This morning in South Bend and in Baltimore, Notre Dame University and Catholic Relief Services respectively announced that Dean Carolyn Y. Woo of the Mendoza School of Business has been chosen to become the President/Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Relief Services, our church’s worldwide disaster relief and development agency. CRS now exists in slightly over 100 countries and has program revenues approaching one billion dollars in the coming fiscal year. Dr.Woo is known to a number of people in the Diocese of St. Petersburg as this year’s main speaker at the Catholic Foundation Dinner last February. There she told an amazing story of being born on mainland China and the family moving to Hong Kong where she studied with the Maryknoll Sisters who had been expelled from China following the revolution. One of eight children, Dr. Woo chose, mostly against her father’s wishes, to pursue a college education and earned a scholarship for her freshman year at Purdue University. Eventually she earned not only a bachelor’s degree but a Masters and Ph.D. as well. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame approached Dean Woo and literally “wooed” her to coming to Notre Dame as head of the Business School. The rest is history as under her leadership the Mendoza School is currently rated first among undergraduate business schools and sixth among those who award Master’s Degrees, no small feat to be sure.
Loved on campus and admired by almost every student in the Business school as well as her faculty, she will be missed under the “Dome.” A daily Mass attendee who met her husband at Purdue where both attended daily Mass at the campus ministry center, they have two children, the oldest of whom just graduated from the Medical College of the University of Virginia and the youngest is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology at Notre Dame. Nine or ten years ago while I served both as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services as well as its President, the bishops of the US voted almost unanimously to allow lay people to serve on the Board of Directors. CRS for many years did not have a board of directors but was generally run and overseen by the Archbishop of New York and had its offices there as well. In the seventies the by-laws were changed to allow bishops to serve on its board after being elected by the membership of the United States Catholic Conference. CRS always had a bishop as its Executive Director (CEO). The first lay person to serve as Executive Director was Lawrence Pezzullo in the early eighties and he reported to an all bishop Board. Finally, in about 2003, the by-laws were changed to allow for non-bishop membership and I as chair willingly ceded the title of President to the Executive Director to come more in conformity with other international agencies. Carolyn Woo was chosen among the first group of non-bishops invited and elected by the Board to serve a total of six years, ending her service, she thought, two years ago.
Eighteen years ago I was on the Search Committee which recommended Ken Hackett to succeed Pezzullo who had been asked by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador Pleni-Potentiary to Haiti following the violence and overthrow of the government in that country. For seventeen years, Ken Hackett has served the poor of the world with distinction and his special diadem will be the solid Catholic identity which he and his colleagues have imbued in the agency. I deeply admire his tenure and respect his decision to retire and turn the leadership over to whomever the Board might choose. Starting on January 1, 2012 Carolyn Woo will serve as his successor.
Catholic Relief Services is admired throughout the world because of the competence and commitment of its people, some 5000 plus strong, many as it should be nationals of the country in which they are working. It is the “go-to” agency because it has a unique delivery opportunity throughout the world through parishes and diocesan charities structures but it never, ever excludes anyone because of their religion nor does it proselytize. There have been many challenging moments in its history including working under the Marcos family in the Philippines, the Diems in Viet Nam and repressive governments in many other parts of the world. Its non-political nature has made it possible to succeed in places like Sumatra, Indonesia after the tsunami, Sri Lanka and throughout Africa. Its mission is securing the present and future of people, not governments. It makes Christ present – nothing less and in Dr. Carolyn Woo it will be led by a woman of great faith, a history of vision for organization, and a winning personality which made her one of Notre Dame’s most successful fundraisers – and saying that about any one person at Notre Dame is a “mouthful.” I enjoyed serving with her on the board, travelling with her to remote parts of the world (together we survived an 8.9 earthquake in Medan, Indonesia (she did not come looking for me by the way) and hearing the amazing story of her childhood. But I so deeply admire her love of her Catholic faith. She is making a great sacrifice to leave Notre Dame for many reasons but like heading to Lafayette, Indiana when she was eighteen, she follows Blessed Pope John Paul II’s challenge to “put out into the deep.”