Marek Kukulka’s position as chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford is fulfilling for him in two ways.
“Number one, Catholic Charities is a Catholic institution that provides services to people regardless of their affiliation, whether it be religious or social strata,” he said. “I’m Catholic, and I always wanted in the best possible way to serve the church.”
Secondary to that is his background in marriage and family therapy, in which he has a master’s degree from St. Joseph College, now the University of St. Joseph, in West Hartford. “I went into a profession as a psychotherapist, helping people with their emotions, feelings and behaviors. So Catholic Charities allows me to do both. It allows me to professionally work with people who are in need of those psychological services, but also it allows me to serve the church, which is who I am,” he said.
Mr. Kukulka succeeded Lois Nesci, who retired as CEO in February. He had been interim CEO.
He was born in Poland, where he attended Catholic University of Lublin. He came to the United States in 1990 to continue his graduate studies. During the years he spent here acquiring his degree and then his license to practice marriage and family therapy, he formed so many friendships and relationships that he decided to stay. He is a citizen of both Poland and the United States.
At St. Joseph College, his practicum experience (internship) was at St. Francis Home for Children in New Haven (now closed), a residential program for orphans started by the Sisters of Mercy in 1852.
“After graduating, I was offered a full-time job at that facility. I think I worked there until 1998 after my graduation in 1995,” he said.
He began as a therapist there and then worked up to treatment coordinator, a supervisory position.
In 1998, he was hired by Catholic Charities of Norwich as a manager of the basic human needs program. He eventually became manager of all the programs Catholic Charities of Norwich provided, including basic human needs, the adoption program, family support services and behavioral health services.
In 2002, he left to become psychiatric director of St. Francis Care Behavioral Health in Norwich. He returned to Catholic Charities of Norwich in 2005, this time as executive director under Bishop Michael R. Cote.
“He was very devoted to many causes, including human services provided on behalf of the church,” he said of Bishop Cote.
Mr. Kukulka came to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford in 2012 as chief of operations, responsible for the day-to-day operations of all the programs.
His present position as CEO not only includes overseeing all operations but strategic planning and representing the organization to the outside world, he said.
“Catholic Charities is an institution, but it’s also a ministry of the Catholic Church – in our situation a ministry of the Archdiocese of Hartford – that is charged to provide human services on behalf of the local church, or in our case the Archdiocese of Hartford,” he said. “We have to follow the mission of Catholic Charities [USA], which comes from the mission of the church, again to provide services for people in need.”
Catholic Charities is a worldwide organization, existing in every diocese of the world, he said.
“Each diocese may have different needs of the people, and Catholic Charities adjusts to those in response to the needs of the people living in the given geographical area,” he said.
He cited Francis Xavier Plaza, the recent dedicated supportive housing project in Waterbury, as an example of a need Catholic Charities recognized and fulfilled. “The mission of Catholic Charities is to serve people in need, but it’s deeper than that,” he said. “So, say we provide people with housing or basic human needs or mental health services or substance abuse services. The idea behind that is not just to meet their immediate need when they ask us for help. It’s really to help them change their lives so permanently that they can be achieving the highest level of human potential that they can.”
He said Catholic Charities wants to help people overcome the barriers to self-sufficiency.
“We want to eliminate those barriers so these individuals don’t keep coming to us asking for food, for instance. We stay there for a period of time because we want to meet their immediate needs, but what we really want to do is eliminate whatever barriers they have,” he said.
“Our goal would be to do such a good job that we’ve helped everyone and they don’t need us. We would like to put ourselves out of business,” he said.
Francis Xavier Plaza is an example of an archdiocesan building – the former St. Francis Xavier School – that was repurposed, he said. Another example is SS. Cyril and Methodius School in Hartford that closed in 2014. “This was a perfect location to have offices of Catholic Charities,” he said. “So in January 2015, we moved several offices of Catholic Charities that were spread out in the city to that location, and we have transformed the school building into a Catholic Charities family service center location.”
Catholic Charities is a valuable ministry and institution of the archdiocese, he said. “We are very efficient and effective in providing help and creating hope for people who turn to us for assistance. It is the work of Christ because he has given us the example of helping people in need, and we are just continuing that wonderful mission and the mandate that we have been given through the example of his life.”