Salvatorian Fr. David J. Bergner, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, announced his resignation Tuesday, Aug. 26 to Catholic Charities board chairman Keith Lester and vice chair Beth Hanan.
Fr. Bergner had served as head of the human service agency that serves the 10-county archdiocese for two years.
In an email titled, “A message from Fr. Dave Bergner,” sent to archdiocesan employees and posted on the Catholic Charities web site Aug. 28, the Salvatorian said he was leaving to focus on his priestly ministry “while discerning God’s will for the next phase of my religious life.”
His last day as head of the organization was Friday, Aug. 29. “I am proud of the advances in client services and donor participation made by Catholic Charities of Milwaukee in the last two years,” wrote Fr. Bergner. “We have developed and are implementing a strategic plan that will support the mission of the agency well into the future….”
During his tenure, the agency developed and implemented a multi-year strategic plan, acquired a new client service site in Waukesha and increased the agency’s visibility with the archdiocese, according to a press release issued by Catholic Charities, Aug. 28.
Two year-end campaigns were launched, the “Ripple” Campaign and “That Moment When,” which, according to the website, “secured unprecedented year-end donations and new donors.”
Fr. Bergner’s time at Catholic Charities was “very formative (at a time when) we desperately needed a strategic plan,” Lester told the Catholic Herald. “He developed one in which he really had the board and employees fully engaged in that,” adding, “the end result was quite good because he has a plan and we have a dashboard and we do really follow it with the proverbial green, yellow and red lights to see what kind of progress we are making.”
Lester added that Fr. Bergner increased awareness of the agency, something he described as “really low for quite some time.”
To kick-off the November 2012 “Ripple” campaign, which encouraged people to do good deeds, Fr. Bergner spent three hours in downtown Milwaukee dropping quarters into nearly expired parking meters.
He told the Catholic Herald at the time that he thought the effort prevented a few people from getting parking tickets and he hopes the gesture has a ripple effect.
“If we can make a ripple within our families, within our parishes and within our cities on a small level, it should help build community on a larger level so we can tackle some of the bigger problems,” he said, after the kick-off event.
Following the “Ripple” campaign, Catholic Charities raised $220,000 by Dec. 31, 2012, a record for the organization’s year-end appeal, said Lester.
In an effort to enhance Catholic Charities relationships with parishes, Fr. Bergner hired School Sister of St. Francis Frances Cunningham to serve as the agency’s first parish relations coordinator.
“Together they have been a dynamic duo, traveling the archdiocese and educating parishes about the good work of Catholic Charities,” according to the website, which also noted that Fr. Bergner had been highly visible in Milwaukee media, taking the lead in providing a pastoral voice in response to the border crisis.
Lester also praised Fr. Bergner’s outspokenness on the need to provide assistance to the flood of minor immigrants who have arrived in the country without a parent. The July 24 Catholic Herald reported that Catholic Charities agreed to help with the humanitarian crisis by housing unaccompanied children, if needed.
“While that has not come to fruition, for a number of reasons … he instantly helped create more of an awareness for Catholic Charities,” said Lester, explaining that Fr. Bergner saw the situation as “a way to explain here’s what Catholic Charities can do and we will do if given the opportunity.”
Catholic Charities, with about 100 employees, had a budget of $5.3 million in 2013 and served nearly 28,000 individuals and their families.
According to the release, Ricardo Cisneros, Catholic Charities director of programs and a longtime agency employee, will serve as interim executive director until a successor is named.
Lester said he’d like to have the position of executive director filled quickly, and noted the board is actually filling two positions, as Sandy Leske, advancement director for Catholic Charities, resigned recently to take a position with United Way closer to her home in Sheboygan County.
Of Fr. Bergner’s departure, Lester said, “We’ll miss his energy and enthusiasm and we are grateful for everything Fr. Dave did to take us to this position, but the client programs and services will continue with no change during this transition, because the agency’s operations are quite sound especially with Ricardo (Cisneros) at the helm.”