I think my upbringing, my setting that I grew up in, is probably why we just had a deep-rooted value system of doing things for others.
After dinner was done, after the daily rosaries were recited, [the Nerney family would] all sit in a semicircle on the parlor floor surrounding their father, Owen Francis Nerney, a man with thick callused Irish hands and a thick Irish brogue. He'd read the evening newspaper to his five children, pushing his glasses up from the tip of his nose.
There would be a tangible tremble in his lower lip, and his eyes would well up each time he came across a tragic story. Tom, the youngest, would sometimes sit on his sister Cathy's lap, and look quizzically at his dad. Frank, the oldest, would ask his father whether he knew those people. Dad would shake his head "No."
Although they all belonged to Owen Nerney. His empathy went beyond the front door of his house. Their pain was his pain. So were their stories, their faces, their suffering. It's where the genesis of the family's visceral urge to aid others began.
The lessons that Owen and Catherine Nerney imparted to their children was that whether it was across the street of their Drexel Hill home, across Delaware County or Philadelphia, or across the world, everyone is connected in some way.
- Nerney is a founding member of “A Front Row Seat to Learning,” which provides financial assistance to disadvantaged youth who cannot afford to pay for a private-school tuition. He has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for children in the City of Philadelphia to receive a good education.
- Thirteen years ago, Nerney began La Salle Academy, located at 2nd and Jefferson in North Philadelphia. The Academy houses 90 children from 3rd through 8th grade. The school takes in all applicants.
- Nerney and his wife have 4 children. But, they’ve taken in many, many more children from Russia, China and various other countries.
Nerney’s parents hoped Tom would be a priest. But, Nerney wanted to become an attorney who would advocate on behalf of the poor. That’s apparently not what God had planned for Nerney: Every law school to which he applied, Nerney was rejected.
However, his older sister, Cathy, did become a nun. Of their upbringing, Sr. Cathy observed:
I don't even know half the things he's done, because he doesn't talk about it, he just does it. That's the way we were raised. My mother would hear someone in the neighborhood was sick and she'd cook them dinner. One time someone called the local church about a Mrs. Walton, who lived a half-mile away and was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis. They called my mother, and each day for five years, I went to Mrs. Walton's home to empty her bedpan.
My parents always did for others without preaching it. We came from a culture of tremendous love. Work was an honor to my father. He worked hard and never regretted one day of it. He went to work happy, and he came home happy. He loved his station in life.
I think the seeds that my father planted, he himself wasn't able to really harvest. My brother took those seeds, and he's really helped the people my father cared so much about, but he didn't have the means to remedy. My brother doesn't realize that's what he's doing. Tom hasn't forgotten it. All of my brothers have turned into my father. My father would be proud of that.
It's why I love doing what I'm doing now, because it's a total connection to who I really am as a person. The biggest influences in my life were my Mom and Dad; the value system came from them.
- The family that prays together stays together.
- Charity begins in the home as parents demonstrate their empathy for and provide out of their means for the needs of others beyond the home.
- Actions speak louder than words. Involving children in those actions communicates the authenticity of those words.
- Parental religious and moral values take root in and continue to live on through their children. That’s what in seclart terms today is called their "legacy." In religious terms, it's what makes them "immortal." Parents plant the seeds and those seeds come to fruition...as their children become their parents.
For Catholics, parents who provide this religious and moral education for their children are saints in our midst. And, wlen they return to God—as Owen and Catherine Nerney have—God welcomes them into the Communion of Saints.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Owen and Catherine Nerney raised to the honors of the altar? Their witness to the Sacrament of Marriage would serve as a beacon of hope and an inspiration for all of those Catholic parents today who are working and sometimes struggling day in and day out to provide for the religious and moral education of their children in a very hostile and alien culture.
Let the discussion begin…
To read the Daily News’ biography of Tom Nerney, click on the following link: