Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle

Welcome to the first column entitled, “It’s What We Do.” I intend to use this space to bring our readers closer to the lives of those we serve and also to the stories of those heroic men and women who devote themselves to service on behalf of our diocese. Each year we ask every parishioner to consider a special gift to fund our Catholic Charities Appeal. I hope that by sharing glimpses of the people behind the Appeal that you will be inspired to learn more and to discover anew the true value of charity.

Karen Reddy has a favorite expression that she often shares with the women she encounters in her role at Grace House, a transitional housing program that she oversees in New Bedford: “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.” That simple phrase encapsulates so much of her philosophy: tenacity, faith, conviction and hope.

Karen’s journey to her leadership position was fraught with challenges. She was the eldest child of four born to a 20-year Navy veteran. In her youth the family moved to Japan for four years and for many years they would be uprooted every two years. The family roots were in South Boston and when they came back to the States permanently in 1964 they settled in Brockton. 

As the oldest child in the family, Karen chafed at the amount of responsibility and accountability that was placed on her. She began her self-described “wild rebellious side” in the late 60s and early 70s. While she completed her GED in 1982 she still retained an attitude that, she allows now, was not yet ready to confront reality. 

In August of 2007 she walked through the doors of the Catholic Social Service offices in New Bedford. She credits the kindness and wisdom of Sister Clair Chabot, a Bernadine Franciscan, with setting her on the path to a life of service. “Sister Clair saw something in me that helped me to see it in myself. I went from being served to serving others and learned so much about the incredible importance of love and support. It is what makes us whole.”

Karen is now responsible for helping manage many of the services for women under the tutelage of Catholic Social Services’ director Arlene McNamee. “Arlene truly gets it. She knows what women who have fallen need to get back on their feet,” Karen affirms. Together, and with the staffs in Taunton, Fall River, New Bedford and Hyannis, programs such as Grace House, St. Clair’s, Donovan House and Good Samaritan provide tangible examples of hope for the broken.

“I remember a phrase I overheard from a program director at St. Francis House,” Karen said. “In speaking to someone who was bereft and depressed about her current circumstances, she was encouraged to keep hoping by saying, ‘Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.’”  Karen related that she often repeats this mantra to women she encounters today. “There are not enough services for women who faced domestic violence, or homelessness, even though we have made great strides.”  

Karen is enthused by the newest program initiated by Catholic Social Services this winter. Grace House was scheduled to open this past March 28. It happened to occur on one those brutal storm days that virtually paralyzed many parts of New England. By sheer determination, and in her words, “God’s plan,” they were able to open on time and now serve a full complement of women who are seeking to transition back to responsible lives. 

Karen’s personal journey has come full circle. Once a “wild child,” she has resumed a central role in her clients’ success and with her own family. “I was able to help my mother fulfill an important wish,” she said. “When she was stricken with cancer, she wanted to be in her own bed at home when she passed.  We made that happen. Two years ago, I was able to hold my dad’s hand as he passed on Memorial Day. Today it ‘makes my heart smile’ that my niece and I are so close.”

Karen is an example of transformational love and its power. She was helped once and now provides that help to hundreds. Yet she worries about what she calls her “frequent flyers,” women and many youth who continue to require the service she oversees. “We are seeing a lot of young people, ages 18 to 24 who are abandoned. We see more families at our soup kitchens, more need and more in need of that miracle of the moment.”

Scripture tells us that “the poor will always be with us.” Our role as Catholics is to work and care with love in our hearts to treat the poor with the dignity they are entitled to. When that happens, the miracle is often less than five minutes away.

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/St. Mary’s Education Fund.

Editor’s note: “It’s What We Do,” by James A. Campbell, will become a regular Anchor column featuring works and workers who serve the faithful of the diocese.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts