On Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, Sister Dolores Gartanutti of Parksville, New York, traveled to a neighboring town to give communion to a friend. When she returned, she found her house engulfed in flames.
Sister Dolores, who goes by Dee, had owned the home since 1979. She used it as a vacation house where she took her foster children to escape the city, and lived there year-round after retiring. Dee founded a shelter for adolescents in 1974 named Noah’s Ark in Queens, New York, where she attempted to reunite runaway children with their families and took in those who could not return home. During the 23 years she ran the shelter, Dee helped over 1,600 children and fostered 64 until they aged out of the program.
Erin, who was one of the first to stay at Noah’s Ark and kept in touch with Dee, set up a Go Fund Me page a few days after the fire. Many people cared for by Dee in their youth were instrumental in rebuilding her home by donating to her cause. Thanks to the returned generosity, Dee moved into a brand-new house in the hills she has long called home.
Dee lost practically everything to the fire, including her dog Danny Boy. Three religious statues that stood outside were spared, although Saint Francis has some scorch marks. A ring Dee received after completing her final profession of vows to become a nun, a ring that belonged to her mother, and a Claddagh ring gifted to her by Claire–the girl who originally inspired Dee to create the shelter–are all that didn’t burn.
But Dee does not dwell on what she has lost. She continues practicing her faith by praying a rosary every morning and watching mass on television. She has photographs of people she has helped saved to her phone, which she scrolls through often. Dee receives calls regularly from “my kids,” as she says, and maintains an open invitation to anyone who needs a home for a while.