Nonprofit system founded by priest helps youths 'dream the future'

Father Paschal Morlino didn’t know what to say in 1971 when parishioner Anna Schuck asked him to do something for children displaced by the closing of the Children’s Home in Greensburg, Pa. 

“She was barking up the wrong tree,” he said. “She needed somebody else to do it.” 

The busy Benedictine priest had pastoral duties at St. Vincent Basilica Parish in Latrobe, and monastery obligations at Saint Vincent Archabbey. But Schuck persisted. 

“I felt like Moses when God spoke to him at the burning bush,” Father Morlino told Our Sunday Visitor. “Not me, Lord! I did a lot of praying.” 

Those prayers led him to the founding of one home that grew into Adelphoi USA, a system of nonprofit agencies that provides a continuum of quality services to children, youth and families. Their motto is “Heal the past, live the present, dream the future,” and since its inception, more than 40,000 youth have been served. 

Humble beginnings

Father Morlino started the dream with Aldephoi House, a $125-a-month rental that lacked electricity and plumbing. Volunteers made it livable, and the first boys moved in (girls didn’t come into the program until the 1980s). The county paid $25 per week per resident, the monastery kitchen sent food and when the boys were sick, they got medicine from the Saint Vincent College infirmary. 

The boys found love, support and a new chance in lives that were disrupted by their behaviors or by family dysfunction. Most were in the court system. 

“Adelphoi — in Greek that’s my brothers and sisters for whom I am concerned,” Father Morlino said. “That’s the message, and it’s tied in with the Benedictine spirit of welcoming all as Christ. That’s the charism I was imbued with as a young monk. This is living the Gospel.” 

By 1975, there were 12 youths, three counselors and a caretaking couple. Father Morlino came for dinner several times a week and spent many evenings talking to the boys who needed extra support. 

He often brought Jim Bendel, a friend, parishioner, former seminarian, Adelphoi board member and director of development at Saint Vincent College, his alma mater.  

In 1976, Father Morlino told Bendel that he was being assigned to a parish in Baltimore and didn’t know who was going to take over Adelphoi House. By then, there were two homes. 

“I’ll be happy to,” Bendel said. “When you come back, you can have the program back.”

Expanding programs

Bendel ended up running Adelphoi for 26 years. The program grew into Adelphoi Village with multiple sites, to Adelphoi USA that expanded to include Homes Build Hope (affordable housing for families in need), Adelphoi Education Inc. that supports at-risk/disruptive students, the Dr. Robert Ketterer Charter School Inc., providing education to more than 200 disruptive students, and Adelphoi Foundation that furthers Adelphoi USA’s mission of enabling children, youths and families to realize their full potential. 

Adelphoi Village, the original concept, continues to provide services to youth who enter the system. Some are adjudicated by juvenile court and spend time in Adelphoi’s lockdown facility before moving to residential homes. Others need to leave broken families. They receive diagnoses, treatment, educational and shelter services, even adoption and foster care services. The residents also volunteer valuable hours of community service, and there’s a voluntary spiritual program. 

From the first humble home grew an agency with an operating budget of $35 million and programs that serve more than 800 children, youth and families daily in 30 counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.  

Father Morlino’s vision of Adelphoi was influenced by his monastery’s founder, Father Boniface Wimmer. 

“He always said ‘Forward, always forward,’” he said. “‘And I say, forward with hope.’” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. Visit www.adelphoiusa.com.