Historians tells us that 1917 was the year that the United States “came of age,” as, with its entrance into World War I, our nation realized its global duties.
Well, that same year, my predecessor, John Cardinal Farley, encouraged by the charitable ministries themselves, felt it was time for the vast works of mercy and service in the archdiocese to “come of age,” as he began to organize the Church’s impressive array of apostolates to those in need under the umbrella of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. This was also the year that New York State civilly recognized Catholic Charities throughout the state through a special act of the legislature.
Not that the archdiocese had been a laggard in charitable efforts prior to this. To think that would insult the revered legacy of people such as Pierre Toussaint, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, just to mention a few luminaries. The archdiocese, thanks especially to religious women and men, parishes, and pious societies, was from the start heavily and effectively involved in feeding the poor, housing those without roofs, healing the sick, and caring for the orphan. Some current premier Catholic Charities agencies such as the New York Foundling, Good Shepherd Services and St. Dominic’s, date to the 1800s.
What Cardinal Farley decided a century ago was that we might just do this even better if we worked together as Catholic charitable ministries, professionalized our efforts, and sought appropriate partnerships with others.
Thank God that step was taken, as we this year look back with gratitude upon ten decades of Catholic Charities in our archdiocese.
Wisely, our able executive director, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, listening to his first-class board, led by Catherine Kinney, and other New York business and civic leaders, has decided to celebrate! I’m glad he is, and I want to “pop some champagne corks” myself, so proud am I of our renowned record.
Our leadership wants, one, to heighten awareness of Catholic Charities, and rightly so, since many are unaware of its successes in making New York more caring for vulnerable children and families. Two, they want to plan for the future, as they realize that past glory is not enough, and that one of the reasons for the glowing record of Catholic Charities is that there has always been study and care in its approach. Three—surprise!—they have initiated a capital campaign to raise revenue for their abundant ministries.
It was Mayor Ed Koch who first observed that, “I would hate to imagine New York without Catholic Charities,” a sentiment I heard echoed by the two mayors with whom I have been honored to work, Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio.
Be patient while I offer a litany of praise for this century-old effort...
• For the Church to be energetic—I’d even use the word “obsessed”—about charity is hardly a nice idea or a hobby. Since the time of the apostles, the Church considers works of mercy a duty, a sacred obligation! According to Jesus, we’ll be judged by how we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless, and welcomed the newcomer. This is a “heaven-or-hell” proposition, folks!
• Our Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese is not an isolated centralized monolith. We work in communities and neighborhoods throughout New York. In fact, close to 100 separate ministries and agencies are affiliated under our banner, and we work closely in partnership with businesses and their leaders, civic and community organizations and other interfaith groups.
• Catholic Charities does receive “government money,” through contracts. This is right and just. For one, as Ronald Reagan commented, “There’s no such thing as ‘government money.’ It’s our money that we entrust to the government to be used for the common good.” Two, the government tells us they like contracting Catholic Charities to provide services such as feeding, housing, and legal aid, because we do it so well and so economically. I won’t bore you with many statistics, but a few might help: more than 5 million meals served; 20,000 youth enrolled in out-of-school-time programs; 25,000 calls answered from immigrants seeking accurate information; 7,500 provided job skills and financial literacy services; 4,000 children in foster care; and more than 10,000 additional youth supported to remain safely with their own families. Every year, these and many more services are provided by the network of Catholic Charities-affiliated agencies in the Archdiocese of New York.
• However, this revenue from city, county, state, and federal government is never enough, and is fickle, because we hardly know from budget to budget if we can count on it. So...we have to raise a bit of money ourselves.
• Our charity is unapologetically Catholic. What’s that mean? Well, for one, it means that we are driven by our belief in the dignity of each human person, made in the image of God, and the sacredness of human life. As a result we serve people of all religions. Two, it means we do it in the Name of Jesus. We count on His grace, we are unafraid of telling the folks we serve about Him, without proselytizing or making their beliefs a condition of receiving services. Three, we care not only for the mind and belly, but for the soul. We serve people “from the inside out” seeing them as God’s children destined for eternity. We draw on their strengths to provide hope for a better life. Finally, we will never do anything contrary to Church teaching.
• Finally, although one hundred years old, our mission is ever fresh. Yes, we continue the traditional works of mercy associated with the Church since SS. Peter and Paul, but we’re always on the lookout for people whose needs are new and unmet. I’ve chided Monsignor Sullivan and his excellent board that they must have “attention deficit disorder” because they’re always coming to us with new projects, never satisfied to rest on a century on the honor roll.
I just read a study on what people most appreciate about the Catholic Church. Those polled were both Catholics and not. Here are the three winners: good parishes; Catholic schools; Catholic Charities.
The last was the first...