As he makes his rounds each December, Santa never forgets the Precious Blood Sisters living in Emma Hall at the Maria Joseph Center in Dayton.
On the Saturday before Christmas Santa and several of his grown elves roam the corridor of Emma visiting with the Sisters and other residents, handing out bags of cookies. Grins are exchanged and photos are snapped.
While Santa may drop in from the North Pole, the helpers are from the Knights of Columbus chapter 4587 at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Miamisburg, Ohio. Parishioners bake and bag the cookies a few days before Christmas. It’s a routine that’s been going on for nearly 40 years.
Like most traditions, the annual visit got its start as a simple gesture. In the late 1970s Warren Gooley, the gym teacher at Bishop Leibold School in Dayton and a member of the Good Hope parish Knights of Columbus, pulled together a group of students and took some oranges to the Sisters living at Maria Joseph as Christmas gifts. Gooley knew of the Sisters through Sister Cecilia Taphorn, who was principal at Bishop Leibold at the time.
“That was the seed of it,” said Bill Brunner, who has headed up the project for years. “Warren came back and told us how much joy the trip with the students meant to the Sisters.”
After a few years, Gooley moved away the and Knights took over.
“We have been going up there since,” Brunner said. “The Sisters get such a big kick out of it.”
Many of the Knights have participated in the event for decades, including the Stebelton family, who has been there from the beginning. Roger Stebelton, now deceased, was the original Santa and loved the trip to Maria Joseph. Roger’s son, Randy, is now Santa. In the year before Roger died, four generations of Stebeltons were part of the visit.
Though the participation in the Knights is dwindling, they’re planning on continuing the tradition for years to come.
“It’s quite a feeling to go serve those who have been serving,” Brunner said. “You walk away feeling that you’ve done some good. And they are so appreciative.”
Story by Dave Eck