January 29, 2016

Reflection / David Siler

A challenge to care more deeply about our ‘neighbors’ in Christ

David SilerIn September of 2003, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein entrusted to me the stewardship of Catholic Charities in our archdiocese. I will be forever grateful to the archbishop for this profound privilege.

In addition to being my most challenging professional experience, it has also been rewarding beyond measure. To have been in some way a part of allowing our staff and volunteers to bring healing and hope to hundreds of thousands of suffering and vulnerable people over these past 12 1/2 years is deeply satisfying.

As Scripture tells us, there is a time and a season for all things. I have discerned that my season as the executive director of Catholic Charities has come to an end, and that it is time to allow someone new to take the organization into the next season while I pursue a new opportunity.

What is most reassuring and comforting is that the leaders of our Catholic Charities agencies—David Bethuram in Indianapolis, Mark Casper in New Albany, John Etling in Terre Haute and Joan Hess in Tell City, and O’Connell Case, clinical director in Bloomington—are very dedicated and capable, and have assembled staffs of some of the most amazing people you will ever know. And our agencies are supported by volunteer advisory boards that work tirelessly to shepherd these ministries, gaining nothing in return except for the satisfaction of serving Christ in the form of our most needy neighbors.

As I reflect on these years, I am in awe of the generosity I have witnessed among the people of the archdiocese. When the facility that was used to house Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis for about 25 years was no longer adequate, we were able to raise $4.3 million to build a brand new shelter constructed for the sole purpose of housing homeless families—rather than adapting a former convent built to house one religious sister per room. We now have a facility that matches the excellence of service provided to care for some of our most vulnerable families.

Catholic Charities USA led the way in a new direction following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. For many years, a minor player in disaster response and recovery, Catholic Charities in New Orleans was pressed into service in an unprecedented way. Together with our national office and other Catholic Charities agencies around the country, we garnered resources to aid in recovery for more than five years. We found a serious gap in disaster recovery—long-term response. We witnessed the fact that those who are poor and most vulnerable before a natural disaster are often forgotten and slip deeper into poverty and despair after the disaster.

In the spring of 2008, we experienced a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions when thousands of homes in Martinsville, Columbus and other towns within our archdiocesan boundaries were damaged by the worst flooding Indiana had witnessed in more than 100 years. Following the lead from Catholic Charities USA, and with its direct support, we launched our own very comprehensive disaster response led by Jane Crady, who had worked in Waveland, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, on behalf of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. We were the only disaster relief provider in the affected area for the long term, helping the uninsured and under-resourced in that area for more than two years.

Following the devastating tornadoes in 2012 in southern Indiana in Henryville and the surrounding area, our local Catholic Charities was entrusted with nearly $1 million to rebuild businesses, homes and lives. Led again by Crady and literally thousands of volunteers, Catholic Charities was once again the only long-term provider of disaster relief, maintaining a presence there for two and half years.

By far my greatest ongoing frustration in my role of leading Catholic Charities was to see so many unmet needs that we have not been able to tackle. The needs of the poor and vulnerable are profound, yet we have our limits.

For example, although we have a presence in the small town of Tell City at the southwestern tip of our archdiocese, there is a tremendous need for a homeless shelter. However, to date, we have not been able to find the necessary resources to support a shelter. This same situation repeats itself in nearly every corner of the archdiocese—especially in our rural areas, which happens to constitute the majority of our archdiocese.

I am proud to have played a role in bringing the Indiana bishops’ pastoral letter on poverty to fruition in 2015. After about 10 years as the executive director, I became interested in not only helping to relieve the suffering caused by poverty, but in looking at ways for fewer people to experience it.

Along with our board of directors and a statewide committee of Catholic leaders in social ministry, we hosted a statewide poverty summit in the spring of 2013 at the University of Notre Dame. Following that summit, the bishops of Indiana asked a group of us to begin work on a document that would later become their pastoral letter. I am excited that a study guide to accompany the pastoral letter is being made available for use across the archdiocese.

The hope that I carry with me—and the challenge that I leave with you—are contained in the bishops’ pastoral letter on poverty: that you will all be inspired to care more deeply and faithfully for Christ, found in our suffering brothers and sisters.

May we all go forth, glorifying the Lord with our lives!

(David Siler, former executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities, is a member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.)

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