On Thursday night, October 28th, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh presented the annual John J. Carey Award to Bill and Ann Werdel of Sacred Heart Parish in Raleigh. The Carey Award is presented each year to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to social ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh and shown a strong commitment to the Church's social mission.
The Werdels were nominated for the award by, among others, Msgr. Jerry Sherba, Judicial Vicar and Chancellor of the Diocese, and former Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral; Fr. Dan Oschwald, current Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral; and Rick Miller-Haraway, Director of the Raleigh Regional Office of Catholic Charities.
Msgr. Sherba recalled meeting the Werdels as he was beginning his ministry at Sacred Heart. “They came to me with a proposal.” he said. “They would work for one dollar a year and begin a ministry of outreach to the poor. They would be Staff members -- thus the one-dollar “stipend” -- with an office in the Parish Center, where there would be direct contact with those in need.
“What grew from their proposal came to be called ‘the Door Fund’ (but most people refer to it as 'the Open Door'). It’s supported by second collections at the Cathedral as well as people who generously donate directly. Each person who comes is greeted, offered a seat, a drink, maybe something light to eat and is interviewed. While no money is given directly to the person, monies are forwarded to landlords, utility companies, etc. Sometimes bills are paid in full; most of the time something is given so that the person does not lose their home or their utilities. Emergency bags of food are given out. In the winter, coats are distributed.
“There have been countless times I have heard folks who come to Cathedral say that this was the first (and sometimes the only) time they were treated as persons; treated with dignity and respect. The Werdels personify this respect. Thanks to them, the Cathedral is the only Church in downtown Raleigh that relates directly to those people in need and helps them personally.”
Fr. Oschwald echoed Msgr. Sherba. “An army of parishioners would testify on their behalf,” he said in his letter of nomination. “But the best testimony comes from the countless hundreds if not thousands they have assisted in their years of ministry here at Cathedral. One conversation with just one of these folks reveals the depth of devotion, love and service Bill and Ann have for proclaiming the Gospel in action. They are an inspiration to me in my priestly ministry and are genuine witnesses of the Lord's call to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, take care of the downtrodden.”
Rick Miller-Haraway noted that the Werdels’ service goes beyond their parish. “Bill and Ann are active in advocacy for peace and justice issues throughout the community,” he said. “They are frequent visitors to City Council and County Commissioner meetings when issues of justice for the poor are being considered. They are active participants and leaders in Congregations for Social Justice. They are active in the advocacy efforts to end homelessness and to increase affordable housing. They are also active in People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and in efforts to promote comprehensive immigration reform. If there is an injustice occurring in their community, you will find Bill and Ann on the forefront of working to bring about justice.”
“I am really grateful for the honor,” said Mrs. Werdel. “I’m grateful to Monsignor Jerry and to Fr. Dan who have offered us such an amazing place to be both with God and the poor at Sacred Heart.” In her acceptance, she urged others to “open the door and encounter the poor by name. Open the door, and risk being overwhelmed, because God and the poor are overwhelming,” she said. “Have the courage and trust to know that we don’t have personal or parish resources. It’s only in experiencing the failure and allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed that we are drawn in to the larger community.”
“This thoroughly and completely is a parish ministry,” added Mr. Werdel. “Ann and I have simply had the privilege to be a part of it, and we have no illusions that we are accepting this award on anyone’s behalf except Sacred Heart Cathedral.” He noted, “Sharing our time and our treasure with those who have nothing is a great gift, not to them, but to us.”
The Carey Award was presented during the annual Diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development Banquet. Among those present were Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Sacred Heart staff, Open Door volunteers and Catholic Center staff. (See story on CCHD grants.)
Above: Rick Miller-Haraway (left) and Ms. Kathleen Walsh (right) with Mr. & Mrs. Bill Werdel, 2010 John J. Carey Award recipients at banquet held at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary.