Kathleen Donahue-Coia

Moving on

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

It is hard for me to believe that this is the last column I write as acting CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Beginning Aug. 1, I will leave the agency in the very capable hands of Sally Blount, who, as the Michael L. Nemmers Professor of Strategy at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and former dean of the school, was carefully selected for her outstanding leadership and organizational skills, and her steadfast commitment to help those in need.

When Monsignor Michael Boland stepped down as CEO of Catholic Charities last August, I was honored to be asked to step in while a national search was conducted for a new leader. After 40 years with the agency, I was more than happy to postpone my retirement to see Catholic Charities through this leadership transition.

To be sure, I was a little nervous. Monsignor Boland left some very big shoes to fill. During his incredible 30-year tenure, Catholic Charities’ management, board stewardship and organizational structure were fine-tuned. Stepping into this role was like stepping in to manage a very well-oiled machine. 

However, no one could have anticipated the extent that this well-oiled machine would be put into high gear, retooled and refueled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past few months, I have used this column to keep readers updated on the incredible increase in requests for assistance Catholic Charities has seen and how we have responded.

At the risk of tooting our own horn, I must say that Catholic Charities’ response has been nothing short of amazing. I have never been more impressed or more grateful for the staff, the board, the volunteers, the donors, the parishes — everyone coming together to meet unprecedented needs.

Many of our services have had to be adapted to meet CDC guidelines, and our staff continue to spring into action to implement changes, not missing a beat, even as our programs witness double and triple the volume of requests.

In other instances, we have had to redeploy staff to meet increased needs in critical areas. These staff members have gladly and quickly learned an entirely new job just to ensure Catholic Charities can meet growing needs. In every program area, Catholic Charities staff have been incredibly creative in how they accomplish the job of helping people while working within the constraints and complexities of a pandemic. 

In addition, the generosity of our board and donors has been overwhelming. New donors are being added daily, small donors have started to make larger contributions, and our board is stepping up to help in myriad ways. We have also relied heavily on volunteers and added many new volunteers. The increasing number of young people getting involved has been particularly providential at a time when many of our long-standing volunteers are in the high-risk group and unable to help in person. 

As I reflect on why Catholic Charities has been able to so quickly and responsively adapt to changing circumstances — whether it’s the leadership transition, the pandemic or standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters during the recent unrest — the answer is undoubtedly our mission-driven organizational culture. The commitment to the Gospel mission to help those in need, and to treat each person with the utmost respect and dignity, began with the start of the agency more than 100 years ago and has flourished ever since. 

Whether as a staff person, board member, volunteer or donor, people get involved with Catholic Charities because they believe in the mission to help people achieve their God-given potential. They believe in doing whatever it takes to serve those who are hurting. If anything, our mission-driven culture is strengthened by adversity and change, and we have seen a lot of both during this past year.

I am honored to pass on the gift of leadership of this great agency to Sally Blount, whose energy and excitement is inspiring. After her recent visits with Catholic Charities staff and programs, she perfectly summed up our organizational culture: “You feel the mission here and it’s infectious.”

It certainly is, and Sally is exactly the person we need to capitalize on our strengths and effectively lead Catholic Charities through these unprecedented times and deep into Catholic Charities’ second century of helping those in need. May God bless Sally in her new role and may each of us continue our commitment to Catholic Charities and all those we have the privilege to serve. 



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