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Stephen Carattini brings heart for service as new CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities

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Stephen Carattini was living an American success story — he had risen through the ranks of an international transportation and logistics firm in Houston to become corporate vice president. He was happily married with two children, and his company was thriving and growing.

“I should have been happy, but I realized I wasn’t happy,” said Carattini, 59. “I realized I needed to do something different.”

That something was a deep dive into the faith he’d always wanted to learn more about. A lifelong Catholic, he decided — with the blessing of his wife, Michelle — to go back to school to earn a master’s in theological studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. When he graduated, he found his way to the world of Catholic Charities, where he discovered a group of like-minded people who wanted to incorporate their faith into their work and share their love and compassion.  

“It was no longer about profit and loss; it was about love and consolation,” he said.

That was almost 20 years ago. After working at Catholic Charities and in similar organizations  across the United States and Canada, Carattini in January brought his business background and heart for service to his latest role as president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. He replaces Art Bennett, who retired after 10 years. 

Carattini reflected on his journey and priorities one recent morning at the agency’s Christ House ministry in Alexandria, where he met with staff, visited the food pantry and stopped to chat with clients staying in transitional housing.

“In other countries, poverty is right there, and you can see it,” said Carattini, who lived in eight countries growing up while his father was an overseas construction contractor. He returned to the states to study international relations at Georgetown University in Washington. 

“Here in the United States, we hide our poor. As a successful business person, I could get into my car and never encounter poverty. I would never have met anyone living in a homeless shelter or someone at a food pantry. I was just the guy writing the check,” he said.

At Catholic Charities, “I’ve been blessed to be able to meet the people we serve, and it’s still a blessing to this day. This is Christ coming to us.”

Carattini takes the helm at a time of tremendous growth; the agency has doubled its annual revenue over the past five years to $16.3 million. Thanks to the generosity of donors, its ministries have been able to respond to dramatic increases in need for food, housing and emergency assistance in the past year during the pandemic.

“People see the good we do, and they respond to that,” he said, adding that “the significant increase in donations imposes an obligation and responsibility on us to use it wisely.”

Stewardship is one of three key areas of Carattini’s focus; the others are identity and integrity. He emphasizes, for example, that the agency, its 130 employees and hundreds of volunteers run ministries, not programs. “Governments run programs,” he said. Anyone can provide a box of food, “but we’re extending God’s love in the interaction, that is what makes it a ministry, and that should be a continuous reflection of who we are as an agency.”

Ministering is not the same as evangelizing, he points out. Catholic Charities serves people of all backgrounds, and “we will not proselytize. It’s not about the other person’s faith or lack thereof, it’s about our own.”

He trusts that if the agency acts with integrity, demonstrates good stewardship and stays true to its identity, “God will bless us with the resources we need.” 

That trust in God’s providence was honed on a life-changing pilgrimage Carattini made in 2012, when he walked 500 miles in 36 days on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

“I am a planner, and when I first started I was very worried about plans. But about a third of the way, I knew I would have a place to stay and there would be food to eat. You learn a lot about humility. I learned to be by myself, walking through the wheat fields and vineyards, and there was time to pray, contemplate, listen and be alone with God. We have to walk in solitude with God and let God be with us. I experienced God’s presence in my life, and equally powerful was the generosity of various pilgrims. When I ran out of water, someone gave me a bottle of water.

“The Camino is a metaphor for life,” he said.

“We are all pilgrims, and my task is to help my fellow pilgrims get to where we’re all trying to go. We are here to help the wounded keep going.”

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021