ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
Catholic Charities is one of the best-kept secrets of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Catholic Charities is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer. Can there be any doubt that at the heart of the Christian message is “charity?” For 100 years, Catholic Charities has represented the mission of outreach to the poor and marginalized in the name of the Catholic Church. We often forget that Catholic Charities was doing the work of social support before our society established its welfare programs. We were following the mandate of our Lord to reach out to others in his name.
Listening to the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, we understand the importance of providing for those in need. Matthew 25: 34-41: “Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me… Then the righteous will answer him and say when did we do these things. When you did these for the least of my brethren you did it for me.” All throughout the New Testament is the challenge to understand our commitment to Jesus through his command to love one another.
We sometimes forget that the role of the deacon was established by the Apostles to care for the needs of the community. Acts 6:1: “At that time as the numbers continued to grow the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” So the Apostles selected seven men to assist in the distribution.
As a former auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago (2001-05) and former ordinary of the Diocese of La Crosse (2005-10), I grew in my appreciation and admiration for the work of Catholic Charities. Therefore, when I was appointed Archbishop of Milwaukee more than 10 years ago, I focused my attention on Catholic Charities. I was impressed by the number of lay individuals who devoted their time and efforts to the charitable work of the archdiocese. I knew there existed a solid foundation that could form the basis for future growth. As Archbishop of Milwaukee, I wanted Catholic Charities to be a collaborative arm not only of the Central Office but also viewed as an integral part of all parish charitable operations. This collaboration should reach out to other charitable organizations partnering for the good of our community with St. Vincent de Paul, religious communities and other partners, not in competition but in maximizing service and the use of resources.
It takes time to establish a vision and Catholic Charities has developed many areas over the years responding to shifting cultural environment. One principle that was adopted early in our board discussions was that we would seek to be involved in social needs that others either had not discovered or were not addressing. One great example was the attention given by Catholic Charities to their “hoarders program.” This is understood as a psychological problem that involved the entire family unit. It addressed the family dynamic and the need for social involvement so that the correction is not merely a clean-up but a psychological realignment of the person. This program drew national attention from various charitable chapters.
Our immigration program under the direction of Barbra Graham continues to be a real source of assistance to those who must navigate the difficulties of immigration laws coupled with refugee cultural resettlement. Then there is our adult care, counseling, adoption and family services and other areas which continue to be strong aspects of charitable outreach. None of us can respond to all the needs presented but working with Catholic Charities increases our efforts.
The “Good Samaritan” has been a theme adopted by Catholic Charities that inspires the good work of our donors and staff, which is accomplished, mostly anonymous, toward those in need. I have been asked many times if Catholic Charities funds are to be distributed to only Catholics. I quickly respond that we extend charity not because the group we serve are Catholics but because we are Catholic and are responding to our Lord‘s mandate to love our neighbor. We do the work of charity not because those in need are Catholic but because we are Catholic.
Catholic Charities depends on the generosity of those who recognize that their dollars will be well-spent and fulfill tasks that they as individuals would never be able to accomplish. Jackie Rekowski, the director of advancement, outlines the stories of all the good works and welcomes those patrons who desire their contributions be maximized for the good. During this pandemic, the work of Catholic Charities never stopped because the needs of the underserved never stopped. I know that Catholic Charities would welcome any monetary donations and put them to good use.
There is no successful organization without great leadership. In my vision, I wanted to cement the relationship of Catholic Charities to the work of our parishes. Therefore, I needed a priest who commanded the respect of the pastors and the priests of the archdiocese and who himself had been a successful pastor. Very Rev. David Reith not only was a successful pastor at St. Dominic Parish but was also past president of the Archdiocesan Priest Council. His unique talents gave vision to Catholic Charities and to its reorganization as he generously accepted the new role and title of Vicar of Catholic Charities. A vicar is one who acts in the name of the archbishop and is vested with canonical powers for the exercise of his office. Fr. David has used his position to give a sense of confidence to those who work and support Catholic Charities. He is supported by COO (Chief Operating Officer) Ricardo Cisneros and the hardworking staff of Catholic Charities. I have known Mr. Cisneros since my arrival in Milwaukee and I can attest that he has not only the competence but even more so the heart necessary to serve the staff and the needs of those who seek. He never forgets the dignity that is possessed by each individual Catholic Charities serves. The board of Catholic Charities is composed of clergy and lay men and women. It is chaired by Mr. Allen Schlinsog, Jr. The members of the board possess various skills in law, finance, education and civic governance, which assist the operations of the organization.
As we celebrate the 100 years of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we together give thanks and pledge our support and prayers that the next 100 years will find us fulfilling our responsibilities as Christians seeking to recognize Jesus in those we serve. “When you did for the least of my brethren you did for me.”