Villagers connect with bishop during visit to Sharing Meadows

ROLLING PRAIRIE – There’s a tradition at Sharing Meadows in which the residents welcome their dinner guest with a special song. So, during Bishop Robert J. McClory’s recent visit, the entire dining hall erupted in song, “We’re so glad that Bishop (McClory) is here today, singing glory hallelujah…hip, hip, hurray!”

The April 30 visit by Bishop McClory was his first to the 185-acre community, home to 30 other-abled adults. In addition to dinner with the residents and staff, Father Dennis Blaney, founder and president of Sharing Meadows, and Executive Director Bill Harmon took the bishop on a tour of the grounds, including stops at some of the homes.

According to Harmon, Bishop McClory had the opportunity to see Father Blaney’s “priesthood…his life’s work” during a tour of the community. As the trio traveled down the scenic road leading to the “villages,” the bishop was reminded that the property, up until the early 1990’s, was once undeveloped farmland. 

“He was just blown away. The bishop mentioned how impressed he was with our organization and what Father Blaney has done,” said Harmon.

Sharing Meadows sprouted from agriculture fields in northeastern LaPorte County, to fulfill a dream by Father Dennis Blaney to have a community where other-abled adults could lead a somewhat self-sufficient life.

A winding roadway carves through the rolling terrain leading to five separate villages, each named after a saint. Each village consists of three homes, each occupied by two villagers and one steward, who assists the villagers with day to day care. Villagers keep busy with a daily work schedule, which includes caring for the property by mowing and trimming, collecting and shelling walnuts from the hundreds of walnut trees, making soap, or gardening. Of course, it’s not all work, as villagers can fish on the lake or swim in the pool.

When Bishop McClory asked the villagers what they like best about living at Sharing Meadows, shouts of mowing, working in the woodshop making walking sticks and birdhouses, knitting hats for families who had suffered a miscarriage, and making soap were just a few responses.

Chrissy, one of the villagers, stated “working with friends” was her favorite thing at Sharing Meadows.

Another villager, Carol, really enjoys living at Sharing Meadows, especially fishing and gardening, in particular her prized pumpkin patch. She is also training for the upcoming Special Olympics in which she will compete in swimming events for the first time. She thought it was special that the bishop visited their community “because somebody higher up in the Catholic Church decided to come here and visit our community.”

As the bishop worked his way around the dining hall meeting each person individually, he left each one filled with joy and a radiant smile. There was a special connection Harmon noted. 

“He took the time to answer any questions the villagers asked,” said Harmon. “He really valued each individual as he met them and made them feel comfortable. He found ways to connect with the villagers. It wasn’t the bishop, the successor to the apostles, walking through the door, it was a man looking to be a friend. They really felt valued. I think it’s a special gift for someone to walk into Sharing Meadows and have such an impact after two hours.” 

One villager in particular found an instant connection with the bishop. In front of the group, the bishop asked him if he knew what the bishop’s first name was. The villager, Bob, responded with an explosive and joyous “Bob,” knowing they shared a common name.

Bishop McClory referred to Sharing Meadows as a “little miracle in Northwest Indiana” where the needs of a loving and caring community of special individuals are met.”

“This is a beautiful, vibrant community. I was delighted to be here with Father Blaney,’ said Bishop McClory. “His vision, inspired by so many generous people in this area and beyond, made this a reality. It’s beautiful to see the vitality of the villagers who are here and their deep faith, their engagement. Everyone had a real joy in their eyes. They were ready to chat and had stories to tell. They really had the heart of Christ in them.”

Harmon added, “I was honored to show him (around). Now when we talk and discuss the vision for the future of Share, he knows what I’m talking about in terms of our land, and whom I’m talking about when I refer to the villagers. I think that’s a unique way to grow our organization with the blessing of the bishop.”

Harmon has a warning for the bishop: “I hope he’s prepared to work the next time he visits. The villagers are making a list of chores for the bishop to do with them. He’s going to have to do some fishing with them, help make their famous zucchini bread and make soap.”

“It was really moving for the villagers. The bishop is really now a member of our community. He fits right in,” said Harmon.