As representatives from 33 Christian communities filled the boardroom of Maimonides Medical Center, the president and CEO welcomed them with warm smiles speaking to them as one would to old friends.
Pamela Brier, along with her collaborators, invited the leaders to the hospital Nov. 18 to make sure they would have enough money to again bring light to their communities this Christmas season. Maimonides has been providing funds to bring Christmas lights to communities throughout Brooklyn and Queens for 20 years.
The program began when Brian Long and John DeLosa, of Long and DeLosa Construction Group, LTD., and their wives, Trish and Evelyn, volunteered to build a life-size Nativity at Visitation Monastery, Bay Ridge.
Although Brier plans to retire at the beginning of next year, she assured those present that the Celebration of Light will remain a priority.
“It’s an important connection between this hospital and the Christian community,” she said.
The Celebration of Lights started with just one community, Visitation, in 1995, the first year Brier was at Maimonides.
“This was an easy project in the beginning,” Brier told those gathered. “Now it’s serious money – I cannot think of a better way to spend it.”
Kenneth Gibbs, current chairman of the board at Maimonides who will succeed Briar, said the project “is something important here because not everything we do in health care is so happy.”
“It’s a wonderful upbeat moment amidst taking care of people’s bodies and souls,” Brier said.
Msgr. David Cassato, the pastor of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, and a member of the board of trustees at Maimonides, has played a large role in the yearly Celebration of Light.
“Last year I was not in good shape,” he said. He was at Maimonides not as part of the happy celebration, but as a patient. “I want to thank everyone who has glued me back together.”
A slideshow with highlights from the event’s two-decade history was shown at the ceremony. In it, the monsignor was quoted as saying: “We are living in dark times… We are going to light this place up.”
Msgr. Cassato said that still applies this year when “so many people are so hurt, so scared.”
The program continues to expand, with two new beneficiaries this year: St. Dominic Church, Bensonhurst, and St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor. St. Dominic plans to use the funds to light the Christmas tree in front of the church building starting with a lighting ceremony on Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
Msgr. John Bracken, the administrator of St. Francis de Sales, said the funds will be used to help light 100 trees in the parish prayer garden.
“After all that the people have been through, we should be doing things that are upbeat to bring up people’s spirits,” Msgr. Bracken said. He was referring to the plane that crashed in Belle Harbor just days after Sept. 11, 2001, and to Superstorm Sandy, which hit the Queens neighborhood especially hard in 2012.