Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s 29th annual fundraising dinner was indeed an Emerald O’ccasion as some 500 supporters of the social-service agency joined in celebrating former executive director Father Ragan Schriver.
The 2014 event, held March 13 at the Knoxville Marriott hotel, was planned as a tribute to Father Schriver, who completed his service leading Catholic Charities Nov. 30. Catholic Charities of East Tennessee also held annual dinners in Kingsport on March 6 and Chattanooga on April 3.
Father Schriver, who led Catholic Charities for 14 years, continues to serve as an assistant professor in the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work and as director of programs and services for Catholic Charities USA. He also remains on the Catholic Public Policy Commission.
In opening remarks, Bishop Richard F. Stika praised Pope Francis on the anniversary of his papacy. He also praised Cardinal Justin Rigali, who delivered the closing prayer at the Emerald O’ccasion and was in the College of Cardinals conclave that elected Pope Francis in March 2013.
Bishop Stika then announced the creation of a new Catholic Charities fund, called the St. Francis Fund.
“We’re going to use it to honor a particular person, Father Ragan Schriver, who is a man of goodness, and charity, and kindness,” Bishop Stika said. “We’re going to create this fund to honor Pope Francis as well as honor Father Ragan. So at some point, you’re going to be asked to make a contribution to the (St. Francis Fund), and if you want to honor Father Ragan, don’t just give him a hug, make a donation. That’s my advice to you.”
Bishop Stika praised Catholic Charities for its work in communities across the diocese to extend a helping hand to those in need.
“So often we remind folks that the vast majority who are clients of Catholic Charities are non-Catholic. I think of the 27,000 people taken care of last year —27,000 who would not have been touched in one way or another by the witness and hearts of other people. So in the name of all the people who are touched by Catholic Charities — by volunteers, by staff, by the directors, by whoever it might be. Think of all the people whose names you may never know or might never see. I say to you thank you. I don’t think there are any more profound words in the English language than ‘thank you,’” the bishop said.
“Scriptures remind us that God sees everything we do. I don’t want to speak for God, but I know that God is a good God, a generous God, and a loving God, so much so that he sent Jesus into our lives. And Jesus is the one who reminds us that whoever takes care of the least of my sisters and brothers takes care of me, and so I say again, thank you,” he added.
Before Father Schriver addressed the dinner guests, new CCET executive director Sister Mary Christine Cremin, RSM, expressed appreciation for the work of Catholic Charities staff, board members, volunteers and supporters.
And it was announced that the 2014 recipient of Catholic Charities’ Creating Hope Award was Alcoa Inc., which worked with Catholic Charities and Columbus Home Children’s Services on social-service projects.
Father Chris Michelson, pastor of St. Albert the Great Church in Knoxville, gave a warm, engaging introduction of Father Schriver, who received a standing ovation.
Father Schriver thanked Bishop Stika for allowing him to serve in Catholic Charities.
“I’ve enjoyed every second of it and I’m going to miss it like crazy, but I think it’s a good thing for the agency to have a new leader. So Sister Mary Christine, you’re awesome and you have great things to bring to the organization. It’s the best job in the world and I’m lucky and happy to be able to pass it on to you. You’ve got a great group of people to support you every minute of it and you’re going to love it, so God bless you,” Father Schriver said.
Playing on his trademark “three things” that he incorporates into many of his homilies, and drawing laughs in the process, Father Schriver said the three things he learned while with Catholic Charities were “compassion, community and a little bit of craziness.”
He said “compassion” is a word that comes alive at Catholic Charities.
“It means suffering with people and that’s really what Catholic Charities is all about,” he said. “I think all of us in our minds and in our hearts, we’re able to suffer with the people we serve each day—that we are living out our compassion right now.”
Citing community, Father Schriver referred to a phrase Bishop Stika had earlier said, that Catholic Charities is the “face, and hands, and life of Jesus” to those who need it most.
“That’s what is an amazing gift that our Catholic Church has done for our community. It is truly a pluralistic environment and where the word ‘catholic’ truly comes to life,” he said.
And as for craziness, Father Schriver remarked that in our culture, it is crazy that we must create an agency that takes care of the poor.
“We’ve got to make our lives about service to other people? That’s not what society says. It’s crazy to do that, but do you know what? I’m glad to be that kind of crazy. I’m glad to be that ridiculous. This is crazy,” he said.
“I think it’s crazy that in our country there are 15.1 percent of the people in poverty. That’s 46.2 million people who live in poverty, and that’s not just lower income. That’s people who are living on $24,000 a year for a family of four. That’s gigantic. And you know what? Because of that, I feel like we’re just crazy enough to think that we can make a dent in that.”
Following up on Pope Francis and a key biblical miracle reference by Father Schriver in his final message to CCET supporters, Sister Mary Christine said the work done by Catholic Charities is dependent on the generosity of supporters.
“Since this is the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, it seemed right to quote something he said not long ago when he was reflecting on the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. What he said was, ‘the little that we have, the little that we are, is shared and becomes a treasure because of the power of God, whose love descends to our poverty and transforms it.’
“Each of us in his or her own way is privileged to offer something that God will take and transform with his love and that’s the great blessing that we celebrate here in many different ways,” she said.