Profile — His world of good: Msgr. Charles Fahey
Monsignor Charles Fahey recalls the day in 1961 when he first began the somewhat surprising transition from parish pastor to central figure in the field of aging. The bishop told Fahey — a newly ordained Roman Catholic priest who had been working at Syracuse's St. Vincent De Paul Church for just two years – he had been appointed assistant director of Catholic Charities."It came out of the blue. It was a Friday and I was to start on Monday," he said, adding that aside from some involvement with youth Catholic charities, he knew little about the work.
He knew even less about the elderly. But his new boss, who happened to be a delegate to the 1961 White House Conference on Aging, suggested the then-27-year-old Fahey go back to school and study aging. "Some may consider it coincidence how it all came together, but I think it was providence."
Whatever the case, the senior housing sector should praise the day Fahey's career in aging began to unfold. Unsure what do with a student interested in the field of aging, Catholic University lined up a social services internship at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a federal mental institution in Washington that housed 8,000 residents, none of whom received psychotropic medication.
Next came an internship with Baltimore's Commission on Aging. Shortly thereafter, Fahey was thrust "out of due season" into the national spotlight, serving as a charter member of the American Association of Homes for the Aging (now AAHSA).
"[Aging-related] programs were just coming into focus and different organizations were getting off the ground. I didn't have a lot of experience, but I was taking a lively interest in it all," Fahey noted.
Since 1965, he has been involved in virtually every major national meeting on long-term care and has been integral to the development of numerous key national service organizations.
President Nixon appointed him charter member of the Federal Council on Aging (President Carter later appointed him chairman). By 1967, he was serving as Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities. Under his direction, the diocese opened five nursing homes and created a nonprofit Catholic Charities affiliate to aid the development of specialized population housing. That resulted in 32 housing projects for the elderly and handicapped in upstate New York.
"He was one of the first to articulate a vision of how to address a changing, aging demographic. From the late '60s and into the '80s, the whole strategic framework of aging services was built around his visions and the practical applications he designed," said Genesis Health Ventures Vice President Larry Lane, who first met Fahey at the 1971 White House Conference on Aging. The two fast became friends, and by the mid-70s were working together at AAHA. "Aside from being a true leader, he's been my friend, mentor and advisor. He even christened my kids."
In 1979, Fahey became president of both AAHA and Catholic Charities. He also was asked to head Fordham University's Third Age Center on Aging. By 1986, he was presiding over the American Society on Aging.
Upon retiring from Fordham in 2001, the now 73-year-old Fahey intensified a relationship with Milbank Memorial Fund, a foundation that brings together decision-makers from all 50 states to initiate health policy reform.
Although he's resided in Fordham's Jesuit community in the Bronx for the past 27 years, Fahey also keeps a room at his Syracuse parish. An only child who moved to Syracuse on his third birthday with his mother and salesman father, he considers himself among family at Fordham. In fact, Fahey and the parish priest where he lives have been friends since kindergarten.
The 6-foot-4 Fahey, who passed on two college basketball scholarships to enter the seminary, stands tall as the pastor who paved the way for national senior care policy development and reform.
"Chuck Fahey is the cardinal of compassion for America's older adults," said AAHSA president and CEO Larry Minnix. "No one understands the physical, emotional, spiritual, political and ethical dimensions of the aging phenomenon better than him."
Resume of Msgr. Charles Fahey
1959 - Ordained as Roman Catholic priest, Diocese of Syracuse, NY
1963 - Earns Master of Social Work degree, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
1971 - Chairman, special session on long-term care, White House Conference on Aging
1975-77 - President, American Association of Homes for the Aging
1980-2001 - Aging Studies professor, Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service
1995 - Writes "Commitment to Ethics," published by American Health Care Association
1997-present - Program officer, Milbank Memorial Fund