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Sister Patricia Cairns, CSJ, Leads Catholic Charities Development in Shreveport
The Diocese of Shreveport, LA, is currently moving ahead with establishing a Catholic Charities organization in the diocese. The following is an interview with Sister Patricia Cairns (Sister Mary Aquin) who is spear-heading the project for the diocese. We reprint the article from Catholic Connection (Diocese of Shreveport, LA, vol. 19, #5, December 2009) with the gracious permission of Jessica Rinaudo, editor.
Q. Sister, Bishop Duca has asked you to research the question regarding the establishment of a Catholic Charities in the diocese. What background do you bring to the project?
A. I've worn many hats during my lifetime, but the most satisfying role I was blessed to play was executive director of two Catholic Charities, one in Lafayette, LA, and the other in Pittsburgh, PA. In both situations, thousands were served, and the Gospel of Love was communicated. I credit most of this to the dedicated staffs with whom I worked. Academically, my background is in social research and theory which I taught at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, for a number of years.
Q. What are some of the things accomplished during your tenure as executive director of Catholic Charities?
A. I have a huge concern that everything we do for the poor be done with the greatest integrity and professionalism. We need to hire only those who are competent to do the job well. This means people have to be qualified professionally to carry out their tasks and committed to Jesus' call to serve the least among us with compassion.
In Lafayette, we were able to renovate St. Joseph's Shelter for Men and St. Joseph's Diner, set up two family shelters, purchase the Boustany property in anticipation of a health-care clinic and office complex, and renovate a five-story hotel in Opelousas for homeless women and children with an emphasis on education. This Opelousas project won a HUD blue-ribbon award.
In Pittsburgh, we purchased our downtown office building, sponsored a medical mission to Mexico, initiated an international adoption program, revamped our technology and development programs, renovated a large former market into a futuristic senior center called Challenges: Options in Aging, renovated twelve apartments to house incoming refugees and drew up plans and raised funds for a medical clinic which is now in operation.
Even during hard financial times, the funds necessary came through to make all these initiatives and many others possible. I cite these few accomplishments to show what is possible if you have the support of many, a bit of courage and adequate humility to realize that you can't do it alone.
Q. What exactly is Catholic Charities?
A. Catholic Charities is a professional social-service agency which operates largely within a diocese under the leadership of the diocesan bishop. Usually, it is a corporation of the diocese and the bishop functions as Chairman of the Board. It serves all without discrimination. There are, I believe, 171 diocesan Catholic Charities operating throughout the United States. Most diocesan Catholic Charities affiliate with Catholic Charities USA. This association is very helpful, and it would be my recommendation that we link with the national office as one of the early steps in the process of setting up a Catholic Charities here in Shreveport.
Q. So, Bishop Duca tapped you to look into the question of a Catholic Charities in Shreveport?
Q. Where are we on the study?
A. The study has been completed and there is overwhelming support indicated. Ninety-two percent of those interviewed said that they support the idea. The study identified areas of social need throughout the diocese. We'll be working with these findings as we move forward.
Q. What are the next steps?
A. With the approval of Bishop Duca, a planning committee has been set up. The bishop has directed this committee of leaders to come up with a communications plan, a social-service plan, a fund-raising strategy, bylaws for a new corporation and materials for an executive search. Of course, we'll have to develop a timeline to meet these objectives without delay.
Q. How do you feel about all of this?
A. I am excited about the possibilities of a Catholic Charities here in Shreveport. Bishop Duca has been so very supportive. I think the reason for this support is that he has great concern for the many poor who live among us. He wants to do as much as he can to help others. I believe a Catholic Charities operation in the Diocese of Shreveport will help bring new life to the diocese by providing opportunities for many more persons to get involved in service to the poor. After all, isn't this Jesus' directive to all of us?