The Promise of Niagara

Remembering the Vincentians: Dick, '49, and Therese Chapdelaine

Dick and Therese Chapdelaine

Vincentian priests and brothers have been a vital part of Dick Chapdelaine’s life since at the age of 6, he lost his father.

“Basically, it’s payback time,” said Chapdelaine, explaining why he and his wife, Therese, are donating $1.5 million toward the cost of building a new Vincentian residence at Niagara University. “The main reason is affection and what the Vincentian fathers did for me. Throughout my life they were always there.”

Therese, he adds with a chuckle, has a voice in this since she deserves at least half his diploma. She helped him with all his term papers while he attended NU on the GI Bill.

Drafted at 18, Chapdelaine flew 35 combat missions in Europe with the Army 8th Air Force during World War II. Vincentian high school teacher (and former NU teacher) the Rev. Joe Breen persuaded him to try Niagara when he returned.

Chapdelaine has a wealth of fond memories from his time at NU. He and Therese lived with other returning veterans and their wives in apartments at Fort Niagara where walls were so thin their neighbor’s alarm clock woke them up. They discovered that their apartment and their neighbor’s in the renovated building were the former latrine when they noticed other couples had clear windows and wooden floors rather than the linoleum and clouded windows their apartments had.

The close-knit group of 30 couples shared what they had and used Army ingenuity to get by. One fellow veteran worked on the Rainbow Bridge, so when they knew he was on duty, they’d load up a car with cigarettes and take them to Canada to sell. Since the United States was still on meat rationing, the profit went to buy meat in Canada.

Most of all, Chapdelaine’s memories include Niagara’s Vincentians. Shortly after arriving at Niagara in February 1946, he learned that his mother had died. When he returned to his room, he found airline tickets home to New York for himself and his roommate, compliments of the Rev. Bud Murray, C.M. Father Murray and two other NU Vincentians concelebrated the wedding Mass for Dick and Therese that August.

The current residence, Meade Hall, was built in 1927 and last renovated in 1967. It is in excellent shape and should easily be converted into university offices, according to the Rev. John Maher, C.M., university chaplain and religious studies teacher. Father Maher lived in the residence from 1986 to 1993 and returned in 2005. The problem isn’t the condition of the building, but that it was built to house 20 to 22 men. There are only six priests and two brothers in residence. Two of the men are more than 70 years old, but in the Vincentian way, are still active on campus.

Leaving Meade Hall will be poignant, but staying there really isn’t good stewardship, Father Maher said. The new residence will be behind and a little to the side of Meade.

This is another evolution in our living here as a community. No matter what building we are in, we will be able to do the work of the university and St. Vincent de Paul,” Maher said.

Chapdelaine, now a Manhasset, Long Island resident, established two successful bond trading companies in his career. The Class of 1949 graduate is a former member of the NU board of trustees.

Chapdelaine hopes other alumni will remember the work of the Vincentians.

“The Vincentians did so much for so many people,” Chapdelaine said. “You can never pay them back for what they did in our lives.