Catholic Charities Gala ‘Transforming Lives’ of Those in Need

Bishop Alfred Schlert, right, greets honorees, from left, Msgr. John McCann and Rosemary and Judge William Ford at the 11th Annual Catholic Charities Gala March 4 at DeSales University, Center Valley. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

A festive evening of faith, fellowship and fun garnered $240,000 to help those in need, as 451 faithful, the second highest attendance in the gala’s history, gathered for the 11th Annual Catholic Charities Gala March 4 at DeSales University, Center Valley.

Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert extended congratulations to the evening’s honorees, noting, “Their longtime commitment to living the Gospel message of service with special attention to the poor among us is an inspiration every day.”

“Their exemplary dedication to their respective vocations is reflected in their generosity of spirit that brings the light of Christ into the community,” said Bishop Schlert.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Allentown – which provided vital services for more than 20,000 individuals and families last year throughout Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties – held the gala with the goal of raising funds to increase services for the less-fortunate in our communities.

This year’s gala honored Msgr. John McCann, pastor of Immaculate Conception BVM, Douglassville; and the Honorable William and Rosemary Ford, parishioners of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown.

The evening featured live and silent auctions, a special appeal, presentations to the honorees and a raffle.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be honoring Msgr. McCann and William and Rosemary Ford, who, throughout their lives, have exemplified and supported the mission and services of Catholic Charities in their communities,” said Diane Bullard, Catholic Charities’ executive director.

Evelyn and Anthony Carfagno served as gala chairpersons for the second year.

Laurie Gostley Hackett of Air Products was the evening’s master of ceremonies. Bishop Emeritus Edward Cullen prayed the invocation. Paul Wirth, chairman of the Catholic Charities Board of Directors, introduced the honorees.

Bishop Schlert presided at the Medallion Presentation to Msgr. McCann and the Fords.

The medallion is an award unique to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown. It is presented to individuals who, or organizations that, provide compassionate services and “care for our community.”

“I can now say I’ve been awarded a bronze medal,” Msgr. McCann said, referencing the recent Winter Olympics.
Msgr. McCann voiced his gratitude for the “extraordinary privilege” of working with Catholic Charities. “Those were wonderful years working on behalf of those in need.” He recalled an older priest had told him, “The work of charity and justice are the beautiful facades of the Church.”

Msgr. McCann said while working with the Catholic Social Agency (CSA), the former name of Catholic Charities in the Diocese, a little boy came in for emergency foster care placement, accompanied by the police who had removed him from the home where he had been living. “He had dirty clothes, lice and recoiled in fear. It was heartbreaking.” The same child came in months later with his foster mother wearing a radiant smile and no trace of fear.”

“Doesn’t that show the transformative power of love?” asked Msgr. McCann.

He also remembered a homeless man, “Polka Johnny,” who came into the soup kitchen. “He was an agent of God’s love. He always thanked the volunteers for preparing the meal.” People like Polka Johnny, “despite their difficulties and poverty, they too have gifts and talents. His sincere and profound gratitude enriched the lives of the volunteers,” Msgr. McCann said.

“The CSA staff was extraordinary. They treated every client with respect,” he said, noting they embraced the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.

“You are inspiring as well. Through your generosity you are transforming lives.”

As the Fords took to the podium, Rosemary Ford said, “Bill and I are honored by this recognition. We see so many family and friends here who see the good Catholic Charities does in the Diocese.”

Rosemary Ford spoke of a 93-year-old woman who was an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home. “All she wanted to do was go home. But she delighted all who came in her room talking about what her Joy ornament meant: Jesus first, others second, yourself last.”

“Let us remember with joy much can be accomplished … joy has already guided you,” Rosemary Ford said. “May God bless you.”

Anthony Carfagno presented the first-time award for Lifetime Service to the Catholic Charities Gala to Paul and Patty Huck, who have served on the gala committee since its inception.

Auctioneer Tony Luna presided at a live auction, with items including a soup to nuts dinner for eight prepared by Father Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph, Summit Hill; and two tickets to a Yankees vs. Red Sox game donated by Peter and Robin Puleo. An “angel bidder” cast the $10,000 winning bid for dinner with Bishop Schlert at his residence.

Luna also presided at a Catholic Charities pledge appeal for community support, counseling, pregnancy and parenting support, and soup kitchens.

Students from Allentown Central Catholic High School, Bethlehem Catholic High School and Notre Dame High School, Easton sold tickets for the Catholic Charities raffle.

First prize was a Magical Evening in Manhattan, two tickets to “Hello Dolly” starring Bernadette Peters including a meet and greet with Peters, dinner for two at the famous Sardi’s Restaurant and round trip limousine service.

Second prize was an Apple iWatch. And third prize was an overnight stay at Holiday Inn Express Williamsburg North, plus a round of golf for two at Kiskiack Golf Club, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Catholic Charities told its story via a video screened at the gala. The video may be viewed by visiting Catholic Charities’ website,

In addition to the Carfagnos, gala committee members were Lina Barbieri, Patty and Paul Huck (past co-chairs), Sister of Mercy Janice Marie Johnson (past honoree), and Sabina and Stephen Olenchock (past co-chairs).

The Topper Foundation was the Title Sponsor. Partners in Compassion Sponsors were Anthony and Evelyn Carfagno, Joseph Hixson and Shirley Knecht-Hixson, and Air Products.

All proceeds from the gala will support Catholic Charities’ programs and services in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.

Services include: emergency food pantries; soup kitchens in Allentown and Pottsville; family counseling; housing assistance; pregnancy and parenting support; support services for veterans and their families; support for older adults; adult day care in Orwigsburg; immigration services; and adoption.

Msgr. McCann
Msgr. McCann graduated from Marian High School, Tamaqua and began his college studies at Allentown College of St. Frances de Sales (now DeSales University), Center Valley.

After completing his first year of college, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia to begin his studies for the priesthood.

In 1980 he was chosen by then Bishop of Allentown Joseph McShea to complete his studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical Roman Seminary and the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, Italy.

Msgr. McCann was ordained to the priesthood in 1985, after which he returned to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

He completed an internship at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family in 1986. Also that year he was named assistant pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall and served as an advocate on the Diocesan Tribunal.

In 1987 he was transferred to Immaculate Conception BVM, Allentown and assigned to the Catholic Social Agency (now Catholic Charities) and Social Action Bureau of the Diocese of Allentown, where he held a variety of direct service and administrative posts.

In 1992 he was awarded a master’s degree in social work from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Msgr. McCann was appointed executive director of the Catholic Social Agency of the Diocese of Allentown in 1994.
In 1995 he was named a Chaplain of His Holiness by Pope John Paul II.

In addition to his leadership role at the Catholic Social Agency, Msgr. McCann also served as a member of the Social Welfare Department of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference 1994-98. He served as moderator of this department 1995-98.

In 1998 newly installed Bishop of Allentown Edward Cullen appointed Msgr. McCann vice chancellor of the Diocese of Allentown and secretary to the bishop. He was appointed secretary for clergy and chancellor of the Diocese in 1999.

Msgr. McCann was named pastor of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sacred Heart, Nesquehoning in 2002; and to his current position as pastor of Immaculate Conception BVM, Douglassville in 2006.

In 2007 Msgr. McCann was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI.
Msgr. McCann has been active in a variety of community-based organizations, serving as both a member and officer of various governing and advisory boards. He also serves as a member of the Berks County Mental Health-Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board.

William and Rosemary Ford
Rosemary Ford attended Allentown Central Catholic High School (ACCHS), Immaculata College and DeSales University.

When the couple’s youngest child went to school, Rosemary began work as a kindergarten aide at the Cathedral School, now St. John Vianney Regional School, Allentown.

A current member of Women’s Alliance of the Cathedral, she served on its board for more than 30 years. She also is a member of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and serves as a Eucharistic minister.

William Ford served for 24 years as a trial judge on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.

He began his legal career in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Division, where he was trial counsel at courts-martial. After his military service, he entered the private practice of law. He also prosecuted all manner of criminal cases as an assistant district attorney.

He was elected judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Lehigh County in November 1991 and retained for a second 10-year term in November 2001. He retired in 2015.

For 15 years he was an adjunct faculty member at DeSales University and at Chestnut Hill College in its graduate program.

He has served on the boards of the Lehigh County Bar Association, Sacred Heart Hospital, ACCHS and DeSales University. He also has done other church and community work, including 30 years as a coach with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).

The couple was married in 1971 at St. Francis of Assisi, and has 11 children and 32 grandchildren.