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Serving Up Mercy: Edmundite priest volunteers, affirms need for Ronald McDonald House charities

It wasn’t long before Edmundite Father Michael Cronogue began volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington that the reprehensible happened: Vandals burned, decapitated and cut off the feet of the iconic Ronald McDonald figure that sat on a wooden bench outside the home-away-from-home for sick children and their families.

Soon afterward, another life-sized, red-headed clown in yellow, red and white clothing with big red shoes was sitting in the yard at the corner of South Winooski and Pearl streets, thanks to the generosity of a former McDonald’s restaurant owner in St. Louis. The figure is now under the watchful lens of a security camera provided by Ronald McDonald House supporters.

And so it was in March that Father Cronogue — just a month into his volunteer service at the house — offered a special prayer at the dedication of the new Ronald McDonald statue.

He was invited to volunteer at the house after a Catholic family suffered the loss of their parents.

A member of the Edmundite Campus Ministry team at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Father Cronogue — a tall, gentle man — accepted the invitation not only as a way to serve the spiritual and practical needs of those who are staying at the house but as a way to connect with people outside the college community.

“Part of our Catholic tradition is to give back, especially to those on the margin,” he said. “Here I see a sense of mission, to provide a home for children and their families while the children are being taken care of” at the medical center.

The Ronald McDonald House opened in Burlington in 1984 in the former parsonage of the First Congregational Church of Burlington next door. The house offers accommodations for up to 50 guests; 80 percent of the families that stay there have a pre-term baby in the nearby University of Vermont Medical Center. It serves about 400 families a year.

The house is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist families who are staying there — welcoming them, answering questions about laundry, making sure they have the basics they need during their stay, answering the telephone and the like.

There are three full-time and one part-time employees and about 200 volunteers.

Father Cronogue sees his role as being available to the guests and making sure the house is safe.

“When he is here, he brings his sense of spirituality and draws people together,” said Kristine Bickford, executive director of the house. “He listens. He is non-judgmental…. He exudes warmth and kindness.”

He volunteers about three hours a week — usually in the evenings when families are returning from long days at the hospital. He’s there to talk if they want, but he does not proselytize.

Father Cronogue, a former superior general of the Society of St. Edmund who also serves at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte, is believed to be the first priest to volunteer regularly at the house. “I feel I can help,” he said.

“Every family is in a vulnerable state here,” said Deanna Cameron, volunteer and guest relations manager.

Father Cronogue says what he brings to Ronald McDonald House is an understanding of confidentiality and protection for children and vulnerable adults.

He would like to draw more Catholics and St. Michael’s College students into volunteering at the house.

Being there “puts a perspective on life,” he added. “You see the dignity of life.”

Anyone who is interested in volunteering may call Cameron at 802-862-4943.

For more information about Ronald McDonald House, go to rmhcvt.org.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic content editor/staff writer.
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