Michael O’Carroll, 73, was an orphan at Mount Loretto on Staten Island for 13 years, ending at age 15, when he ran away. Later in life he regretted that decision deeply, having gotten into trouble with the law too many times into his young adulthood. He served time in prison.
“I think if I would have stayed, I would have had a better life,” O’Carroll said Sept. 16, as he awaited the start of a 12:30 p.m. Mass that was part of the 107th annual reunion of the Mount Loretto Alumni Association. “They would have taught me more things, more good things...I just got through life barely.”
He noted that later in his adulthood, his life experiences began to improve as he put into practice the faith-based values he learned at Mount Loretto. He worked at a number of jobs, including truck driving. O’Carroll is a parishioner at St. Philip Neri in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx.
The Mass at Mount Loretto (Mission of the Immaculate Virgin) was followed later in the afternoon by a reception and a graveside ceremony, both on the Mount Loretto grounds. The military style ceremony at Resurrection cemetery was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Marine Sgt. Angel Mendez, who is buried there and who grew up at Mount Loretto. He received the Navy Cross in 1967, the year he was killed in action in Vietnam while helping to rescue a wounded lieutenant.
The Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Joseph Raineri of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., who is marking his 60th anniversary of priesthood. Msgr. Raineri was raised at Mount Loretto and credits the Sisters of St. Francis who served there as a special influence in his decision to become a priest. Organizers said the monsignor has celebrated the annual Mass for about 10 years.
“Our Blessed Lady is so special to this place, she watched over us as we learned,” Msgr. Raineri said in his homily. “Is there any wonder why he (Father John Drumgoole) selected the Blessed Virgin as the patronage of the mission?” (Father Drumgoole is the mission’s founder).
Msgr. Raineri also recalled the words of a popular song sung by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin: you’re nobody until somebody loves you; you’re nobody until somebody cares.
With that thought, he said, “This is not just a school reunion—this is a family reunion.” The Mount Loretto orphanage ran from 1885 to the late 1970s.
Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara, who presided at the Mass, thanked Msgr. Raineri for traveling from the nation’s capital to celebrate the Mass and offered words of support for the annual gathering of men and women who were orphaned and raised wholly or partly at Mount Loretto. “We realize what a treasure this place was...The joy of Jesus Christ is in our hearts,” Bishop O’Hara said.
Kitty Keegan, 78, attended the annual gathering. She said she lived at the Mount Loretto orphanage for five years until she was 16. “I liked it here; I had a good life here,” Ms. Keegan told CNY, saying she learned good values so that she would become a productive member of society with a faith-centered life. She is now a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Rochelle Park, N.J.
“They helped me because they kept me on the straight and narrow; they gave us boundaries—we all need boundaries, and that’s what they gave...I worked for the phone company for 31 years.”
Attendance at the Mass was about 85, and at the graveside ceremony about 150. Several Sisters of St. Francis from Mount Vernon and Poughkeepsie attended, including some who taught at Mount Loretto.
The graveside ceremony honoring Sgt. Mendez included a 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps, the reading of the Navy citation about his bravery, and special thoughts about Sgt. Mendez, which were expressed by military servicemen who knew him when they too were orphans growing up and learning at Mount Loretto.