WASHINGTON(February 17, 2005) – Msgr. Neil A. Connolly will receive the Year 2005 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award for his decades of work to empower the people of New York City's impoverished neighborhoods. The national award is given annually by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, and will be presented here February 20.
Since his ordination for the Archdiocese of New York in 1958, Fr. Neil has advocated for the rights of changing populations in his care, helped tenants get heat and services in poorly maintained buildings, organized residents to address housing and safety issues and developed long-term leadership among groups of local people.
In his first assignment, as an associate at St. Athanasius parish in the South Bronx, Fr. Neil helped parishioners access the social services they needed. "We had all kinds of situations here, including poverty, immigration and exploitation," explains Fr. Neil, "and the people needed the services that were offered by the City and State of New York, but the bureaucracies were not responding to the people." Fr. Neil spent hours on the phone, helping individuals get the benefits to which they were entitled. "It was frustrating being an advocate," he says, so he became an organizer. "As an advocate, I could help people with specific problems, but they would eventually have to make their own case on a different issue, so it made sense to organize people to make changes in the system." He describes organizing as "getting people to identify the levers of power and then being able to work them."
Fr. Neil and other members of the Bronx Clergy Coalition put their emphasis on organizing tenants in poorly maintained buildings. In the 1970s, he and others founded South Bronx People for Change to address the problems of the blighted neighborhoods. These included abandoned buildings, rampant fires, drug abuse, subway station safety and price gouging in local food markets. South Bronx People for Change received a $100,000 grant from CCHD.
As Vicar for the South Bronx in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Fr. Neil worked with clergy, religious and laity in the community to promote organizing and encourage economic development. "The South Bronx had to be rebuilt," he says, "and since people were part of the problem, they needed to be part of the solution. They had to know that they were capable of working together to change things for the common good."
In his current position as pastor of St. Mary's parish on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Fr. Neil was a founder of Lower Manhattan Together, which has been supported by CCHD grants in order to address neighborhood issues such as housing, education, traffic and parks. Fr. Neil describes CCHD as "the best organization I have ever worked with," and frequently lauds CCHD's low overhead costs.
Fr. Neil was nominated for the Development of People Award by George Horton, Director of Social and Community Development for the Archdiocese of New York. Mr. Horton says, "Fr. Neil really cares about the people in his programs. He is able to touch the lives of many different people in a faith-filled way that makes the world a better place and brings Catholic Social Teaching alive." Mr. Horton adds that Fr. Neil "is a great partner with our office, offering counsel, and developing programs with CCHD." Fr. Neil is a current member of the local CCHD Advisory Committee and is working with the New York Archdiocese to develop a CCHD and social justice training program at St. Joseph's Seminary.
The Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award, named in memory of the late Presentation Sister who served as executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a member of the Catholic Bishops' Committee for CCHD, honors an individual whose life exemplifies a commitment to the development of people and the elimination of poverty. Recipients of this award have made significant contributions to human development and have offered heroic responses to the needs of the economically disadvantaged. The award was established in 1987 and was called the Development of People Award until 1997, when it was renamed in Sister Margaret Cafferty's honor after her death.
Fr. Robert Vitillo, CCHD Executive Director, said, "Fr. Neil exemplifies how the development of people and their subsequent growth in power, self-esteem and the confidence to change oppressive conditions, is central to the work of the church. We are inspired by the tenacious way that he puts the Gospel mandate into everyday action both through his pastoral service and his commitment to justice among the People of God. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is honored and proud to have Fr. Neil among its supporters and grantees."
CCHD is the largest private funder of anti-poverty programs controlled by the poor in the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established the Campaign in 1970 to support self-help efforts of low-income people, to address the root causes of poverty and bring to life both Scripture and the Church's social teaching. Since then, CCHD has distributed more than $270 million in grants to more than 4,000 projects dedicated to helping people overcome their own poverty.
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, chairman of the USCCB Committee on CCHD, will present the award to Msgr. Connolly on Sunday, February 20, at the Annual Combined Social Ministry Meeting in Washington, DC.
More information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and poverty in America can be found at its websites: www.usccb.org/cchd or www.povertyusa.org
Editors: A color photo of Msgr. Connolly will be available on February 21. To request the photo or for additional information, contact Barbara Stephenson, CCHD, 202-541-3364, email@example.com