Catholic Charities honors Holy Cross president at Spring Celebration

BOSTON -- Over 250 guests gathered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on May 17 to attend Catholic Charities of Boston's annual Spring Celebration Gala.

Kelley Tuthill, the chief operating officer of CCAB, and Father John Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, served as emcees for the event, which recognizes Catholic Charities' supporters and raises crucial funds for their programs.

Kevin MacKenzie, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, spoke about the recent and ongoing work of their programs, which cover four core areas: Basic Needs; Family and Youth Services; Refugee and Immigrant Services; and Adult Education and Workforce Development.

Their recent achievements include the creation of a modern regional food pantry in Lynn, the renovation and reopening of El Centro Adult Education Center in Jamaica Plain, the launch of Welcome Circles in response to the Ukrainian War, and the expansion of the Healthy Families program supporting first-time parents with young children.

MacKenzie acknowledged that much of their work in refugee and immigrant services "would not be possible" without the support and collaboration of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the broader Jewish community. He thanked Rabbi Marc Baker, the president and CEO of CJP, who was among the guests present that evening.

"Your generosity is having an incredible impact every day," MacKenzie said.

A highlight of the Spring Celebration is the presentation of the John and Virginia Kaneb Justice and Compassion Award, which recognizes those who exemplify justice, compassion, and service to others. Catholic Charities has presented this award for over 15 years and renamed it last year in honor of the first board chair of Catholic Charities and his wife.

This year the award was presented to Vincent D. Rougeau, president of the College of the Holy Cross, in recognition of his work as an expert in legal education and Catholic social teaching.

In a video presented during the celebration, Rougeau, his family, and colleagues talked about his life and career. His parents were involved in the Civil Rights movement, so from a young age he saw them "making sacrifices and putting themselves out into the world," hoping to make it better not only for themselves, but for all people. He began his career as a lawyer for a large practice in Washington, D.C.

"I knew, pretty quickly, that I wanted my work to be connected to my values in a meaningful way, and I saw the opportunity to do that in terms of my professional life by becoming an academic and teaching," Rougeau said in the video tribute.

He was a tenured law professor at Notre Dame Law School and served as their associate dean for academic affairs from 1999 to 2002. He served as dean of the Boston College Law School from 2011 to 2021 and was also the inaugural director of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America. In July 2021, he became the 33rd president of Holy Cross.

In his remarks at the celebration, Rougeau commended Catholic Charities' work and spoke about the "reciprocity of generosity" that they represent.

"When we give to the work of Catholic Charities, we also receive invaluable gifts from those who are in need. We are reminded of our own blessings and privileges, but we also are connected to the realities of the fragility of all of our lives. Our brothers and sisters in need remind us that we can take nothing for granted. In outreach to them, they reach back to us, to call us into community and membership with all members of our society," Rougeau said.

Between the speakers, a video was shown in which actual requests to Catholic Charities were read. Among them were desperate appeals from families in need of food assistance, gas money, and a security deposit.

The emcees also shared brief stories. Father Unni said the video reminded him of a time in his own childhood when his family needed assistance. After his father died, his family struggled with food security, and they received food through the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Tuthill spoke about a recent encounter she had while visiting Catholic Charities' shelter in Dorchester. She met a 10-year-old boy who had walked for 70 days to get from South America to the U.S. border. Thanks to Catholic Charities' material assistance and case management, he is now in Boston Public Schools, and his parent is in the process of getting a work permit and a job.

"We save each other on so many different levels," Father Unni said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley also offered closing remarks and a blessing. He thanked Rougeau for his presence.

"The witness of your life and your faith is an inspiration to all of us," he told Rougeau.

The cardinal reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan, the model of what it means to be a neighbor.

"When Jesus wants to teach us who our neighbor is, he chooses the most unlikely example to teach us that our neighbor isn't necessarily the person who looks like us or talks like us or belongs to the same club and lives on the same street, but particularly the person who is in need. And that's what Catholic Charities is about, discovering our connectedness, honoring the dignity of every human being," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He also expressed his gratitude to the donors, sponsors, and volunteers present.

"We are so proud of the wonderful work that is done at Catholic Charities, but it would be impossible without your support, your sacrifice, and your prayers," he said.