Catholic Charities makes history with spring fundraiser

BOSTON -- Catholic Charities made history at this year’s Spring Celebration on May 10 -- raising a record $1.3 million and presenting its first Justice and Compassion Award to Father J. Donald Monan, SJ.

The fundraiser, held at the John F. Kennedy Library, reached a milestone of charitable giving in its 20-year history. Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston has faced challenges in raising funds since the clergy abuse crisis broke in 2001, said Jack Connors, chairman emeritus of Hill Holliday and emcee and co-chair of the event.

“Catholic Charities is back,” he said. “People are being asked to come home and to remember and to help, and I believe we are in a period of renaissance in this archdiocese.”

Connors credited much of the renewal in the archdiocese to the leadership and example of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley.

For over 100 years, Catholic Charities has existed with the mission to build a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people. Last year alone, the organization served the needs of nearly 200,000 of the poor, families and immigrants in eastern Massachusetts. The agency provides about 140 programs and services, including food pantries across the archdiocese.

Upon arriving at the JFK Library, the more than 350 guests found at their place an appetizer that typified a meal that would be served at a Catholic Charities food pantry. The appetizer included a bean salad, a tortilla topped with tomato and avocado and gazpacho served in a bowl made from a milk carton.

Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese, greeted those gathered at the dinner, urging all to think about why they came. By attending they fulfill the Gospel’s call to provide for the most vulnerable in society, he said.

“It is our privilege at Catholic Charities to work with and for women, children, immigrants and refugees, but without you we could not do this privileged work,” he said. “We are here because they exist and need our help.”

Then, Father Oscar Pratt, pastor at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Dorchester and Catholic Charities board member, led the guests in prayer and a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

“Our purpose of being here this evening is to celebrate God’s amazing grace in our lives and that grace shared with others,” he said.

During the dessert course, the evening’s program began again with a video that highlighted the work of Catholic Charities. One woman featured in the video said she was afraid to open her bills because she did not know how she would pay for them. With the help of Catholic Charities, she was able to catch up on those bills and to buy food.

Following the video, Connors, Father Hehir and Jeffrey J. Kaneb, chair of Catholic Charities board, presented the first ever Justice and Compassion Award to Father Monan, chancellor of Boston College. Father Monan served as president of BC for 24 years.

Father Hehir said, “Father Monan helped in the transformation of Boston College into a first-class research university that can take its place among the research universities of this country.”

Additionally, Father Monan has served the common good of the people and community surrounding him, creating an environment where others can grow, develop and flourish, said Father Hehir.

Father Monan accepted the award, speaking of the challenges of higher education in the modern world and the importance of Christian love, the soul of the Catholic Church. Both education and compassion are of critical importance in life, he said.

“Compassion really means putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, feeling his or her pain as my own, so much so that I do something about it,” he added.

Cardinal O’Malley also spoke at the podium, exhorting the Catholic Charities supporters to work toward the common good in our increasingly individualistic society.

“As Catholics we each have a personal vocation, a call to holiness and to service. But we are also very aware of a communal mission,” he said.

Magdalana Reis, the director of youth education at El Centro del Cardenal, addressed the diners, speaking of the honor and privilege she feels working at El Centro, one of Catholic Charities’ community service centers. El Centro provides food to those in need as well as adult and youth educational services such as alternative high school programs. Students are given the support they need to earn their diplomas. Last year every student at El Centro passed the MCAS exam, she said.

Reis spoke of one student in particular, Marvin, who as a teenager became responsible for caring for his three younger siblings following the death of his mother. Then, one of his brothers was a victim of violence on the streets of Boston.

“While Marvin continued to care for his two younger siblings, he watched his friends run into the arms of alcohol and drugs. But Marvin was determined to obtain his education,” she said. “He is my hero.”

Marvin graduated from Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston last year and is now an automotive technician at a major car dealership in the city. He is also continuing his education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree, she said.

Speaking with The Pilot after the dinner, one student from El Centro Cardinal, Alejandro Paniagua, said that studying at El Centro has given him the opportunity to receive the extra attention in math that he needed to succeed. Now he is motivated to attend school because he is getting good grades and help from his teachers in maintaining them.

“It’s like a big family,” he said of the school. “I usually wake up in the morning and look forward to going to school.”