Immigrants And Refugees

Underneath the Blue Whale, Catholic Charities Gala Highlights Outreach to Immigrants and the Hungry

Catholic Charities New York Gala 2022

By Peter Feuerherd

Beneath the iconic Blue Whale exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, some 700 benefactors enjoyed a meal, entertainment, and stories about giving at the 2022 Catholic Charities Gala on June 8.

The event, the first in-person since the COVID pandemic began, was planned to raise $2 million. By the end of the evening, organizers said it had generated nearly $3 million to support the 90 agencies and programs which assist New Yorkers from all religious backgrounds.

The whale provided an apt metaphor for the work of Catholic Charities, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a main speaker at the event.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivers remarks at the Catholic Charities Gala. Photo: Catholic Charities New York

“One of the safest places in the ocean is under the belly of a whale,” said the cardinal, noting how the massive sea mammal provides shelter for vulnerable fish, who latch on to the giant to shield them from predators and other dangers.

“That’s what Catholic Charities does,” he said, noting the agency’s programs that assist the vulnerable in seeking solace and security.

Emceed by WNBC news correspondent Lynda Baquero, the program featured a video about Catholic Charities’ work. Stories included Charities’ work with Mohammad Mansour Ishaqzoi, an Afghan immigrant who fled his native country as its government fell to the Taliban last summer. Another story included an interview with Nishi Akter, a Fordham University scholarship student who was assisted with food aid by Abraham House, a Catholic Charities agency in the Bronx.

They are why we are here tonight

“They are why we are here tonight,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, in his opening remarks. “They represent the hundreds of thousands Catholic Charities helps each year.”

Msgr. Sullivan said that Catholic Charities continues its work despite a wider social atmosphere of violence, political turmoil, and war in Europe.

Counselors continue working with troubled families, such as the boy who said in a counseling session his older brother was being tried for second-degree murder.

Catholic Charities work isn’t for the faint of heart

“Catholic Charities work isn’t for the faint of heart,” said Msgr. Sullivan.

In a sign of solidarity for those suffering from the war in Eastern Europe, Catholic Charities’ benefactors listened as The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York sang A Prayer for Ukraine, followed by God Bless America.

Broadway musical performer Andrea Burns reprised her role in In the Heights, a musical based in Washington Heights, the site of the youth-oriented work of Alianza, a Catholic Charities agency.

Andrea Burns. Photo: Catholic Charities New York

Her performance, which included There’s A Place for Us from West Side Story, was followed by the presentation of the Deus Caritas Est Award to Thomas P. (Todd) Gibbons, chief executive officer of BNY Mellon, in recognition of his charitable contributions.

In his acceptance speech, which garnered a standing ovation, Gibbons described how the missions of Catholic Charities and BNY Mellon overlap in their concern for the vulnerable.

He noted how BNY Mellon employees worked on providing 600 iPads to hospital patients afflicted with Covid in the early days of the pandemic. He said the iPads “allowed Covid patients to communicate with their loved ones,” particularly for those who died but were still able to say goodbyes to family and loved ones despite lockdown isolation.

Gibbons, who is planning to retire from BNY Mellon this summer, serves as CEO for the firm and joined the Bank of New York in 1986. He serves on boards for both Pace University and Wake Forest University, schools where he earned graduate and undergraduate degrees.

Todd Gibbons, CEO BNY Mellon, delivers his Deus Caritas Est Award address. Photo: Catholic Charities New York

While the evening was highlighted by high-end benefactors and Broadway-level musical entertainment, the purpose was perhaps best summarized by Tanya Zondo, who worked the event as a server.

Ms. Zondo spontaneously offered thanks and hugs to Catholic Charities workers attending the gala. Seven years ago, with the assistance of Catholic Charities Immigrant & Refugee Services, she earned a permanent residency in the United States after fleeing her native Zimbabwe. She said her presence at the gala would not have been possible without the assistance of the agency.

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