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Gerardo and Christa Banda

Former Carmelite Homes for Boys resident Gerardo Banda and his wife, Christina. Banda has fond memories of his time at the home.

I want to express how much being at the Home has impacted my life.

I was put there at age 8 until I was 13. Sister Maria Giuseppe was my caretaker at the time and all my memories of my stay there are good.

Sister was a special person and great influence in my life. She loved her boys and even today when I visit, she tells me how much she loves me and is always concerned about my well being. She never forgot me.

About 20 years ago while I was living in Orlando, Fla., I was watching a special on TV news about how most children raised in homes like the one in Hammond mostly are not successful in their adult lives. This angered me. 'How can they say that?' I said to myself.

I called the station to inform them that they were wrong. As I was leaving a message someone picked up and said to continue my story. I told them I was raised in a loving, caring home and I disagreed with their story. So they came out to my home to interview me for a rebuttal story.

After my interview, the reporter asked me if I ever contacted Sister Giuseppe. You see at that point it had been over 20 years since I left and couldn't imagine if Sister would remember me so I decided to write to the home to see if Sister was still there. She wasn't, but my letter was forwarded to Sister, who at the time was at the Girls' home in East Chicago.

Not more than two weeks later I was surprised. I received a letter from Sister. You see in my letter I wrote that she may not remember me because I was sure that by then she had taken care of many boys. To my surprise, not only did she remember me she also sent me pictures of myself at the home. She wrote, "Of course, I remember you Jerry" and that was glad to hear from me.

That year I went to visit her. We talked about my time there. She brought up names of boys I was there with, but that I had forgotten about until she started to mention them.

l asked her, "How can you remember all of us after so many years?" Her reply, "I can never forget." She said, "You all were my little boys."

That touched my heart. I introduced her to my wife, Christina. We just celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary this year. Sister is so proud of me - of the man, father and husband I've become. Ever since, when I go home I visit with her. I look forward every year to seeing her. I visited her twice this year and will soon be moving back to East Chicago. I email her often to see how she is doing.

Sister is very important to me. Her love is unconditional and when I need someone to talk to, I email her. She always writes back.

I'm a disabled veteran and soon will retire from the workforce. My service-connected injuries have taken their toll on me, but I look forward to coming HOME. And I hope to spend more time with Sister.

My friends throughout the years asked me how I became such a sports fan of Chicago? When I tell them how Sister took me to my first Cubs and Bulls games they are surprised that a nun would be interested in sports. I remember sitting at those games with Sister and seeing other kids with their dads and I sometimes got sad. But Sister would hug us and make us feel loved. She could only afford to buy us a hot dog, soda, chips. Souvenirs were out of the question, cause she just could not afford it.

In 1992, I took my boys to their first Cubs game and I remember those times. So when I took them, anything they wanted they got. Funny, my oldest son and I got sick on our way home we ate so much junk food.

My boys are now men. Jerry Jr., my eldest, is a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was decorated with a medal for valor from his tour in Afghanistan.

He recently wrote Sister a letter telling her, "Thank you for raising a loving father" and how throughout the years I had mentioned her. My other son, Jimi, is also a Marine and they both look forward to meeting Sister one day. They tell me they feel like they know her already because I often talk about her.

I also have four grandsons and one granddaughter. My Grandson who was named after me, Gerardo III, looks like me when I was a young boy. I can't wait to introduce him to Sister. He's 7 and is almost the same age I was when Sister first started to care for me. I know she will be so happy to see him in person. She's already seen pictures of him and she says the memories of me come back to her.

The wonderful Sisters at the home are so deserving for all they do for the children there and the impact they've had on all of us. Throughout all these, a lot of of us have been successful and are good parents because of the love we received at the Home. Seeing the Home get torn down gives me great sadness, but no one can ever tear down the wonderful memories I have in my heart.


Ed has been with The Times since January 2014. He previously covered government affairs for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida. Prior to Scripps, he was with the Chicago Regional Bureau of Copley News Service.