Extraordinary Servers

Sept. 9-15, 2004
Extraordinary Servers
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
This Year’s Msgr. Charles Brady Winners Exemplify Service

Onondaga County Catholic Charities has announced the 2004 recipients of the Msgr. Charles Brady Awards who will be honored at a dinner and award ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center. The Brady Awards are presented each year to dedicated and selfless individuals who work to improve the quality of life for all people through their actions and hard work.

Marie Cullen, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse, will receive the Brady Award in recognition of her 20 years of service to the food pantry at St. Charles and her overall involvement in providing for the poor in the Syracuse area. Cullen’s dedication to the church, community and the mission of Catholic Charities has helped to feed and clothe more than 300 families. In addition to her work at St. Charles, Cullen contributes to those in need at St. Lucy’s, St. Brigid-St. Joseph’s, Holy Trinity, the Dorothy Day House and Vera House. She also works closely with the Inter-Religious Food Consortium and with the teachers of inner-city schools and social service agencies to deliver food and clothing to marginalized individuals. “St Charles Parish is very generous to the food pantry and other outreach programs here,” she said. The church also provides clothing, furniture and funeral services to anyone who has a need. “The people of St. Charles were welcoming of this ministry,” said Cullen. “I couldn’t do it without their help.”

Cullen is very well known throughout the community. The managers of area grocery stores know her by name. “They run when they see me coming,” joked Cullen. “Especially on buy one, get one free weeks. I buy 10 cases of something and they have to give me 10 cases free.” Cullen credits Sister Mary Vera, CSJ, and Sister Margaret Miller, CSJ, who were members of the Human Development Committee at St. Lucy’s for teaching her everything she knows about providing for the poor. “They taught me the ropes,” she said. “I learned so much from them.” Father James Mathews, pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, has worked with Cullen for many years. “She’s a wonderful, wonderful lady,” said Father Mathews. “I can’t begin to tell you how many people’s lives she’s touched. She never asked questions about anyone’s faith or background. She just embraced them.”

Father Mathews said that Cullen always goes above and beyond when organizing the distribution of food, clothing and toys. “At Christmas, she has all the food boxes carefully planned, making sure she has the right food for each box,” said Father Mathews. “She does it all with great cheer and a smile. She’s a great candidate for this award.” Although she receives many late night phone calls for help and inspires others to give, Cullen is quick to share the award. “I won’t be accepting this award for myself, but for all those who work so diligently to provide for the poor,” she said

The Bernard L. Lawler Leadership Award will be presented to T. Brendan Whelan, Onondaga County Legislator of the 14th district, for his dedication to public service, leadership, courage and compassion through contributions to the community. Whelan, who retired from Niagara Mohawk after 33 years of service, continues to be involved in the energy business. He is chairman of the diocesan energy committee that works to purchase energy for diocesan facilities. As legislator, he serves on the environmental health facility committee, is a board member of the Onondaga County Soil and Water District, Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County and Emergency Medical Services.

Whelan has been a volunteer with the Syracuse Diocese for more than seven years. Ed King, manager of the facilities and construction office for the diocese, said that Whalen has been instrumental in working with the public service commission and other agencies to provide the diocese with the most cost-effective energy. “He has also been very helpful acting as liaison with county, city and state regulatory agencies,” said King. “I think it’s terrific that he is being recognized with this award. It’s well overdue. He really cares about the church.” When asked if he knew who nominated him for the award, Whelan said. “I had no idea I would be considered for the award,” he said. “I am humbled. For me to be almost speechless is something.”

Michelle Haas is the director of Parent Aid Services, the Better Beginnings Program and Healthy Start –– programs made possible through Catholic Charities. Parent Aid Services offers services to parents whose children are identified at risk for abuse and/or neglect. Better Beginnings serves families in which the parents have a chronic mental illness and have children that are under five years of age. Healthy Start provides home visiting services to pregnant women and parenting mothers who have children under the age of two. “The goal of Catholic Charities is to serve the most vulnerable population,” said Haas. “Our most vulnerable population is children and what better way to serve that population than to provide services for their parents,” she said. In addition to overseeing these programs, Haas is actively involved in Catholic Charity fundraisers as well as the Alliance Program –– a program that provides services for families at risk. She also trains and presents information to the community on child abuse and neglect. “I’m the most reluctant recipient they’ve ever had,” said Haas. “I have no idea who nominated me but it’s a great honor. But it’s not about one person. I’m honored to receive it on behalf of the agency. The Alliance staff and director, Mark Clary, do amazing things here and I feel privileged to be a part of it,” she said.

The Community Service award will be presented to Roger Whelan and Mike Curry, owners of Whelan and Curry Construction Services, for their exemplary spirit of volunteerism within the community. The company has volunteered their consulting services for many construction projects throughout the Syracuse Diocese, including Catholic Charities Headquarters and Vincent House on Seymour Street. “It’s a great honor,” said Whelan. “We are always glad to give back to the community.”

Sixteen youth that worked with Project Connect this summer are being recognized with the Volunteer Service Award. The youthsspent their summer working with Catholic Charities in inner-city neighborhoods. Sister Eileen McCann, CSJ, has co-directed the program with Paul Welch, director of Basic Needs at Catholic Charities. “This is the fifth year Project Connect has been in operation,” said Sister Eileen. “There are four years of other children who should also be recognized for their community service. When we present this award to the Project Connect teens, we are also recognizing their predecessors who went before them,” she said. “It’s a great program, regardless of the teens’ motivations for coming. When they leave, every teen is thanking us for the experience,” said Sister Eileen.

Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville will be honored with the Parish Service Award for demonstrating continued outreach services within the community. Father Gregory LeStrange, pastor at Immaculate Conception, said that the parish community strives to make people feel welcome and to minister not only to each other, but also to those in the community. The parish supports programs at the Samaritan Center, Christ the King Retreat House, Francis House, Habitat for Humanity and Cathedral Parish. “When I use the word support, it is two-fold,” said Father LeStrange. “It is not only financial, but is also our presence in getting involved in these places. And we also support the community with our prayers. At almost every liturgy, we pray for those we work with. We get so much more back than we give,” he said. “It heightens our awareness of how we are called to live out our faith.”

Other honorees include those at Catholic Charities and Toomey Residential and Community Services who have reached career milestones in commitment to service.

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