Catholic Charities president brings enthusiasm, dedication to job

BOSTON -- At the hub of Catholic Charities of Boston, newly appointed president Tiziana Dearing is learning how the social service agency’s wheel spins. The education process is daunting given that the organization has spokes that stretch throughout the Archdiocese of Boston, she said.

“It takes awhile just to get up to speed,” she said. “It’s a massive education process, but its fun.”

After four weeks as the head of Catholic Charities, Dearing spoke to The Pilot about her new position. She is the first woman to head the Boston branch of Catholic Charities.

While still in the process of meeting with regional staff and advisory boards, Dearing has very clear ideas about leading Catholic Charities with goals that include increasing donations and engaging new volunteers.

In a corner office that overlooks Kneeland Street and Chinatown, Dearing sits at a large meeting table. When she speaks, her enthusiasm for serving the poor is evident. She is articulate, confident and demonstrates a passion for the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.

“I’ve been very struck by the incredible need and the incredible pressure and grind being faced by the people we serve. They are being squeezed on all sides,” she said.

Many people, especially young families, are turning to Catholic Charities for assistance because they find themselves confronting increased utility and grocery costs at the same time that funding for local, state and federal assistance programs have decreased, she said.

Those Massachusetts citizens need assistance now, she said. Over the past decade, the funding environment has devalued those basic needs in favor of long-term, low-cost solutions.

“They emphasize very heavily teaching someone to fish, not giving them a fish,” she said. “But today they need a fish. Today they need the heat on. Today they need to be able to feed their children. Today they need to learn to speak enough English to get a job so that they can fish on their own.”

Dearing added that while it is important for assistance agencies to help people to support themselves, a strong basic needs component should always be a part of their offerings.

Catholic Charities must increase funds in order to meet current needs and increasing demand, which requires an expansion of services. Dearing cited the example of Catholic Charities’ English as a Second Language course in Brockton which has a waiting list over 2,000 names long.

Another financial challenge is that some donors expect non-profits to do more with less, leading to pressure to keep staff salaries low. The “inappropriately unrealistic expectations” can lead staff members to become clients themselves, she said.

Despite the challenges, Dearing looks forward to fundraising in the archdiocese, where the citizens “care a tremendous amount” and Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley is personally dedicated to social services, she said.

Dearing hopes Catholic Charities will be a strong voice for the poor, alerting many to their needs. Caring for the poor, families and children is part of what it means to be Catholic, she said.

“We serve families, and I can understand and connect with that as a woman with a family,” she said, describing her family as a team.

Dearing lives in Bedford with her husband, Steve who is a physician. They have two children, Jude who will start preschool in January and Simone who recently started kindergarten.

Dearing said she knows measuring up to the dedication of Catholic Charities’ staff will take a lot of energy. Their work is demanding and requires deep faith, she said.

She added that she has been impressed by Father J. Bryan Hehir, the previous president who remains the archdiocese’s cabinet secretary for social services. Since 1996, the president of Boston Catholic Charities had also served as the archdiocese’s secretary for social services but recently the two positions were separated.

Father Hehir has set a standard with his leadership, grasp of complex policy issues and strong sense of pastoral care, she said.

Dearing said she wants to continue his legacy while charting her own path. She brings to the position a different set of skills and believes that her prior experience has already proved valuable at her new position.

She worked with Catholic Relief Services, assisted with the archdiocese’s 2006 Financial Transparency Report and has served in a number of consultant roles for nonprofit organizations. Since 2003 she has served as executive director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Initiatives at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, providing strategic direction, marketing and fundraising.

Dearing said she is most excited to witness to the good work of Catholic Charities. The organization offers approximately 140 programs and services in 40 locations across Eastern Massachusetts, which assist nearly 200,000 people each year.

“I get to get up every day and contribute my special set of skills to an organization that with its every breath is trying to make a difference,” she said.