In a time when it can be difficult to find inspiration or soothing for the spirit, hundreds who gathered at Catholic Charities’ annual celebration found both on Tuesday night.
Surrounded by the beauty of the Hippodrome Theatre, they celebrated the successes of neighbors who made strides toward self-sufficiency, and honored individuals who exemplified a commitment to service.

Mercy Health Services Board of Trustees Executive Chair Sr. Helen Amos, RSM, received the Msgr. Arthur F. Valenzano Joyful Servant Award, named in memory of the long-time Catholic Charities board member and rector of the Basilica of the Assumption. Sr. Helen has spent decades committed not only to the service of individuals in need of health care, but steadfastly advocating for individuals experiencing homelessness. Serving for years as the chair of the city’s Journey Home project to make homelessness rare and brief, she treats high-office-holders and people living on the street with the same amount of respect.

Still, she said at the event, she appreciated being called a joyful servant.

“I put it that way because, for me, this award is a calling – a calling to discipleship,” she explained.

Catholic Charities’ Distinguished Service Award went to Ralph W. “Buddy” Emerson, Jr., the now-retired senior vice president of M&T Bank whose more than 30 years of volunteerism, philanthropy and board membership have served Catholic Charities and its clients in diverse and enduring ways. Emerson helped found the now-famous Dragon Boat Races, and led the redevelopment initiative for the Cherry Hill Town Center 20 years ago.

He reflected on his poet-ancestor Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words as he accepted his honor.

“’All persons are puzzles until at least we find in some word or action the key to the man, to the woman: straightaway all their past words and actions lie in light before us,’” he quoted, explaining why he has been involved with Catholic Charities for so long. “[The staff’s] personal commitment that is made up of personal responsibility, personal accountability and incredible personal desire to do the work… this was the attraction for me. This was the answer to Emerson, now in light before me.’”

Pratt Institute freshman Lauren Cole, 18, received the Anne Lindsey Otenasek Youth Service Award for her enduring commitment to My Sister’s Place Women’s Center. Cole said she was proud to be honored in memory of another teenaged, longtime Catholic Charities volunteer who was killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Cole first started volunteering at My Sister’s Place Women’s Center at age 10.

“I still remember the Narcotics Anonymous meeting that was in progress,” she said in a video acceptance she sent from her Brooklyn, New York, campus. “I was so impressed with the way everyone was supporting one another the way my family has always supported me.”

She hopes to use her future career in communications design to convey messages of unity, community, love and support.

The evening also honored five Catholic Charities employees with its Mission in Action Award, for exemplifying the organizations commitments to respecting individual dignity; encountering each person with compassion; acting with humility; reaching out in a spirit of collaboration; serving with excellence, and acting with integrity.

Archbishop William E. Lori expounded on the nature of Catholic Charities’ movement to improve lives, and its focus on love.

“It does a world of good, and, in the face of need, teaches us to love not less, but more,” he said.


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