By Joe Lee
MADISON – Let this sink in: the majority of those served by Catholic Charities are not Catholic.
If that comes as a surprise, consider the organization’s mission, which is to be a visible sign of Christ’s love by helping those who are unable to help themselves; the poor and vulnerable, especially children, women and families.
As final preparations are being made for the annual Bishop’s Ball – which will celebrate Catholic Charities’ 60th anniversary – executive director Wanda Thomas and her team are hard at work assisting the many victims of the March 24 tornado, an EF-4 that was on the ground nearly an hour and took the lives of 21 people in Rolling Fork and Silver City. There’s also significant damage in Amory.
“We are responsible for responding to any individuals in need within the 65 counties covered by the Diocese of Jackson,” Thomas said. “We have outlying offices and programs within the metro Jackson area as well as Raymond, Natchez and Vardaman. We are in the process of starting a new program in Greenwood.”
Those services include adoption and therapeutic foster care, domestic violence emergency shelters, the Born Free/New Beginnings residential substance abuse treatment for mothers, unaccompanied refugee minor group homes, and community-oriented, home-based services for youth at risk of needing psychiatric residential treatment.
There’s also Healing Hearts outpatient mental health clinic, disaster services, support services for veterans and families, kinship navigation services to prevent youth from needing foster care placement, rape crisis and sexual assault, emergency assistance, afterschool tutoring and a summer camp program.
“A lot of the work is behind the scenes, done discreetly and confidentially, but with great devotion,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “This ministry is a vital part of the work and the mission of the Diocese of Jackson. It really goes to the margins, to the most vulnerable in our communities. It’s what the Gospel is all about, and what Pope Francis speaks about. We reach out to people who will never know us, and never be able to repay us.”
If you’re new to the area and haven’t attended the Bishop’s Ball before, it’s a wonderful opportunity to hear more about an organization that could definitely use your assistance right now. The annual event is also great fun, based on a track record of many generous donors returning again and again.
“When I entered the building (for the first time), I began working on the Bishop’s Ball,” said Marsha Burton, senior engagement and major gifts officer with Catholic Charities and a new addition to the team. “The live music this year will be a jazz band to set the mood of quaint and classy. We hired a decorator who will decorate around a diamond theme; the 60th anniversary is a diamond celebration.
“The teamwork from within the agency here is outstanding. This year’s Bishop’s Ball Samaritan Award is being presented to St. Dominic Comprehensive Cancer Center for the compassionate patient care they provided throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To my knowledge, this is the first healthcare team to receive the award.”
Johnny Maloney and his wife, Sharon, have chaired the Bishop’s Ball in the past, and the Cowboy Maloney family have been honored with the event’s Samaritan Award.
“Besides the great food and fellowship, the Bishop’s Ball has a silent auction and a live auction,” Maloney said. “In the past, the last live auction item has been a dinner with the Bishop at his home for eight people. Attendees get groups together and bid as a party of eight, and that makes the auction fun.”
“I see Catholic Charities as an extension of our parishes,” said Rusty Haydel, who estimates that he and his wife, Yvonne, have attended fifteen Bishop’s Balls over the years. “They’re doing the work that Jesus would want us to do.”
“All the Bishops hold a special place in our heart,” said Mike Crandall, “but we must say that Bishop Kopacz, through his leadership and involvement with Catholic Charities, has become our favorite. He stepped into the ministry at a crucial time, and the organization has thrived through his leadership and encouragement.
“Catholic Charites has allowed Susan and I to have an avenue to give back to society, a mission that we are passionate about. Our goal is that when our time comes and we are called home, we will leave our community in a better place. We work with a lot of nonprofits, but Catholic Charities is our favorite because it serves so many people.”
For more information on the Bishop’s Ball or to sponsor or purchase tickets, visit: https://event.gives/bb2023