Catholic Charities of North Louisiana: A Bishop’s Legacy

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by Lucy Medvec, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana 

When Bishop Michael G. Duca arrived in 2008 as the second bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, he was surprised to see that there was not a Catholic Charities agency in North Louisiana. Up until that time, outreach in the community had taken place through Christian Service and at the parish level through the works of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Bishop Duca envisioned the formation of Catholic Charities as the Diocese of Shreveport’s response to helping those in need and being an agent of positive change in the lives of those being served.

Jean Dresley, Catholic Charities’ first executive director, remembers seeing the position advertised in her parish bulletin. After several weeks of contemplation, she applied for the position and went through the interview process. In her second interview, she met with Bishop Duca and was offered the job at the end of the interview. She recalls feeling “scared to death” at the time, but also believed that “God was pulling me to this moment to use whatever small gifts I had to serve Him.” With a new executive director in place, Catholic Charities of Shreveport (CCS) opened its doors in August 2010.

In the early days of the organization, Dresley received guidance and mentoring from both Bishop Duca and Sr. Pat Cairns. Sr. Cairns had supervised two other Catholic Charities agencies and understood the challenges of a young organization. Dresley credits Cairns’ experience and presence during this time as making a huge difference in the success of Catholic Charities.

Some of the initial challenges CCS faced included forming a board of directors, finding a place to start serving clients, and most important, securing funding for the organization. Dresley began seeing clients immediately and it soon became apparent that CCS would need its own location. The organization moved into the rectory and sanctuary of the former St. Catherine of Siena Church, located in the Cedar Grove neighborhood, one of Shreveport’s poorest areas.

As the organization grew, so did its service area, expanding across the Diocese of Shreveport’s 16 civil parishes. Catholic Charities of Shreveport changed its name to Catholic Charities of North Louisiana in 2014, with satellite offices opening in Lake Providence and Monroe. Under the guidance of its current executive director, Meg Goorley, CCNLA has expanded its staff to nine full-time and six part-time employees, and provided services to over 3,500 people in 2017.

Bishop Michael Duca at Bingo on the Bayou - a special fundraising event for Catholic Charities of North Louisiana.

“Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see how to fix a problem,” explained Goorley. “Ten years ago when Bishop Duca arrived, he could immediately see that the Diocese of Shreveport was in the middle of one of the poorest sections of Louisiana and he was committed to doing something about it. Because he knew that Catholic Charities in Ft. Worth and Dallas were effectively helping the poor and vulnerable, Bishop Duca laid the groundwork for Catholic Charities of Shreveport by hiring Jean Dresley to create an organization worthy of its name.”

Throughout its existence, Bishop Duca has been unwavering for his support of Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. Whether it is giving much-needed financial support, donating his time and culinary skills as auction items, calling bingo numbers at our annual fundraisers, or just lending words of advice, he has been the organization’s number one cheerleader.

Because of his vision and actions, thousands of people throughout North Louisiana have received education and assistance through Catholic Charities’ many programs, including Money School financial literacy, emergency assistance, Gabriel’s Closet parenting program, healthy eating classes, disaster relief and immigration legal services. The Diocese of Shreveport and all of North Louisiana have benefited from his presence, guidance and leadership. Catholic Charities of North Louisiana is honored to be a part of his legacy.

Thoughts from CCNLA staff members: 

“In my interview with Bishop Duca after he offered me the job, he told me to let him know if I ever needed help. He gave me his cell phone number and told me call him if I needed something. I never needed to use that cell phone number, but it speaks to his commitment to CCNLA and to me personally. I am still humbled that he offered me the job.” – Jean Dresley, Executive Director, 2010-2016

Jean Dresley, former Executive Director of Catholic Charities, and Bishop Michael Duca, at the opening of CCNLA's Monroe office.

“What I will remember most about Bishop Duca is how intelligent he truly is and how carefully he makes decisions by taking into consideration everyone and everything involved. I will always appreciate him giving me the opportunity two years ago to lead this organization which is so close to his heart (and now mine), and I pray that I can continue to uphold his admirable legacy.” – Meg Goorley, Executive Director

“Bishop Duca is an admirable, kind, generous, thoughtful, funny man. In the past four years, I have witnessed him advocate wholeheartedly on behalf of CCNLA, rallying support and infusing hope. His dynamic presence has touched many lives and will leave a significant void in his wake.” – Kelly Vaden, Director of Finance and Human Resources

“I am thankful to Bishop Duca for his mission to help those in need, show Christ’s love and start Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. With his continual support of our organization, we have grown from assisting less than 100 the first year to well over 3,000 this past year in three locations.” – Allison Kulbeth, Intake Coordinator

“Because of Bishop Duca’s vision of CCNLA, we have been able to help so many mothers through our Gabriel’s Closet program. What started out as a small program helping just a few mothers, has now blossomed into a bigger program that has helped hundreds of mothers in the past few years. Whenever meeting with Bishop Duca, his kind, caring, and humorous characteristics always shine through. We will definitely miss him and wish him nothing but the best in his next journey!” – Suhad Salamah, Benefits Manager and Gabriel’s Closet Coordinator

“Bishop Duca’s immeasurable support of Catholic Charities has allowed us to help thousands of individuals and their families throughout North Louisiana. His enthusiasm and love of people has helped make our annual bingo fundraisers fun and successful events for our organization. His homilies and speeches are always memorable and teach valuable lessons. We were blessed to have him lead our diocese for the past 10 years.” – Lucy Medvec, Director of Development and Communications

“Bishop Duca was the first, and has continued to be one of the most ardent and dedicated supporters of the Immigration Legal Services Program of Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. Words cannot express how grateful we are and how much he will be missed.” – Briana Bianca, Immigration Attorney

“Bishop Duca has been a champion for the poor, the underprivileged and the immigrants in our community. He has been our leader and the backbone of support for Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. Simply put, he is just a wonderful human being and will be greatly missed by our social services community and by those of us who have had the pleasure of getting to know him personally.” – Carl Piehl, Director of Financial Stability

“As a Catholic woman living in the Diocese of Shreveport, I have a great deal of admiration for Bishop Duca. For me, his final words in the promotional video for CCNLA in 2014 ‘…when the doorbell rings [at Catholic Charities], I’ll make sure there is somebody there to answer that door, every time,’ is a moment of blessing. I am also very grateful to him for being so clear in his stand on the side of immigrants and for showing Christian love towards them.”
– Gilda Rada-Garcia, Immigration Advocate

“Bishop Duca has impressed me greatly over the years with his humility, approachability and wisdom. While his preaching and conversation are extremely practical and relatable, his insights into the person of Jesus Christ and his confident proclamation of the gospel consistently inspire me to greater zeal and love for God. I am grateful for his constant support of Catholic Charities, as well as his ecumenical work and other endeavors around the diocese, but especially for his witness as a man of God, a man of faith, and a servant of the people.” – Joe Bulger, Case Manager •

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