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Archives Catholic Church ‘at its best’

June 21, 2017

By Mary Lou Kilian

Ogdensburg – When Bishop Paul S. Loverde was seeking a Catholic Charities director for the Diocese of Catholic Charities OgdensburgOgdensburg back in 1995, the Daughters of Charity, then based in Albany, had just decided that they wanted to open a house of sisters in northern New York.

Daughter of Charity Sister Donna Franklin came up for up for an interview and met with Bishop Loverde. “He asked me if I would take the job if he offered it to me,” Sister Donna said. “I was so impressed with the North Country, with Bishop Loverde, with the board members that I met, that I immediately went back, called my superiors and said, ‘I would be very happy to take that job.’”

“I’m still here,” Sister Donna said, “in this beautiful North Country place.”

Sister Donna sat for an interview with the North Country Catholic on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who had worked and studied in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, Sister Donna was immediately attracted to the ministry in a more rural area.

“When I came up here, I was impressed by the sense of community, the lack of huge bureaucracy in the church and the lack of huge infrastructure,” she said. “To me, it was the church at its best, church that hadn’t forgotten its pastoral sense as its priority.

“It was a church that still had that deep sense of Christian community,” she said, “and I realized how much I had been looking for that.

“I also liked the structure of Catholic Charities,” she said.  “it was a small agency with a community organizational perspective. The programs Were directed at groups in need, looking at unmet needs and the identified needs within each county.

Sister Donna still appreciates the character of the diocese she has called home for 22 years.“The hard work of the priests and of the religious and the commitment of the lay people, are very impressive and very inspirational,” she said.

“I think what has impressed me the most has been the care and concern for one another and that the communities have for each other,” Sister Donna said. “That was most evident during the ice storm when you saw communities band together, work together to rebuild, to reach out and help one another.

“Bishop Loverde was the only bishop who went around to every command center, to every shelter,” she said. “He was tireless in terms of providing true servant leadership to the people of his diocese.”

Servant leaders
Sister Donna also lauded Bishop Loverde’s successors.

“We’ve been very lucky in the North Country,” she said. “I’ve served with four bishops and every one of them has been a servant leader, a person of pastoral concern for the people of the North Country. Each of them – Bishop Loverde, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham and Bishop Terry R. LaValley have supported the works of the poor, were sensitive to seeing that people were served, and supportive of both Catholic Charities and their parishes who want to set up programs to serve the people.

“In terms of leadership in the diocese, it’s been a wonderful experience of working with and learning from servant leaders in each of our bishops,” she said.

Taking on dual roles
Through the years, Sister Donna said that what she enjoyed most about her position, “is the ability to do administration AND direct services, to be able to use my skills as a street social worker because that’s simply what I am. I’m a Daughter of Charity and a social worker.

“In terms of administration, what I like best is working with the staff at Catholic Charities,” she said. “I really believe that the leader should go behind the group, should listen to the group and support the staff so that they have what they need to do their work.

“I believe that administration is the last and the least,” she said. “You’re there, but you’re there to support and make sure others have what they need.

“I also need to focus to make sure the mission is maintained, that’s extremely important,” Sister Donna said, “and also insure also that the Catholic identity is maintained. That means scrutinizing proposals that come from the government to make sure that there’s nothing that would go against the teachings of the church.

“It means providing training to staff based on the values of compassion, inclusion, forgiveness and caring, by using Jesus as the role model,” she said.

“From that point of view, to be a mission focused leader is one of my favorite parts of the job,” she said. “There’s a difference between a manager and mission focused leader.”

Sister Donna said that she has also appreciated the opportunity to work with other offices in the diocese.

“I enjoy being, to be able to part of deacon formation program or Formation for Ministry or the North Country Catholic,” she said, “to be able to collaborate with the rest of the diocesan family and to be able to support outreach programs conducted by parishes.”

Future of Catholic Charities:
When asked to consider the future of the agency, Sister Donna said, “I think this Catholic Charities in the North Country has for all these years maintained its community organizing perspective which I think is avery healthy, effective perspective.

“The fact that it’s stayed small and not developed into a large corporate identity has allowed the staff and volunteers to keep their focus on people and not have to work to maintain the corporation,” she said. “I would hope in five years, that would still be the focus.

“I can see it continuing to grow in terms of each county looking at the unmet needs and the underserved and Catholic Charities being able to pick up those pieces, being able to support parishes in developing programs of outreach for persons in need in their own geographic area,” she said. “To me that’s critical.

If money were no object, “I would set up an endowment for each county so that each county would have income, with at least one staff person,” she said.

“We just had a trust come in, Ann Walker left us a trust to support and work with the people in Moira. That’s Port Henry and the surrounding area,” Sister Donna said. “We have the Leahy Fund to help people in Black River area.

“That would be my dream,” she said, “to have a fund for every area of the North Country, for every county.”

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