By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Three hundred thirty-one employees of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans – another 200 staffers had to work – gathered Oct. 26 in Kenner for a staff convocation day in which the watchwords were “inspire, innovate, empower.”
Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri used the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 to illustrate the love that each Catholic Charities employee displays in his or her ministry.
“Love doesn’t run out,” Bishop Cheri said. “Love is the one essential gift that characterizes the community worthy of the name Christian.”
Several Catholic Charities employees gave brief testimonies on what their job – which they consider a ministry – means to them.
Benjamin Wortham of Health Guardians said his outlook changed in the year after he graduated from Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington.
“The plan for me was always to go into the business world of sports,” Wortham said. “I heard about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and decided I was going to do it. Basically the thought was, ‘I’m going to do one year of volunteering and then I’m going into the business world. I checked the box that said, ‘Send me to the South.’ I had never lived in the South before.
“I lived for a year in Mobile, Alabama, with the Jesuit volunteers. It was a real game-changer for me. I worked at a nonprofit called L’Arche, which is a community for people with developmental disabilities. My job was to drive this huge wheelchair van to take members on their own personalized trips. I still have no idea how they let me do that.”
Wortham said he was amazed by what happened to him.
“The slogan for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is ‘Ruined for Life.’ I can honestly say that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps absolutely ruined any business plans I had at that point.”
Wortham eventually did graduate studies in New Orleans, where he met Lyn Schraberg of Catholic Charities. He helped with relief work during Hurricane Isaac.
“I found myself with crisis counselors and Lyn going door-to-door in trailer parks in Lafitte giving out cleaning supplies, which was a blast,” he said.
He joined Catholic Charities’ Health Guardians program 5 1/2 years ago.
“Every year to me has been so much different than the next,” Wortham said. “One of the highlights is that in 2015, I was a brand new, scared supervisor when we opened up the Sacred Heart apartments for the homeless veterans.
“For 5 1/2 years, Dr. (Elmore) Rigamer has been my boss and my mentor and my leader. He really instilled a confidence in me and in our whole team.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.