One of 350 guests at Catholic Charities' annual Help and Hope Breakfast bids on an auction item. (Photo by Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photograper)
HARTFORD – Charity is not enough to overcome the amount of poverty evident in the United States today, a former head of Catholic Charities told a roomful of people gathered to raise funds for that same organization.
Patrick J. Johnson Jr., who was executive director of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Hartford from 1982 to 2003, told 350 guests at the annual Catholic Charities Help and Hope Breakfast Dec. 16 that the pursuit of justice also is necessary to combat need.
"We can’t volunteer our way out of poverty, and we can’t charity our way to a better world," said Mr. Johnson, quoting from Robert Egger’s Begging for Change.
"When you read the annual report of Catholic Charities in our own archdiocese, you get a sense of the breadth, depth and scope of the effort," said Mr. Johnson, who now is president and CEO of Oak Hill, the state’s largest private nonprofit organization providing services for people with disabilities.
"All this is due to your generous support of Catholic Charities, of the Archbishop’s [Annual] Appeal and your donor-designated gifts to the United Way. We’re doing much, but much remains to be done, and the demands now are among the highest in our history," he said.
Mr. Johnson listed facts related to poverty in the nation today.
• The number of poor Americans hit a record 49 million in 2010.
• The poverty numbers for elderly Hispanics and Asians are higher than previously known.
• Out-of-pocket medical expense is a major factor contributing to poverty.
• Approximately one third of all people in homeless shelters in Connecticut have never been homeless before.
• Economic insecurity is affecting all income groups.
• Three quarters of a million people file for bankruptcy each year due to medical bills.
• According to the latest census data on poverty as reported on CBS 60 Minutes recently, 60 million children, or one in four children, in the United States now live in poverty.
"So, what can we do? We must embrace kindness and speak up. We must recognize that charity is never enough. It’s not enough to feed the poor and pay an occasional utility or medical bill or counsel people on how to get a job. These are essential in the short term, but in the long term, let’s not forget that we have to speak up in the face of injustice," he said.
"Our faith teaches that all people have their own inherent value, and any attempt to build a concept of justice or just community must acknowledge this," he added.
He quoted from Anne Frank, who said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait for a single moment before starting to improve the world. How lovely that everybody, great and small, can make that contribution, even if it is only kindness."
He went on: "It all starts with kindness, and we are on the path to justice. How lovely it is that all of you beautiful people here with us this morning are supporters of the mission of Catholic Charities. I thank you for your kindness and for joining us in the pursuit of justice through the mission of Catholic Charities."
Last year’s Help and Hope Breakfast grossed more than $84,000, according to Janet Romanowicz, development associate for Catholic Charities.
The breakfast also showcased Catholic Charities’ residential program for the disabled, which was launched under Mr. Johnson’s leadership.
Sharon Danaher Henry spoke about the good that Catholic Charities has done for her sister, Kathy Danaher, who has an intellectual disability and lives in a group home in Somers, and for the rest of the family over the years.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell presented Help and Hope Awards to five men who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in providing help and hope. The recipients, all the charter members of the Development Cabinet of Catholic Charities, are Gerry Amodio, Peter G. Carey, Michael C. Culhane, Robert M. Elli and Stephen F. Page.
Proceeds from the breakfast will benefit children in need throughout Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven Counties.
Lois M. Nesci, CEO of Catholic Charities, said the organization has always recognized the importance of focusing on the needs of children and families because they are the backbone of our communities.