The Catholic Charities 95th Anniversary gala was held on Saturday, April 9th at the Mystic Marriott. The evening began at 6:00 PM with a cocktail hour and Silent Auction, where 63 items were on display in the foyer and three adjoining rooms. In the Mystic Ballroom with over 150 in attendance, Most Reverend Michael R. Cote, D.D began the evening with a blessing of the “Flames of Remembrance” candles and the opening prayer. Kevin Hogan news anchor at WFSB, Channel 3 was Master of Ceremonies. Kevin invited Henry Tessman, youngest son of Executive Director Edward Tessman and his wife Kathleen, to the podium to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Among those in attendance presenting proclamations recognizing Catholic Charities were State Senator Cathy Osten from the 19th Senate District, State Representative Emmett Riley and Mayor of New London, Michael Passero. The General Assembly of the State of Connecticut also sent citations to each of the honorees. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy, U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and Mayor of Norwich Deberey Hinchey were unable to attend, but sent proclamations.
It was a very special evening honoring individuals in our community who have made a difference in the lives of others, through their charitable works. Those honored were: “Humanitarian of the Year” – Meg Gustafson has been providing homes for babies in need for decades. Meg and her family have provided round-the-clock care for 27 newborn babies since 2002! In the time that Meg has been with Catholic Charities, not one hospital request has been denied, accepting a new baby into her home within a mere 24-hour period. At the time Meg applied to be a foster mother, her two children were six (6) and ten (10) years old and she said how fortunate she was to be a stay-at-home Mom to her daughter and so. When her children were in school full time, Meg said she felt it was the perfect time to be a foster family. She said “to love and nurture and care for an infant would be a joy and a blessing for us.” If caring and loving 27 newborns has been a blessing for Meg and her family, there is no doubt that the blessings received by those babies has been immeasurable.
The Willimantic Advisory Board was chosen as “Community Servants of the Year.” This group of dedicated individuals, Jack Lester, Annette Murphy, John McGill, Lynda Nappi, Joyce Peters, Gary Pillion, Pat McGill and Beth Murphy has been raising funds for the Willimantic Office of Catholic Charities for many years, their largest raised approximately $2,000 this past October. This group is passionate about what they do and are committed to do all they can to help meet the needs of those who come to the doors of the Willimantic Office.
Jacqueline Keller received the “Honoring our Heritage Award” for her numerous contributions to Catholic Charities. Jacqui has served Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Norwich for the past 37 years. In 2013, His Holiness Pope Francis, awarded Jacqui the Pro Ecclesia et Pnotifici Cross of Honor Medal, the highest honor awarded to a layperson for Distinguished Service to the Church and Supreme Pontiff. For the past 60 years, she has been a member of the Secular Order of St. Francis.
Special thanks to our $2,500 Anniversary Sponsor, Stephen and Patricia Coan, and Gala Sponsors Michael and Angela Arnold, Mr. & Mrs. Edward Tessman, Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Capano, Sr., Ms. Jacqueline Keller, Ms. Christine Jackel, Mr. Everest Brustolon, Chelsea Groton Bank and Dime Bank.
In his closing remarks, Bishop Cote stated “The fact that so many people have come together with such enthusiasm and joy is a true testament to the commitment that Catholic Charities has made in our community to improve the lives of others.” Catholic Charities USA is the second largest provider of social services in the United States, second only to the Federal government.