The archbishop likes to say, “We serve people not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”
Staff at Catholic Charities often repeat Archbishop John Vlazny’s words as a reminder of their calling to help all those in need, regardless of faith, race or color.
Portland’s retiring leader is also Catholic Charities’ leader because the organization is the social service arm of the archdiocese. Over the last 16 years, those who work for the agency have had cause to be grateful on more than one occasion for the vision and wisdom of Archbishop Vlazny.
Dennis Keenan, the former executive director who worked alongside him for many years, recalls how the archbishop graciously allowed the organization’s capital campaign for a new headquarters to take precedence over his own fundraising aims.
“We met with him to seek his support and direct assistance in securing gifts from major donors and he enthusiastically said ‘Yes!’ He allowed our campaign to precede his own for funding the needs of the archdiocese,” Keenan said.
Keenan also pays tribute to Archbishop Vlazny’s positive attitude in the face of difficulty: “I truly see in him a man who reflects the love and generosity of the person to whom he has dedicated his life, Jesus Christ.”
During the period in which Archbishop Vlazny has had oversight of Catholic Charities, the agency’s annual revenues have more than quadrupled, from $2.6 million to $11 million and nearly 600 units of affordable housing have been developed or rehabilitated. Service levels have increased more than 500 percent.
Pietro Ferrari, the current executive director of Catholic Charities, is grateful for Archbishop Vlazny’s help and support.
“We feel extremely blessed to have had his pastoral guidance and graceful spirit over the years that have strengthened our resolve to provide help and bring hope to all those in need,” Ferrari says. “We will miss the pragmatism and great sense of humor that grace his personality.”
Despite their sadness at Archbishop Vlazny’s retirement, staff and board members at Catholic Charities say they look forward to working with his successor, Archbishop Alexander Sample, and beginning a new era for the organization with him.