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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Catholic helping hand


CATHOLIC CHARITIES, the social service arm of the Archdiocese of Boston, is refining its mission to focus on families and especially their children. A tour at the new Shaughnessy Family Center of Laboure in South Boston shows that the agency is doing its work well in a caring, nonsectarian setting.

The only hints of religion yesterday were a crucifix in a small room near the lobby and a statue of a Sister of Charity. These are reminders of the impact of the sisters and the church in general in South Boston, where the Knights of Columbus established a nursery school in 1907. This grew into a second building and became the Laboure Center, named after a canonized Sister of Charity. The social services offered there had long outgrown these two buildings.

The new center was born out of Mayor Thomas Menino's desire to expand social services at the West Broadway housing development. The new center replaces an abandoned building there. The city's Economic Development and Industrial Corporation contributed $1.5 million, and Catholic Charities provided the rest of the $9.5 million cost, with special help from the construction magnate John J. Shaughnessy and his wife, Mary, for whom the building is named. It will be dedicated tonight.

The 8,000 people who receive services there each year are among 175,000 clients of Catholic Charities. There is no attempt to proselytize; rather, according to Joseph Doolin, president of Catholic Charities, the work is an expression of the church's mission to help people in pain, alone, or otherwise marginalized.

Catholic Charities has been so active that it is now overextended, and the sexual abuse scandal in the church limits the ability of the archdiocese to raise extra money on its behalf. Catholic Charities is refocusing its mission on helping families, with an emphasis on immigrants, while gradually moving away from resource-consuming residential programs.

The 15 Catholic Charities program offices will be consolidated into six large centers, of which the Laboure is the first. Judging by the programs operating there, this will lead to a better use of limited resources. Already 96 children are enrolled in the day-care program, as are 36 adults who cannot remain at home because they are elderly or medically impaired.

Sister Maryadele Robinson, Laboure's director, talked excitedly about activities that will be made possible by the new space - an afterschool program and computer center for older children and a joint effort with local artists to encourage budding talent.

For the last nine months the Catholic Church in Boston has been reeling under the impact of the abuse scandal. The work of the Laboure Center and other Catholic Charities agencies is a reminder that church initiatives to help the needy continue a long history of service.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 10/4/2002.
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