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Catholic Charities president Art Bennett retires

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When a person needs assistance from Catholic Charities, it's usually one of the more difficult periods of their life, said Art Bennett, president and CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities. They could be facing homelessness, illness, unemployment, an unexpected pregnancy or the challenges of living in a new country. Catholic Charities staff encourages clients to see their difficulties as a chance for growth. 

“We only talk to people who have big problems, so we want to show them the opportunity this presents, and also to give them hope and support,” said Bennett. He’s fostered that mindset among the employees and volunteers of the organization too, which has helped them push through obstacles and serve even more people in need throughout the diocese. Now, after 10 years at the helm, Bennett is retiring. His replacement, Stephen Carattini, will take over Jan. 4. 

Diocesan Catholic Charities serves the community in many ways, including providing food for the hungry through the St. Lucy Project, running two free medical clinics, providing adoption services, transitional housing, mental health counseling, emergency financial assistance, a prison ministry, workforce development, and immigration and refugee services. 

Before coming to Catholic Charities, Bennett, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, founded the Alpha Omega Clinic, which offers mental health services from a Catholic perspective at locations around the Washington area. Some of the Catholic Charities programs such as immigrant and refugees services were relatively unfamiliar to Bennett. “But they seemed exciting so I gave it a shot,” he said. 

Over his tenure, Catholic Charities has evolved from 100 employees and 1,000 volunteers to 130 employees and 4,000 volunteers. They’ve gone from having one counselor in a parish to 18 counselors in 18 parishes. He’s most grateful for the growth of the St. Lucy Project and the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinics. 

At its start, the effort to feed the hungry centered around the food stored in the basement of Christ House in Alexandria, said Bennett. Now, the St. Lucy Project has a warehouse in Manassas, three food pantries and partnerships with several more pantries to serve the seven cities and 21 counties that make up the diocese. 

The creation of the Manassas Mother of Mercy Clinic began when members of the BVM Foundation, a trust formed by local Catholics, purchased the office space where a recently closed abortion clinic operated, then offered the location to Catholic Charities. “Mother of Mercy is one of the most radical transformations I’ve seen,” said Bennett. “From an abortion clinic to a free clinic that primarily (serves) immigrants.” A second clinic in Woodbridge opened this year. 

Bennett has been incredibly impressed by how much time and money people give to Catholic Charities, and the support shown by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde. He sees it as a manifestation of their love for God. “The faith really comes down to love and service. (If) you have deep love, you’ll want to show that through serving others. People get that,” he said. “(Care for the poor) is not an add-on. Christ always stopped to help the poor. He went from town to town to hang out with the poor. It's the core message of the Christian faith.”

In his retirement, Bennett plans on doing marriage therapy again, spending time with his grandchildren and helping Catholic Charities in any way he can. It’s been a rewarding 10 years, he said. “This has been the best job of my life by far.” 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

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