Chicago Catholic Charities Staff Reflect on Relief Work in Houston
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 by Communications

The Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering was scheduled to be held September 28-30 in Houston this year. After Hurricane Harvey caused mass destruction and flooding in the city, the gathering, which primarily hosts conferences and workshops, was in flux. After it was decided the gathering would still be held, a decision was made that half of the attendees’ time would be out in the field assisting with relief efforts. The neighborhoods visited were on the outskirts of town and many families, whose homes had been completely destroyed, had not been assisted yet.

Sister Donna Markham, President and CEO of CCUSA, said:

"We decided to change the focus of the conference to provide opportunities for these 500 professionals to be turned loose on the city and help." 

Below, those attending the conference from Catholic Charities Chicago share their stories of what it was like to be on the front lines of the relief work.

From Katrina to Harvey

Kathy Donahue, Senior Vice President of Program Development

While serving, Kathy met a woman who was losing her home for the second time because of a hurricane. The woman had moved to Houston from New Orleans in 2005, after losing her home after Hurricane Katrina hit. When asked if she felt comfortable sharing her story, the survivor replied:

“Of course, I trust you. I still have Catholic Charities.”


A former homeowner, she had been renting a home for the past 12 years in Houston and storing her belongings in a shed. The shed was now flooded from Hurricane Harvey and all of her items were on the lawn, ruined. What caught Kathy's attention the most was the woman's perseverance and hope. 

The woman said, "God bless you on your journey and thank you for coming to talk to me."

Canvassing through Chaos

Laura Rios, Vice President of Child, Youth & Family Services

No man is an island... We are all interconnected and need one another."

Laura's task during the conference was to knock on doors to complete intake forms then provide families with the supplies they needed. She remembered that at many of the homes, gates were padlocked shut to prevent others from looting what remained of their belongings.

Laura described the dire circumstances: “Household items, wood, drywall, and insulation littered the road in front of homes. As you stepped closer, the unpleasant musty, mildew smell of water-saturated buildings and furniture was prevalent. It was overwhelming when I realized that many of the residents were still living in these homes. I could only imagine what those conditions were doing to their health. Young children, adults, and senior citizens…”

Blessed and Grateful

Mary Ann Bibat, Vice President of Senior Services 

"It was such an awesome experience being able to work side-by-side with fellow Catholic Charities staff doing what we all do best – helping others. Seeing just how vulnerable so many people still remain after several weeks was overwhelming. I remember feeling very blessed and grateful for everything I have, and offering silent prayers throughout our experience for all those who continue to suffer."

Grounding and Inspiring

Peggy Arizzi, Vice President of Family & Parish Support Services

“If I had one word to describe this experience beyond ‘inspiring’, I would say it has to be ‘grounding’. It truly grounded me in our mission ever more deeply...”

Peggy remembered feeling humbled as she was able to bring her faith to life in a tangible way. She said, “...All seemed to trust that Catholic Charities would see them through.” Peggy recalled feeling unified in a shared mission to meet the needs of clients. She described leaving Houston with “hope” in her heart after assisting those in need.

“It was not just about the material assistance we provided. It never is. That's what makes Catholic Charities different than other helping organizations. It's our spirit. It's how we do what we do with love.”


Can you help those still in need? Support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts by clicking here.

Return | Print