Life, Dignity and Charity
Aware of their shared commitment to the ministries that put love into action and protect life and human dignity, several archdiocesan agencies and offices have joined their efforts. The new Department of Life, Human Dignity and Charity, includes Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio (CCSWO), Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV), the Catholic Social Action Office, the Office of Persons with Disabilities and the Office of Respect Life, all under the leadership of Tony Stieritz.
“Our purpose, at an institutional level, is to bring together all of the ministries that relate to living out the Gospel call to put love into the world, protect all life and human dignity and care for creation,” Stieritz said.
“At the core, all of our offices focus on the same principles, so it makes sense to be working together,” said Andrew Musgrave, director of the Catholic Social Action Office. “‘Charity’ gets at the front end of assessing the immediate needs of our work. It’s a very rich word with a lot of deep meaning and this is a chance for us to reclaim it and better understand it. Charity is love connected to mercy, and not just through direct service, but in solidarity, encounter, presence and in walking with people to help them have better lives.”
The experiences and ministries of Tara Dahal and Kathleen Kammer attest to the vital work carried out by theses offices and how they rely on one another.
Dahal, a refugee from Bhutan, fled to India as a teenager. Life had become unbearable, he explained, when the government instituted a policy of “One Nation One People” in 1988. It specifically targeted ethnic Nepali- speaking minority groups and banned the teaching of their language. The program also resulted in land confiscation, the burning of their homes and other human rights violations. He eventually reunited with his parents and siblings at a refugee camp in eastern Nepal, where the family spent the next two decades living in tight quarters with poor nutrition and limited opportunity. They eventually resettled to Denver in 2012, and later moved to Cincinnati to take advantage of the city’s lower cost of living.
Obtaining a position as a caseworker with CCSWO’s Refugee Resettlement Program in 2016 “was a turning point in my life,” Dahal said. “I never would have believed I’d have that type of job. I like helping people and know the pain of being a refugee, the separation from our families and never knowing if we’ll see each other again. I understood the needs of the people, and my work was for them.”
He also worked with the Catholic Social Action Office and met with congressional officials to advocate for higher refugee resettlement numbers.
“Tara told his story, about his time in the refugee camp, how Catholic Charities welcomed him and his family and got them settled in, and they made new lives for themselves,” said Musgrave. “It was a nice crossover between the charitable work and the advocacy work he’s done and represents the connection between service and justice.”
Dahal, the married father of two, became a U.S. citizen in 2017, and while he now works in elderly home health care, he continues to tell his story and advocate for other refugees and the contributions they make to local communities.
“We are 20,000 Bhutanese refugees in Cincinnati, and 90 percent of us are working, paying taxes, supporting our families and our community,” he said. “It’s a boost to the economy, but more than that, we are building community and learning from each other through the sharing of our stories, cultures and traditions.”
Kathleen Kammer attributes her longtime involvement in charitable and justice efforts to her Catholic education and upbringing. The Cincinnati native attended St. Catharine of Siena School, Mother of Mercy, Edgecliff College and eventually earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry at the University of Dayton.
“I was one of six children and my mother always emphasized the importance of helping those in need, and that was reinforced in school,” she said.
As the Director of Religious Education at St. Luke in Beavercreek, Kammer was involved in establishing a program that brought children with disabilities into the regular classrooms. She also volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul and prison ministry. Kammer became well- acquainted with the work of CSSMV as a staff member at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Centerville when the faith community sponsored two Sudanese refugee families, helping them to secure housing and employment.
“We had 65 volunteers working with them, tutoring the children, shopping for the families It was very unifying,” she said.
Over the years, as some of the Dayton faith communities discussed and addressed various social justice issues, they realized their efforts could be strengthened through collaboration. The result was the Weavers of Justice, of which Kammer is a founding member. Comprised of parishes, along with Catholic social service agencies, including CSSMV, and institutions, the Weavers work together on initiatives related to the death penalty/restorative justice and legislative advocacy/food sufficiency issues. The collaborative has also become well known for its annual Ethical Fair Trade Sale, held in conjunction with the Catholic Social Action Office.
“This kind of work just draws you into the humanity of the world, and I think that’s what Christ asks of us. He became one of us,” Kammer said. “We’re all part of His body, and it nourishes you to work on these issues. It’s difficult sometimes, but there’s
also so much joy involved because you’re drawing close to Christ and others.”
Regarding the new Department of Life, Human Dignity and Charity, Kammer said, “I love to see the combining of efforts.
We can do so much more together!”
This article appeared in the February 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription click here.