ROCHESTER — For about 50 years, a local group of friends has been getting together "For Old Time’s Sake."
The friends, who named their group after that common phrase, went on to become leaders and activists in the Latino community. This year, they decided to honor a man who has been their friend and mentor during all those years, Roberto Burgos explained during a July 9 reunion for the group at Tay House Lodge in Cobbs Hill.
As a way to officially "adopt" Father Laurence Tracy as an hijo de crianza — a relative not related by blood — the group worked with city officials to present him with a proclamation honoring his advocacy work and solidarity with the Latino community and his 50th anniversary as a priest, Burgos said.
"He’s no longer a gringo," he added. "He’s Puerto Rican. He’s Latino. … On behalf of the community, we’re adopting him."
Anthony Plonczynksi, legislative aide for City Councilwoman Jackie Ortiz, presented Father Tracy with the city council proclamation that read in part: "He has been a beacon of light and hope for the community for more than 50 years. His commitment to action expresses his belief in a living Gospel. .. And whereas described as hijo adoptado, an adopted child in PR/Latino community … (City Council members) therefore do hereby declare July 9, 2016 a time to celebrate Father Larry Tracy."
Upon receiving the award, Father Tracy said the group has helped him over the years as well.
"You helped me to grow up too," he said. "After six years of isolation in seminary, I didn’t know anything about the real world, let alone Puerto Rico. I thank you. Dios los bendiga (God bless you)."
Iris Alvarado, a Puerto Rico native and Rochester resident since age 5, told Father Tracy after the proclamation presentation July 9 that he has been like a father to the group.
"You were always there for us," he remarked.
Father Tracy’s solidarity with the Latino community in Rochester has included fighting for Latinos’ rights in all arenas, including civil rights, bilingual education, health, and community development and leadership, several of the group members said.
The priest said the group itself was unique, noting that it operated in the form of a support group before such a thing become the norm.
"You were children of the first generation of Puerto Ricans (in Rochester)," he said. "Parents didn’t understand you. And you didn’t understand your parents. And the institutions of Rochester didn’t understand you either. … It was tough for you emotionally, but you found each other."
The bond created by those common roots has held for so many years and eventually served as the basis for the reunions the group began holding a decade ago, said Burgos, one of the founding members of the group. Most of the members got to know each other from hanging out at the Schiller Monument on Upper Falls Boulevard near the former Bausch & Lomb plant, he explained. Before the days of cell phones, friends would catch up on each others’ lives by meeting at a park that used to surround the monument, Burgos said.
Those friends became the "For Old Time’s Sake" group, he said. Members travel from Rochester, Puerto Rico, Florida and New York City to attend the gatherings that have been held every few years in those locations as well as on a cruise ship, Burgos said. This year, they decided to honor those in the tight-knit community who have died, he added
Most of the group members pitch in financially for all the reunions, which take months to organize, he said. The group planned to donate any leftover proceeds to the House of Mercy in Father Tracy’s name.
"We want to recognize his 50 years of service as a priest," Burgos remarked.