Faith in the System
How George Rousseau’s Catholic Faith helps him advocate for children in the family court system
By Paul McAvoy
Some people travel around the world, visiting far-flung places to help people in need. When George Rousseau, a lifelong resident of Manchester, wanted to get involved he didn’t need to travel far at all – just back to his old neighborhood on the West Side, where New Hampshire’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) has their headquarters. “I was interested in courts and the law, and I knew I wanted to help the community by volunteering,” George said, “and it’s all tied in with CASA and advocating for children. So I reached out to them and they interviewed me. They signed me up and 15 years later I’m still doing it.” He adds with a laugh, “Once they pull you in, you can’t get out, so they say!”
CASA recruits, trains and supervises volunteers like George to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children in the New Hampshire court system. Begun in the late 1980s, CASA introduced a new model of having volunteer advocates help children navigate the family court system. CASA of New Hampshire represents roughly 1,000 children each year.
Given his cheerfulness and good natured personality, as well as his desire to help others, it is no surprise that George has found great fulfilment in helping young people in need through CASA. His commitment and caring, though, are all rooted in a strong faith that was nurtured in him from childhood, has guided him through difficult personal times, and which continues to encourage him today.
“I was born and brought up here in Manchester, Roman Catholic and baptized at infancy,” George says. “Both of my parents were Catholic, of French Canadian heritage. I went to St. Jean the Baptist School, and made my first communion and confirmation there. I was an altar boy, and my parents were involved in church as well. We always had close ties to the parish and our pastors.”
George credits his Catholic faith with providing direction and guidance; and positive influences on his life including his parents, his teachers at school, and two aunts who were religious sisters (one is still living and George visits her weekly at the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary retirement home). He graduated from Memorial High School after moving to South Manchester, and served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.
George returned home from war and married his childhood sweetheart, Therese Desruisseaux, with whom he spent 47 years of loving marriage, raising two children together in their home in South Manchester. Therese passed away after an illness in 2013.
In the early 2000s, George was nearing retirement from his career in the wholesale food and refrigeration industry. With his children grown and out of the house, George began to thinkmore seriously about how he could give back to the community in a meaningful way. That's when he found CASA.
“I’ve advocated for 18 children,” George says proudly. “I have two active cases right now – a three year old little girl and a 16 year old boy. My responsibilities are to advocate for their best interests in the court system. It requires me to make sure that the children are kept in a safe harbor while they are being taken away from their parents, that their educational needs are met, their health needs are met and that the parents abide by the court order. So if they agreed to correct the issues that put them in those circumstance of having their child taken from them, they’re effectively working on correcting them so they get their kids back.”
George goes on to explain that he’s handled some difficult cases, and when those challenges come, he finds himself reflecting and relying on his Catholic faith. “My faith helps me a lot. Those moments when things are going bad with a family and you can’t understand why maybe they’ve chosen to do something that’s not right, I always think of myself as a good Christian, understanding and forgiving – and you’ve got to be that! I get that out of my faith.”
Another important element to being a good advocate, George says, is compassion. “The parents I see are not all evil,” he explains. “Some individuals are criminals who will sexually abuse and hurt their children, but we find that the majority of parents are just a step outside of being good parents, through no real fault of their own. Most parents just need some correction and guidance.”
Sometimes, when the parents are unable to meet the court’s demands, the best outcome for a child is a permanent home through adoption. “A very rewarding part of the work that I do is reaching out to prospective adoption parents and matching them with my child to find them a permanent home,” George says. One memorable case was a six year old child whose mom had passed away and whose father was not capable of parenting. “We were able to find him a good home with good parents, and I’m still in contact with him today – he writes and e-mails me, as does his foster mom, and she sends out Facebook notices on his challenges and what he’s been able to achieve. He’s going to college and doing really great.”
As for George, he recently reconnected with a family friend who lost her husband. What started out as a friendship between George and Aileen blossomed. They were married last June and live in Manchester with their two English Springer Spaniels. This past summer George Rousseau was also honored for his service to the Church and community with the Vita et Caritas (“For Life and Love”) Award at the annual Bishop’s Charitable Assistance Fund Summer Reception. George and Aileen attend St. Pius X Parish, where George is involved in numerous parish outreach efforts including the consolation ministry, and where he continues to develop in his faith. “Our pastor, Father deLaire, is a great homilist. He can really focus in on a particular message,” George says. In his life for others, George Rousseau too focuses on a particular message, living the Gospel as best he can – “for life and love.”
Vita et Caritas Award
The Bishop of Manchester will annually award the Vita et Caritas Award (“For Life and Love Award”) to an individual who makes significant contributions through service to the non-profit agency where they volunteer; someone whose work helps transform the lives of women, children or families, and who exemplifies, in his or her service, the Gospel message to love one another. The award is given in honor of Ruthie Ford whose life reflected Catholic ideals and tireless dedication to service in the cause of helping women, children and families.
The recipient of the Vita et Caritas Award receives a special plaque and is recognized at the annual Bishop’s Summer Reception. The organization with which the recipient is associated receives an award of $2,500 that can be used to support the work of that organization.
Nominations for the Vita et Caritas Award for 2017 are now being accepted. For more information, visit catholicnh.org/vca.