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Looking back and Looking forward

By Dan Lester, Former Executive Director of Catholic Charities

Seven years ago, as I was glancing at my weekly parish bulletin at St. Thomas More Newman Center, I noticed a small advertisement from Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.  The agency was seeking a new executive director.

My first thought was, “I didn’t know we had a Catholic Charities in our diocese.” My second, “Wow, I bet that would be an interesting job.”  My own journey of faith had led me through the RCIA process in 2009/2010, and one of the foundations of my love for the Catholic Church is the commitment to serving, “the least of these.”

The parable of the sheep and goats, the Good Samaritan, the Beatitudes, and centuries of encyclicals and lived tradition all pointed to the importance of Catholic Charities and the crucial role it plays in the life of the Church. To say I was intrigued would be an understatement.

A bit of research led me to the Catholic Charities website, where I learned that the agency had been founded in 2011. They were part of a larger, national network of Catholic Charities agencies and belonged to Catholic Charities USA. Locally, programs included refugee and immigration services, prison and jail ministry, and counseling. 

The mission of Catholic Charities, “Inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes as proclaimed by Jesus Christ, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri is committed to providing care and creating hope for the lives of the vulnerable through compassionate social services that respect the dignity of each person and engage the local community in our mission,” seemed like a perfect fit for a Catholic with a heart for service and a background in social work who was looking to combine their faith with their profession.  So, I took and chance, and applied.

What a journey the last six- and one-half years have been, serving as the executive director of this agency, dedicated to providing compassionate social services to those in need, regardless of faith, culture, or situation. As my tenure ends, I am grateful for this opportunity to share one last reflection with the readers of the Catholic Missourian. I would like to share just a few of the many things I am thankful for from my time at Catholic Charities, as well as a few hopes for the future of CCCNMO.

First, I am grateful for the co-workers who have dedicated themselves to serving the vulnerable and marginalized in mid-Missouri. Their willingness to provide care and create hope during dark times for those seeking aid from Catholic Charities embodies our Gospel call to provide food for the hungry, welcome to the stranger, and care for the sick and imprisoned. Our staff are an example for all of us and I am proud to have walked alongside them for a time.

I have had the great fortune to work with both Bishop Gaydos and Bishop McKnight during my time at Catholic Charities, two incredible leaders. Both Bishop Gaydos and Bishop McKnight are staunch supporters of Catholic Charities and our work, and their concern for those struggling with poverty of mind, body, and spirit throughout the Diocese is evident in their support not just of Catholic Charities but all good works of charity provided by parishes throughout our 38 counties.  We are all fortunate to have had their leadership. 

Finally, thank you to all of the supporters of Catholic Charities. We have been blessed with donors, volunteers, and board members who have exemplified the stewardship way of life through their willingness to give of their time, talent, and treasure to allow us to serve those in need.  Because of your support, we have been able to respond to our communities during times of natural disasters, continue to welcome victims of war and terror from all around their world to their new homes of safety and care in mid-Missouri, provide food to families who otherwise would go without, educate parishioners, Catholic school students, and the community on the beauty and richness of Catholic Social Teaching, and expand our work in ways that I could not have dreamed of when I started this job. Thank you.

Where would I like to see Catholic Charities in the future? I am hopeful that in the coming years I will read all about Catholic Charities expansion here in the pages of the Catholic Missourian, as I believe there is great need, and great potential to serve, throughout the Diocese of Jefferson City. The realities of providing social services in a diocese as large as ours is challenging.

The predominately rural nature of the diocese means that services can be few and far between, along with staff to provide those services. However, strategic use of larger community hubs throughout our service area could allow for more Catholic Charities offices, and expanded use of tele-health that allows providers to meet with clients remotely could be of great benefit. 

I have no doubt that Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri will continue to be a shining light throughout the diocese for many years to come. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this beautiful ministry. My life has been changed for the better. May God bless you and keep you.

Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, Catholic Charities worked to provide hope and relief with mobile resources available to communities throughout their 38-county service area, predominately stationing their Mobile Resource Unit at Catholic parishes across the diocese.
Catholic Charities staff, led by then Executive Director Dan Lester, tour the Central office amidst construction during the Open Hearts, Open Doors campaign.
The names of Catholic Charities staff members and others involved in the Open Hearts, Open Doors campaign to renovate the Shikles Center into Catholic Charities’ Central Office in Jefferson City are etched into custom stained-glass windows with the “Open Hearts, Open Doors” motif by creator Jim Wisch. The open door without locks symbolizes the welcome of those in need to enter safely into receiving the care they need, regardless of faith, culture, or situation.
In 2011, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri celebrated ten years of service in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Since the founding date, the agency has grown both in diversity of services offered and number of staff delivering services, with an eye to expanding program reach among counties in the Diocese of Jefferson City in the future.