An archdiocesan disability care community has created a garden space to remember deceased residents, who remain “forever in their hearts.”

On April 23, the Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence (DGDP) dedicated a memorial walkway at its Delaware County mini-campus, located next to Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield.

DGDP residents, family members and staff gathered for prayer, reflection and a luncheon to mark the unveiling of the path, which is framed by engraved flagstones listing the names of 52 individuals who have passed away since 2014.

A gazebo, benches and flowers adorn the area, which includes a stone sculpture bearing a quote from St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”): “In the name of God, respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life” (Evangelium Vitae, 5).

Each and every one of the flagstones prompted “memories (that) came flooding back” for Servant of Charity Father Dennis Weber, director of ministry and mission at DGDP, which provides a continuum of care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Operated by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) and supported by the Catholic Charities Appeal, DGDP is fully licensed by Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services. The communities offer residential and off-campus living arrangements, in-home supports, respite aid and day programs.

But above all, DGDP creates a “family spirit” that is “very much part of who we are,” said Father Weber.

A memorial walkway at the mini-campus of the Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence is framed by engraved stones and capped by a gazebo. (Patricia Menszak)

“We strive to make that an integral part of who we are, (to give) people a sense of belonging and knowing that love, that care and that support present a form of family,” he said. “Even though it may not be a biological family, there’s that family spirit and sense.”

Such awareness “makes a difference in terms of the quality of care” at DGDP, said Father Weber.

“I’ve had many of our staff express that they see these residents as part of their own families,” he said. “When they see it that way, it translates into the care they’re giving.”

Residents’ loved ones “have the same sense” of being part of “a global Guanellan family” that embodies the mission of its patron saint, he added.

The DGDP communities are named for St. Luigi (also known as “Don,” or “Father”) Guanella, a 19th-century Italian priest who ministered to children with physical and intellectual disabilities. Through his writings, homilies, public speeches and charitable initiatives, Don Guanella promoted social and spiritual care for his buoni figli (“good children”), whom he regarded as blessings from God.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia invited Don Guanella’s religious orders – the Religious Orders of the Servants of Charity, the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence and the Pious Union of St. Joseph Prayer Association — to establish facilities in the region. The expansion of that mission over the years, along with more recent state initiatives to downsize large institutional care settings, has shaped the current structure of the DGDP communities.

Although buildings and organization charts may have changed over the years, a fundamental appreciation for DGDP residents has remained constant, said Father Weber.

When celebrating funeral Masses for departed DGDP clients, “I always thank (their families) for sharing their loved ones with us,” he said. “And I remind them they’ll always be a part of our family.”