Kathleen Donnellan was celebrated as the Living a Faith that Does Justice Award winner.
Kathleen Donnellan was chosen by the Social Action Coordinating Commission to be this year’s 11th recipient.
Kathleen worked for 42 years with Catholic Charities in Dayton, OH, Lansing, MI, Toledo, OH, Ft. Wayne, IN and Cincinnati, OH. Born in Springfield, OH, Kathleen has three older brothers. Her mom lived with her until her death. She graduated from Wright State University in their first class with a sociology degree and then Fordham University for her Master’s in Social Work. She was a recipient of a Catholic Charities Scholarship for part of her education.
Kathleen stated that Catholic Charities USA was established in 1910 and initially served Catholics seeking a better life for their families. These immigrants were hugely successful and by the end of the Second World War the majority were part of the growing middle class. In the late 1960s, CCUSA underwent an intensive discernment process to define its mission and establish service priorities. While maintaining a commitment to serving the Catholic community, the organization established a direction to serve those most poor and vulnerable with a dual commitment to quality service and social justice advocacy. As a result, CCUSA is the largest private provider of services in the country.
Kathleen went on: “My first job at Catholic Social Services in Dayton was as an Adoption Services Social Worker. I can still remember the excitement and joy in placing a young baby girl in the arms of the adoptive parents. In my work I learned about the two sides of adoption. Watching adoptive parents when they first met their child and understanding the years of waiting and anticipation they had lived through was awesome. I also came to realize the pain and struggle of birth parents as they made the most difficult decision of their young lives. Usually these were high school or college-aged kids dealing with an untimely pregnancy and they came to the realization that they were not prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood. Instead they made the difficult decision to entrust the care of their child to others. They would never forget that child. I hope they found peace in their decision with the knowledge that their decision was an act of generous love.
“Years later, when I was working as the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, we had the opportunity to provide adoption services to children who were in the permanent custody of the public welfare agency. Permanent custody of these children was given to the county because of abuse and neglect. When we took on this program there were over 400 children in our care. We were able to reduce that by 75%. Most of these children were older, part of a sibling group, and with physical, mental or emotional challenges. The agency had two core beliefs about this program, first that every child deserves a permanent, loving home and secondly, no child is ‘unadoptable.’ I met some outstanding adoptive parents who truly made a difference in the lives of these children.
“I think that Refugee Resettlement is one of the strongest programs provided by Catholic Charities agencies. In the United States, there are six non-governmental not-for-profit organizations with contracts with the US Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to do the actual work of resettlement. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is the largest, resettling about 60% of refugees granted admission to the US. Refugees are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. My most satisfying work through the years was with the refugees because it brought back memories of my family. Three of my grandparents were immigrants. My German grandmother was a nine-year-old orphan who came by herself to live with an aunt and uncle. She didn’t speak English. She experienced Ellis Island before she moved to the west side of Cincinnati next to St. Michael’s Parish. Every Saturday she attended extra classes to learn English when the church signs were in German. I once toured St. Michael and
the signs were in Spanish.
“I will always remember one refugee, Joseph, who came to Cincinnati from Africa about fifteen years ago. Joseph and his three sons had been living in a refugee camp for over six years. Life in a camp is boring. Families live in a single room; meals are served
cafeteria style. Children attend school and language classes are offered but there are few other activities for adults. Joseph was concerned that his children would not see their father working. So, he volunteered for every activity open. He became an aide in the school.
“When the family finally received approval to come to the US, Joseph was elated. He continued his volunteering and was
determined to find a job as quickly as possible. He (and all the resettlement staff) were thrilled when he found employment in one of our downtown hotels. Two weeks after he started working Joseph came into our office with a huge grin. “Look at my paycheck; see, now I am a taxpayer.” Every April 15 I think of Joseph and while I can’t say I have the same level of happiness about paying taxes, I am reminded that paying taxes is a responsibility for the privilege of living in this great country.”
Kathleen feels that every Catholic should go to the airport to see the refugees’ families arrive. It is a special moment in life. She started Project Rachel in Toledo and Ft. Wayne which was also a very satisfying accomplishment.
Kathleen joined IHM in 2004 but the majority of her time was spent in caring for her mom at Mercy St. Theresa. In 2009 she joined the Social Action Commission and is their current secretary. She is responsible for the SACC articles for the HeartBeat. This year, she and Joanne Middlekamp chaired the IHM Angel Tree project.
Kathleen is a role model who continues to influence those around her. For instance, Kathleen’s niece, who was living in Norway, was teaching unaccompanied minors who had found refuge in Norway.
Congratulations Kathleen for your life filled with social justice!