The seeds of Veritas Villa were sown by a Higher Power in the back room of a candy store in Astoria, Queens around the year 1957.
It was there that Jim Cusack, then sober about 5 years, began sobering up drunks, in the back of his folk’s candy store. There were no detox wards in those days and Jim, filled with zeal (and a gift of healing unbeknownst to him) began touching people’s lives with a love, warmth and honesty that Alcoholic’s Anonymous had given to him. He simply did what A.A. taught him – one can’t keep sobriety unless he continually gives it away – and in so doing, a path slowly unfolded that was to take Jim from candy store proprietor, to his own trucking business, to rehabilitation of alcoholics.
Along the way, Jim had developed great faith in the North American Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, N.Y. and often stopped there during his trucking trips. One time in particular, around 1960, he stopped at the Shrine to pray for some direction for his life. He had since sold the candy store, developed a very successful trucking business and had become even more active in A.A. He had a desire to do more to help alcoholics but had no idea where, when or how.
It was soon after that trip to Auriesville that Jim was led to Glenacre Lodge and actually began the first “Villa” (rehab) as we know it. He was hired as Manager and his first day on the job the cook resigned, the housekeeper left with a guest and better offer and his first counseling session was a shouting match. Jim soon decided there was more to this counseling and rehab business than met the eye in 12 Step work so Jim took a few crash courses out in Hazeldon Rehab Center in Minnesota.
It was then that Glenacre Lodge got off the ground; Jim Cusack became part owner and shortly after landed his first “account” – the N.Y.C. Police Department, thanks to Msgr. Joseph Dunn, who had just developed the employee assistance program for the Police Department. Drinking policemen were “captured”, sent to Mt. Carmel Guild Hospital in Paterson, N.J., and angrily brought directly to Glenacre Lodge. It was then up to Jim, the Manager, Administrator, Admission Clerk, Counselor, Group Therapist, you name it – to convince the client he had a drinking problem. Jim had but two weeks and not much help to do it with, but somehow, with much prayer power and hard work, he began to develop some sober clients. These people returned, sober, with new people who needed help and Glenacre blossomed.
He became known as someone who really cared – who put people before dollars and who was determined to provide a place affordable to the average working person.
A few years later, all was going well with the Lodge but Jim ran into some personal problems, decided to sell and relocate to Long Island.
It was around this time Jim & Sue began dating, soon married and all was beautiful, except Jim missed working with alcoholics. Relocating the Lodge was a great deal more difficult than he had anticipated. Sue kept her job in advertising, Jim sold life insurance and while waiting and searching, both prayed. Doors were shut – Jim made many trips to his Auriesville Shrine to pray for direction, hope waned and a year passed.
During this year of waiting, another few persons were up in the Forestburgh, Monticello area of N.Y. State deciding how best to utilize 1500 acres of land belonging to their community – The Dominican Sisters of Amityville. While they were well engaged in the work of Guest Houses and Camps, four courageous Sisters, sent up from Long Island, were anxious to generate any extra income to save St. Josephs, the beautiful 150 wooded acres the Sisters loved. At one time it had been a healing ground for many thousands of tuberculosis patients and so many other people who went there tired and troubled. Two of these four nuns ran into a lady from Forestburgh who had been in A.A. for many years. She approached the Sisters with the idea of using St. Josephs to help alcoholics, invited the Sisters to the next A.A. meeting in town to “check it out” and they accepted. The Sisters were overwhelmed with the love and warmth they found there and wanted to know more about alcoholism programs. They opened their doors to A.A. meetings and were given Monsignor Dunn’s phone number by a friend of a friend, who suggested they call him to learn more about alcoholism.
The Sisters called Monsignor, told him of their interest and he to took their phone number and carried it with him to the next Counselor’s meeting.
At the same time, Jim Cusack headed into New York City to attend the same Counselor’s meeting.
Here’s where God stepped in…
Monsignor Dunn met Jim at the meeting, remembered the nun’s call – knew Jim was searching for work with alcoholics and handed him the number to call.
The next day Jim called Sister Christine. Years later Jim shared that eventful conversation with Sister. She told him that when she got off the phone that day, she turned to the other Sisters and said “Guess what? They’re looking for us!” Jim hung up the phone on his end, turned to Sue and said “Guess what? They’re looking for us!” And so God works – in strange and mysterious ways – His wonders to perform.
Jim went up to see St. Josephs and met the Sisters in February 1973. He fell head over heels in love with what was known as St. Charles Villa and could envision the cold, drab, gray classrooms as the kitchen, dining room, etc. they could and were to become.
Soon after, the agreement was made, Jim and Sue, with another couple, were to be given a building, a freezer full of food, telephone and, if The Villa “worked” they would eventually draw a salary. If not, no hard feelings, all would resume their lives elsewhere.
Providentially, The Villa was originally named “Veritas Villa” by a Dominican Sister who is a member of A.A. and dear friend of Jim and Sue. Before they moved upstate, they were trying to decide on a name and called her. She thought for a moment and said, “Well, you are moving into the ‘villa’ (house) and ‘veritas’ is the Dominican slogan, meaning Truth”. So God prompted one of His own to provide the name.
Jim and Sue made another trip to Auriesville – with Sue’s Mom and two Aunts – to pray for help and guidance.
Veritas Villa, Inc. opened May 30, 1973 – Decoration Day Weekend. They had a phone and waited for it to ring; hoping someone out there drunk would need them and call. The first guest was a cousin of Jim’s who no one could get sober, and he arrived shaking apart from withdrawal. The first coffee room was a 30 – cup pot in an empty bathroom and morning meetings consisted of five people. Slowly a few guests began to filter in. They lost their first account because Jim refused to allow the guest to go to Monticello Raceway in the evening (He was a lawyer and wanted preferential treatment). Jim established the rules for one and all, refused and the client left.
Jim was breakfast chef – Sue waitressed; Sue and Pearl were the housekeeping department as well as chief dinner chefs.
The older retired Sisters wanted to put bars on their windows – “the alcoholics were moving nearby!” Sue and Jim wanted to hide the older Sisters – afraid their recovering alcoholics would imagine they were seeing visions in white. Statues were to go too!
How limited our human vision – How great God’s plan for all of us.
Again, Monsignor Dunn (this time, his police picnic of 500 recovered alcoholic policemen) came through. In July 1973, only two months after it opened–Monsignor Dunn ran his picnic on the grounds of the new Villa. Needless to say, that made The Villa “official”– allowed many to see and love it, and word spread.
Jim Cusack was back in the field and St. Josephs Veritas Villa was a great place to visit. The older retired Sisters attended the picnic and took all alcoholics to their hearts and prayers from that day forward… They were in awe over grown and sober men spending the day with their families in this way. The Villa people loved the Sisters and the peace, grace and serenity their very presence gave the grounds. A few of the younger Sisters joined The Villa Staff and added the tremendous gift of their teaching ability to the program.
How limited our human visions – how great God’s plan for all of us.
As time went on, the older Sisters told Jim and Sue that they usually didn’t sleep too well at night and often at 1 or 2 A.M. would look toward The Villa and say a Rosary for the person whose lights were still on. They were aware perhaps that person couldn’t sleep and was troubled. So, Veritas Villa was and still is the only rehab where clients are prayed for whether they know it or not–need it or not. Those prayers follow to this day from Amityville where many retired Sisters have since moved.
Sue usually attempts to sum up what Veritas Villa is about in two stories about two Villa chefs.
The first one is about Ralph–fondly known as “Uncle Ralph”– a former religious who came to know Jim via Glenacre Lodge. Ralph returned when The Villa opened and was an excellent chef, but had much difficulty staying sober. One December, he asked Jim and Sue to take him Christmas shopping so he could buy a few presents. They left him for five minutes and he was drunk beyond imagination. As the case of most alcoholics, Ralph had difficulty accepting love, found it hard to believe that Jim, Sue and his Villa family truly loved him. One day he discovered he had lung cancer and a short time to live. Ironically, he never drank from that time on and through the few months he lived. He finally ended up in the hospital and the day he died Jack McGonigle was there to see him. He told Jack, “I’m waiting for Jim and Sue.” Somehow he knew they were on the way. They arrived, began praying with him as they both held his hand, he died. As he lay dying, the priest who first brought him to Jim at the Lodge entered the room. God took Ralph, at peace – surrounded by and accepting love for the first time. He died sober, with dignity and love. He had a beautiful Mass at St. Josephs and was buried not far down the road from the first Villa.
The second is about Wally – a one–time lock smith who occasionally cracked open a few safes in his day–an excellent chef. Wally was with The Villa about a year, jolly, trustworthy, a great guy. Whenever Sue had a hard–to–open locked suitcase, Wally opened it in seconds. One morning, the safe was opened; missing $3,000 and Wally was gone with it. Unbeknownst to the staff, Wally had been “nipping” for a few days, got drunk and stole. Wally, sober, would never had done it. He still calls occasionally, drunk from places like Mexico to say he misses “home” and “hopes the cops aren’t after me.”
And so The Villa went nine years with many ups and downs – grew and prospered and to date over 10,000 chemically addicted have passed through the doors.
In its 7th year, Jim and Sue were told that, even though The Villa was doing well, the Sisters could no longer hold onto the 1,500 acres. They would have to sell but would do all possible to hold the 30 acres of Villa land for Jim and Sue to purchase and carry on. As time went by, this was not feasible for the new buyer to consider.
Back to Auriesville Shrine for Jim, Sue and their dog, Totem. Pray, pray, pray.
Again, God had a plan that led Jim and Sue through a maze of places from Haverstraw to Ellenville to, finally the gift of the new Villa in Kerhonkson – an answer to so many prayers.
Jim and Sue are very grateful to the Synanon Drug people for their faith and tremendous support they gave The Villa in the transition and overall sale of the property. Providentially, Synanon was founded by a recovered alcoholic some 25 years ago.
Jim and Sue both feel The Villa is a gift from God, an answer to their prayers, to be shared with many in the years to come and to be carried on as a haven for alcoholics as long as God would will it.
The Veritas Villa is of God and for Him from day one and is the credit of no one person, except a man and staff who have opened their minds and hearts to allow God to use them as His instruments.
Both Sue and Jim thank their mothers for the beautiful examples of love and faith given to them for worn out rosary beads their mothers prayed for them, and for never giving up on them, even in their worst days.
They also thank all their families and friends for the faith shown in them.
January 1st, 2011, Veritas Villa, a drug & alcohol rehabilitation facility located in Kerhonkson, NY, will become a non-profit enterprise which will assume the banner of Villa Veritas, Inc.
James and Suzanne Cusack, who founded Veritas Villa almost 40 years ago, will serve as Chairman of the Board and President, respectively, to retain their “hands on” approach. Villa Veritas will remain true to its mission “to provide compassionate, interdisciplinary chemical dependency treatment and to conduct educational programs to meet internal and external needs” while adhering to a treatment philosophy based on a three-fold disease concept (physical, mental and spiritual) of addiction, and the “wisdom and healing of the 12 Steps of Recovery and the most current medical, psychological, holistic and spiritual approaches.”
The initial announcement of the gifting of Villa Veritas Foundation by the Cusacks to VV Staff was made at a special meeting on December 10, 2010. It was an emotionally charged session during which employee comments were welcomed. Enormous gratitude was expressed. Employees understood they were being entrusted with helping perpetuate an institution which has achieved a reputation for excellence in the healthcare field, and made a commitment to remain faithful to the mission and work hard to incorporate any changes necessary to continue the legacy of Villa Veritas Foundation.
Villa Veritas will open doors to a world of new opportunities for growth and expansion, new challenges and renewed hope and success. The turn of a phrase, using proper Latin, will ensure Veritas Villa remains “the House of Truth,” enabling the Villa Veritas Foundation to pursue its legacy and continue its work.
All at The Villa thank God for His Blessings and Love and ask His continued help in the years to come.
Please keep us all in your prayers.