.

While Santa was nowhere to be seen, he did not seem to be missed.

Archbishop Dolan was followed closely everywhere by children and adults alike.

“We were very fortunate to have been chosen by Archbishop Dolan for his visit this Christmas,” said TORCH Executive Director Judith D. Kydon, noting that it was reassuring of the work undertaken by school administrators, staff, and for the families.

Indeed, the families present stayed close to the Archbishop during his visit. Some parents solicited photos, and one mother quietly asked for help with her son, who attends the TORCH program.

With a concerned look on his face, the archbishop assured her it – and they – would be ok, and then solemnly shook the young boy’s hand.

When asked what message he would wish to impart to all Bronx families, given the tough economic times faced by a county with the highest unemployment rate in the state, among other concerns, the archbishop was similarly thoughtful in response.

"I want Bronx residents to know they are never alone, even if they feel alone,” said Archbishop Dolan, urging residents to turn to faith. “Just think of Jesus, God's only begotten son, born in the cold, in a manger away from home, an outcast left alone.”

He pointed to the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth.

“There was no place for [Jesus] that first Christmas, and [he] could not find a place to be born,” said Archbishop Dolan, whose post is to oversee the second-largest archdiocese, of over 2.5 million Catholics here in New York, in the nation.

The infant Jesus, essentially homeless, according to Dolan, would say today to any who would listen, “’I want to be born in your heart. Will you let your heart be a new manger? Will you let your heart be a crib where I could be born again?"

Archbishop Dolan explained that he treasured opportunities such as these to visit with families throughout the city.

Speaking of the children surrounding him, he said, “They are the ones that give the message to me…There are so many threats to life today, with poverty and violence and war, and we are all worried about the economy and the future. But every time I see a little baby or a child, [I know] it’s God saying he wants life to go on. He wants us to continue. That’s what Christmas is all about.”