One man's mission to fight Parkinson's disease will find a permanent home at Stony Brook University this fall.

To support the new campus research center, the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson's Research kicked off a fundraising campaign Wednesday night, drawing pledges of nearly a half-million dollars.

The organization's founder and namesake -- a Catholic priest who lives in Uniondale -- was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001.

The foundation has pledged to raise at least $1 million toward the new center, said Kathy Scarpinella, foundation president. Money raised will be matched by the Simons Foundation of New York, which focuses on math and science research.

About 40 people attended Wednesday night's reception at Fox Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, which raised more than $480,000.

Housed in Stony Brook University's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, the center will be devoted to Parkinson's research. The dedication ceremony will be held Oct. 16.

Craig Evinger, a Stony Brook researcher and Parkinson's specialist, said the center will unite a diverse group of researchers with various specialties.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"The goal is to take people who may not have been studying Parkinson's disease and focus them all on one goal," he said.

Hartman co-wrote Newsday's "God Squad" column from 2002 to 2007. He now concentrates on fighting his disease and raising awareness and funds through his organization.

"[Hartman] is an icon and has helped so many people," Scarpinella said. "Instead of saying, 'Why me?' he said, 'This is my mission -- to fight Parkinson's.' "

Ernie Canadeo, of Oyster Bay Cove, a member of the foundation's board of directors, said the research center will help the organization live on despite Hartman's declining health.

"This is a home run. It means everything that Father Tom wanted can now continue," he said.

About 1 million Americans suffer from Parkinson's, a neurological disorder that impairs movement and causes tremors, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Simons Foundation's matching donation is part of the $150 million that the organization pledged to Stony Brook University in December.