REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT: Program director calls on politicians ‘to do what is right’

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Joe Haas speaks at a Feb. 22 immigration vigil outside the Federal Building in downtown Erie. As coordinator of Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program, he has seen the immediate effects of changes in U.S. immigration policy.                                           Photo by Anne-Marie Welsh


    Joe Haas, executive director of Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services (CCCAS) of the Diocese of Erie, challenges elected leaders “to do what is right, not what is politically expedient” in the face of uncertain U.S. immigration policies.

   Two executive orders on immigration issued by President Donald Trump since January have been widely criticized at home and abroad, resulting in dozens of legal challenges. Meanwhile, the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program in Erie already has seen the effects of the travel restrictions.

   In the fiscal year ending this coming September, the number of refugees arriving in Erie is expected to drop to 197, a decrease of nearly 40 percent from the previous year, according to Haas, who also serves as coordinator of the Charities resettlement program.

   He expects to see his refugee resettlement staff permanently downsized by at least half as a result of the decrease.

   The travel ban of refugees from several majority Muslim countries continues to be challenged in court. However, a 120-day freeze on all new refugee arrivals remains in effect.

   The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which oversees Catholic Charities programs nationwide, has seen a number of refugee resettlement programs close due to lack of referrals.

   “Our politicians are tasked with keeping us safe, being mindful of economic costs of service delivery, but also living up to the principles of who we are as a nation of immigrants,” Haas said.

   In his position, Haas sees up-close the effect the executive orders have had on the lives of displaced people. On Feb. 22, he shared his viewpoint at an immigration vigil sponsored by the Benedictines for Peace outside the Federal Building in downtown Erie.

   The vigil was one of many held throughout the country that week, calling for the U.S. to follow Pope Francis’ call to “build bridges” instead of walls. President Trump, after taking office in January, had issued his first executive order calling for the immediate construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

   In his statement at the vigil, Haas said: “Religious leaders of all faiths have condemned this action, not based on politics, but based upon human dignity and living up to who we are as a country.”

   Since its founding 40 years ago, CCCAS, an affiliate of Catholic Charities, has helped more than 3,000 people establish a new life in Erie, Haas said. These individuals were forced out of their homes across the globe due to war, persecution or natural disaster.

   “Usually within less than a year, they [refugees] are entirely self-sufficient, productive members of our community,” he said.

   Haas agrees that there is room to enhance and improve the system by which refugees are welcomed to the United States. Yet, he disagrees with the assertion that refugees do not undergo a vigorous review process.

   “Every refugee entering the United States has undergone a thorough vetting process that lasts, on average, between 18 to 24 months,” Haas said.

   Haas acknowledged the work of other organizations in Erie that have committed to helping the refugee community: the St. Benedict Education Center, the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, the International Institute, the Multicultural Resource Center, and the Erie School District.

   He asked the larger community to pray for those refugees settled in Erie who are separated from family in other parts of the world.

   “Help our elected officials to properly discern how to keep our country safe, but to also allow families and loved ones to be reunited,” he said.

42 YEARS of RICE BOWL: Mexico’s office head visits region

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Cecilia Suarez, center, the office head at Catholic Relief Services in Mexico, stands with two women are are part of the De Cierto Verde project, Cactusito Cooperative in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The program benefits from Rice Bowl contributions.  Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services



For more than 40 years, a cardboard box has symbolized the Lenten tradition of the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign.

Generations of Catholics have inserted pocket change into Rice Bowl boxes, providing enough money worldwide to assist humanitarian programs and services in 40 to 45 countries.

In a recent visit to the northeastern United States, Cecilia Suarez, the office head at Catholic Relief Services in Mexico, saw first-hand the commitment of parishes and schools to the Rice Bowl campaign. The Diocese of Erie has supported Rice Bowl since its inception in the mid-1970s.

“I am very thankful and impressed with what Catholics in the United States are doing for the poor,” Suarez told FaithLife in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “Rice Bowl is a way to build bridges of solidarity between the Catholics in the United States and Catholics in other countries.”

A native of Mexico, Suarez understands the difficulties faced by 50 percent of Mexicans who live in poverty. About 20 percent, she said, live in extreme poverty, while many others are middle class or even wealthy. Such growing inequality prompted Suarez to work for CRS.

“For me, it’s a question of how can we have such an incredible amount of problems right here,” Suarez said. “I really want to commit to social work to be able to solve some of these issues.”

In her role at CRS in Mexico, Suarez is responsible for helping local partners—such as church and civic organizations—to think of creative ways to deal with violence, drugs, rural poverty and migration.

Current immigration orders issued by President Donald Trump, she said, concern many Mexicans. His proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border likely will not solve the real issue, which is development, she explained.

“By investing more in helping Mexico increase developmental opportunities, businesses would then be able to help people actually face the struggles that are here,” she said. “With better tools and more resources, this would provide more opportunities for people to stay home instead of migrate.”

Upon returning to Mexico, Suarez expects to share her observations of the many parish communities and schools in the U.S. that assist the poor throughout the world and in their own communities.

Born into a middle-class family in Mexico, Suarez believes Mexicans need to do more to create better neighborhoods and empower individuals.

Meanwhile, contributions to Rice Bowl continue to be essential, she said, adding, “The American Catholic community is really providing for the world.”

To obtain a Rice Bowl box or to participate in inspirational Lenten activities, go to

Women contemplate vowed religious life: 28 attend Miriam Dinner


Claire West, a Gannon University freshman, is considering the possibility of entering a religious community.


    At age 19, Claire West is like any college student trying to find her calling in life.

What sets her apart is that she’s passionate about doing something that isn’t lucrative monetarily, nor is it popular in today’s fast-paced culture.

A Gannon University freshman, she’s considering the vowed religious life.

“It’s kind of a different path in this time that we live in, but my parents are supportive. It came as a little bit of a surprise to them, but right now it’s a discerning process,” she says.

A graduate of Erie’s Blessed Sacrament School and Villa Maria Academy, West enrolled at Gannon for its academic and spiritual environment. Even as a kid, she was curious about the religious life; her aunt is a sister in Iowa.

In February, West joined 28 other young women who attended the first-ever Miriam Dinner offered in the Diocese of Erie.

Organized by the Vocation Office, under the direction of Father Michael Polinek, the dinner offered women the opportunity to explore their interest in religious communities and to hear the personal vocation stories of priests and sisters.

Bishop Lawrence Persico joined six women religious from five different orders in sharing their reflections.

“It felt good to see so many young women show up,” West says. “It helps to realize that we’re not alone in wanting to pursue what God has planned for us.”

Religious communities of men and women throughout the country have struggled in recent years to increase their membership.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), more than two out of three religious institutes that responded to a survey had no one entering in 2015.

Despite this statistic, West believes there is a resurgence in young people searching to make a difference in a world besieged by violence and a variety of other social ills.

“More people my age are looking for something more wholesome to do with our lives, to do something more true than what the world gives us,” West says. “Young people are looking to be a good influence and to make the world better.”

At Gannon, West is a member of a weekly faith-sharing group and is active in campus ministry.

Next year, she hopes to participate in a university-sponsored mission trip.

Father Polinek intends to offer more Miriam Dinners in the future. More vocations may arise from sharing personal stories of following Jesus.

Changes in diocesan administration


From left, Msgr. Edward Lohse and Msgr. Robert Smith

      Msgr. Robert Smith is retiring from the Office of Vicar General of the Diocese of Erie, effective March 13, and Msgr. Edward Lohse has been appointed to take over the position.

   Bishop Lawrence Persico recently accepted Msgr. Smith’s request to retire as vicar general, a title held by Msgr. Smith the past 27 years. The position of vicar general is the second highest office in a diocese after the bishop.

   Msgr. Smith, 74, worked in diocesan administration the past 43 years, having served under four bishops. He will remain director of clergy personnel and chair of the Priest Personnel Board, and will continue to serve on the administrative cabinet.

  “The Diocese of Erie and I personally owe a great debt of gratitude to Msgr. Smith for his competent, loyal and dedicated service to this local church,” Bishop Persico said in a letter to clergy.

   In addition to his new role as vicar general, Msgr. Lohse will be the moderator of the curia for the diocese. He also will be responsible for the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.

   “Msgr. Smith has left an incredible example to follow in his role as vicar general. With the help of many people’s prayers, I hope to fulfill these new responsibilities in a way that does honor to his service,” Msgr. Lohse said.

   Msgr. Smith expressed his admiration for each of the four bishops under whom he has served: the late Bishop Alfred Watson, the late Bishop Michael Murphy, Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman and Bishop Persico.

   “What really inspired me over the years was our bishops’ dedication to the church and to this diocese,” Msgr. Smith said.

  Msgr. Lohse has served the diocese in a number of positions, including director of vocations, vice chancellor and chancellor.

   From 2010-15, he served with the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican. In Rome, he earned his doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

   Upon his return to the diocese, Msgr. Lohse was appointed episcopal vicar for canonical services, and has worked on a number of projects, including pastoral planning.

   Parishes across the Diocese of Erie experienced significant changes recently with the implementation of restructuring as a result of pastoral planning. Earlier this year, about half of the 116 active priests in the diocese received a new parish assignment or a reassignment to their current parish.

Parishioner takes talent to Sesame Street


Lori Burke with Elmo at the WQLN studios in Erie.

Story and photos by Mary Solberg | FAITHLIFE

   Lori Burke, a member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Edinboro, recalls her “steady diet” of Big Bird, Grover, and Oscar the Grouch back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

   This winter, she officially joined the “Muppets” world on Public Broadcasting’s Sesame Street. Burke wrote the music and lyrics for a short animated film that aired Jan. 30 on the long-running children’s education program.

   On May 27, Burke’s musical talent will be showcased in yet another Sesame Street segment, titled “Counting Opposites.”

   “I am so blessed to say that I am now forever part of this show,” Burke, 39, says.

   January’s stop-motion, animated short—titled “G is for Games”—aired on the program’s letter-of-the-day segment. Burke’s music accompanies animation done by Brad Pattullo, an associate professor in the art department at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Also featured in the segment is sound engineer Chris Moore, Parker Middle School student Abby Walker of Edinboro, who did vocals, and Burke’s son, Donny, 8, who assisted with voice-overs.

   “I’d been working with kids for the past 15 years, teaching, performing and having kids of my own,” Burke says. “It was never a goal to get on Sesame Street, but looking back, I realize I was doing the work to get me there.”

   Burke plays several instruments, including a 1947 Gibson LG1 guitar borrowed from her father, Dan Mayton, who with his wife, Pat, are also members of Our Lady of the Lake.

   For the past 14 years, Burke has been a member of the local Tiger Maple String Band, touring with the band recently in Key West, Fla.

   Her love of children’s music grew when her daughter, Lilly, was born 10 years ago. A freelance composer and arranger, she performs at various library branches in Erie County. She created her own children’s lullabye CD, “You Are Loved.”

   In the summers, she participates in a concert series at Goodell Gardens and Homestead in Edinboro.

   Animator Brad Pattullo got to know Burke when their children were attending the same Kindermuzik classes in Edinboro.  He thought of her immediately when he received a request to pitch an idea for an animated short for Sesame Street.

   “Lori’s real positive and happy. She’s got a lot of positive energy, so she’s a natural for this type of work,” Pattullo says.

   Sesame Street allows Burke to mix her love of children, music and teaching.

   “I think that any time you share a positive message of love, kindness, forgiveness, even heartache, it shows our vulnerability and our human nature,” she says. “I try to spread that love as much as I can.”


Lori Burke, second from left, poses with her parents, Dan and Pat Mayton, along with her mother-in-law, Reggie Burke, far right, all members of Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Edinboro. They gathered at the WQLN studios in Erie to celebrate the production of “G is for Games,” a Sesame Street animated film for which Lori Burke wrote music and lyrics.

New leadership named for Erie Catholic School System

Story and photos by ANNE-MARIE WELSH for FAITHLIFE


Damon Finazzo

    The Erie Catholic School System—to be comprised of six schools in Erie—has new leadership in place for its official start-up in the next academic year.

Damon R. Finazzo, 38, has been appointed president of the school system, effective immediately. While serving as president, he will remain in his current position as principal at Villa Maria Elementary School, Erie, until the school closes permanently in June.

In addition, the Catholic Schools Office has announced the names of the first members to serve on the board of directors for the Erie Catholic School System.

“This is another important step as we prepare to launch the school system this summer,” said Father Nicholas Rouch, vicar for Education. “We are very pleased with the people who have accepted these positions and are confident they will provide the kind of innovative leadership we are seeking.”



Newly appointed members of the board of the Erie Catholic School System, standing, from left to right, are: John Blakeslee, president of the A.F. Schultz Company, Erie; Sister Mary Drexler, SSJ, veteran educator; Father John Malthaner, pastor, St. Luke Parish, Erie; Father Scott Jabo, president of the Erie Catholic Preparatory School (Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy); and Professor Janice Whiteman, Gannon University School of Education. Seated, from left, are: Damon Finazzo, president of the Erie Catholic School System; Jerome Wegley, attorney, Knox Law Firm; and James Gallagher, superintendent of Catholic schools.

   Board members are expected to nominate additional directors to serve in the coming months. They will be responsible for overseeing the Catholic identity, educational quality and operational vitality of the system of schools. The six school sites are: Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Peace, St. George, St. James, St. Jude and St. Luke.

   To complement the work of the board, each of the six schools in the system will have a parent organization to assist the principal and support the school.

A native of Erie, Finazzo holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Grove City College, and a master’s in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has served as principal at VME since 2009. Under his leadership at VME, enrollment increased from 328 students to 431 students. Prior to his service there, he was an administrator at Cashell Donahoe Elementary School in Sandston, Va., and spent six years teaching at Glen Lea Elementary School in Henrico, Va.

“Damon possesses a faithfulness and passion for Catholic education that is contagious,” said Jim Gallagher, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Erie. “I am thrilled to work with him to build this new school system and have every confidence in his abilities as a leader. He is a unifying presence and will do well to foster a spirit of collaboration and community throughout the six schools in the Erie area.”

Finazzo and his wife, Meagan, have three children. They are members of Sacred Heart Parish, Erie.

Finazzo will be responsible for developing many of the key components of the Erie Catholic School System that will launch with the 2017-18 school year. He will oversee personnel, enrollment, educational quality, budgeting, and fundraising, and will report to the board of directors and the Catholic Schools Office.

The transition from nine parish-based schools in the Erie area to the new Erie Catholic School System with six school sites was announced with the release of “Building in Truth and Love,” the pastoral plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Erie unveiled in February 2016.


Six principals named to Erie Catholic School System, beginning in 2017-18 school year.

Chief financial officer named to diocese; outgoing CFO served for 40 years


CFO John Dey


By Mary Solberg || FaithLife

David Murphy worked as chief financial officer for the Diocese of Erie under four bishops and   five popes. He’s seen office technology go from carbon paper to typewriters to high-speed computers.

“Everyone was wild when we got a fax machine,” Murphy recalls.

In February, Murphy will mark his 40th anniversary with the diocese. But this winter, he turned over the reins of CFO to John Dey, a native of Erie and former CFO at Cathedral Preparatory School and Villa Maria Academy.


Outgoing CFO David Murphy

Murphy is now serving as a consultant to the Finance Office. He provides decades of insight needed to handle the finances of the 13-county diocese.

“The challenge of my position has been to remain adaptive to the changing circumstances and demographics of the diocese,” Murphy says. “When I first came, most of the parishes had a couple of priests each. Today, many parishes have had to merge or partner.”

He credits his co-workers for helping make the Finance Office run smoothly the past 40 years. But John Dey, he says, is ready to take on the challenges of recent historic parish and school restructuring.

“John definitely has the background and the ability to be successful in the role of CFO,” Murphy says.

Dey, 56, comes to the diocese after serving the past three years as CFO at Villa and Prep. A 1978 graduate of Prep, he and his family lived in Florida for a number of years.

He and his wife, Susan, have three adult children.

He was vice president of finance for Hilton in Orlando, Fla., directing financial analysis and reporting in all company operations, including sales and marketing, construction and development, resort operations, and financing. He contributed to Hilton’s record earnings during his last five years there.

He calls Murphy’s continuing presence vital to a smooth transition.

“It’s good to know that he’ll be in the same building,” Dey says. “There are a lot of moving parts in the diocese right now, with parish and school restructuring. But it’s an exciting time to be here.”

A member of St. Peter Cathedral Parish, Erie, Dey says he has a “vested interest” in Catholic education and the Catholic Church. Besides graduating from Prep, he graduated from St. Andrew School, Erie; his youngest son graduated from Prep in 2016.

Dey is particularly interested in making Catholic education affordable to anyone who wants it.

“My hope is to create more opportunities for kids to go to Catholic schools,” Dey says.