March 17, 2023

Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day and Frances Brown to be honored at gala

By Natalie Hoefer

At its annual Giving Hope-Changing Lives fundraising gala, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany presents one or two Spirit of Hope Awards to honor those who have contributed generously of their time and talent in helping the organization and those it serves.

Frances Brown and Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day will each receive a Spirit of Hope Award at this year’s gala, to be held on April 20 at The Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky.

“St. Elizabeth has been blessed to have two such loving and caring people as part of our team,” said agency director Mark Casper. “We are very proud to have them receive the Spirit of Hope award this year.”

This year’s winners are featured below.

‘A ministry of presence’

Frances Brown, 81, was on a routine trip to the grocery recently. Being a self-proclaimed “people person,” she struck up a conversation with the store manager. And being a devotee to the mission of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities, she mentioned the organization.

“He said, ‘If I can help in any way, let me know,’ ” Brown recalled. “I said, ‘I will—what have you got to give me now?’ He gave me 10 bouquets.

“Run if you don’t want to help, because I’ll take you up on it if you say yes!”

The story embodies comments about Brown by Casper.

“Fran is unique in that she is very effective in inviting and connecting other people and organizations to St. Elizabeth and donate their time, talent and treasure to further the St. Elizabeth mission,” said Casper.

Brown, a member of Epiphany Parish in Louisville, Ky., has been a member of the St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities executive board since 2009. She said she likes to “direct folks to the ministry and bring them onsite to try to raise awareness of the mission and this wonderful organization.”

She does more than call others to serve the charity—Brown devotes much of her time to helping and mentoring the residents of the maternity home, emergency shelter and domestic violence transitional program.

“I started mentoring a young lady” at the maternity home in 2009, she recalled. “I took my sewing machine one day to see if she might be interested in sewing. That was the start of my beginning to be in the maternity home pretty much on a weekly basis and providing programs for the residents. That grew to a team approach to facilitate sewing, crafts, games and cooking.”

Sewing projects—with neighbors and friends Brown also recruited—now include making blankets, hats and scarves for the charity’s Marie’s Blessings distribution ministry and the supported living program—a ministry near to Brown’s heart as a former special education teacher.

Spending time with the women served by St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities is “a ministry of presence,” she said. It’s part of the Benedictine spirituality of “listening with the ears of your heart” she’s learned as an oblate of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad.

“The Church is about community, being a community of people that work and pray for the good of others,” she noted. “It gives me great pleasure to connect with people and listen to their stories. … You never know what piece of a puzzle you’re plugging into someone’s life and what they’re plugging into yours.”

Brown engaged with others years before joining the St. Elizabeth board. She joined her husband Charlie, a retired deacon of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., in helping those he served since his ordination in 1996.

“We could write a book because we’re joined at the hip,” Brown joked. “Serving others is the way we answer God’s call.”

She said she was “humbled” to receive the Spirit of Hope Award.

“I only accept it because of other people I have collaborated with through the years, either on the board or other volunteers,” she said. “I really feel their prayer, support and encouragement—we’re all a team.”

A team, perhaps, but with Brown serving as a role model, said Casper.

“Fran leads by action,” he said. In doing so, he said “she challenges all the St. Elizabeth stakeholders to do more every day.”

Just ‘doing my duty’

Father Day has spent 45 of his 56 years as a priest serving in the New Albany Deanery. His roles there included parish administrator, assistant pastor, pastor, high school teacher and dean. Despite retiring in 2022, he still serves as sacramental minister for St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight and St. Mary Parish in Navilleton.

That is a list of his official appointments.

But an unofficial role he took on for himself was as a volunteer and promoter first of St. Elizabeth Maternity Home when it was founded in 1989 and then of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities after the two organizations joined in 2004.

Father Day supports the charity because “it’s a good way of serving the needy and poor. They find themselves in a bad situation and struggling to make ends meet. They’re people in need of a helping hand.

“I’m always amazed at how the ministry responds to so many needs here in southern Indiana and the Louisville area, too. If there’s a possible way of responding, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities does.”

Father Day said he promoted the ministry and encouraged people to support it during his years serving in the New Albany Deanery. And he would volunteer and attend events when he could.

But now that he’s retired, he has more time to help at St. Elizabeth in person. One of his favorite programs to volunteer with there is Marie’s Blessings community distribution service, which provides free

baby food, diapers, formula, clothing, car seats, baby beds, household items, appliances and furniture to local families in need.

He was pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville when the late Marie Robertson, founder of the formerly named Marie’s Ministry, started the service.

“She had that ministry going there [at the parish] for years,” Father Day recalled. “When she passed away, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities picked it up to serve the poor and needy.”

Father Day said he likes “to meet the clients, to be as friendly as I can be. When people come asking for something, I try to do my best not to do anything to make them feel uncomfortable and to be as welcoming and kind as I can be.”

He recalled one young woman who sought help at Marie’s Blessings.

“Obviously, she was in a terrible situation, just ready to cry,” Father Day said. He was touched “just to be able to console her, that she’d be OK, that we would help her in every way we could. That’s what strikes me about that ministry.”

Recently, Father Day has also been available to offer Mass and bless new sculptures at the organization’s Holy Trinity Heritage Park located next to the St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities administration building.

“As St. Elizabeth director, I can say Father Sonny has always been there when an issue arose where his experience and guidance was always available,” said Casper.

He said the priest’s “actions of support and guidance to St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities has contributed to the growth and community support of the St. Elizabeth mission. In both his spoken word from the pulpit and his actions, Father Sonny Day challenges us all to live out the works of charity Jesus called us to.”

Father Day said he was surprised to hear he was chosen to receive the award.

“I just thought I was doing my duty, and that’s what I will hopefully continue to do.”

(The Giving Hope-Changing Lives Gala will take place on April 20 at The Galt House Hotel, 140 N. Fourth St., Louisville, Ky. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and dinner will be served at 7 p.m. The evening will include client witnesses, videos and a live auction. Three virtual auctions will also take place from March 21-April 20 at, with a preview available on March 17. Items will be Derby-themed from March 21-31, general from April 3-17 and premium from April 13-20. The gala will end between 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Register to attend by April 5 at or by calling 812-949-7305 or e-mailing

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