WASHINGTON--A convert to Catholicism dedicated to "serving the immigrant and the stranger" is the recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. Bethany Welch, Ph.D., is being recognized for her commitment and work to empower immigrants and the poor as founding director of the Aquinas Center, a center of community development created in partnership with the South Philadelphia parish community of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Welch will be honored with the New Leadership Award at a reception during the Spring General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Orleans, June 11. The award is sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the national anti-poverty program of the U.S. bishops. Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, chairman of CCHD, will confer the award.
"Bethany Welch is practicing her Catholic faith in an inspiring way. She lives at the service of immigrants and the working poor, those on the margins of our society," said Bishop Soto. "Her work echoes Pope Francis' call to reach out to those whom the culture excludes with the evangelii gaudium, the joy of the Gospel. Bethany brings to life the mission of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development."
Since graduating from college in 2000, Welch has dedicated herself to helping others, starting a food bank in upstate New York and coordinating federal advocacy efforts there, serving as a VISTA volunteer, and working to secure local CCHD funding in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to organize Catholics to advocate for immigration reform. Her work brought her into contact with many dedicated women religious and laypersons, whose example led her to convert to Catholicism.
"I am part of a generation that wants more. I want the Church and my community to ask more of me, to challenge me, to expect a lot," said Welch.
Working with parishioners in South Philadelphia, she led efforts to found the Aquinas Center, re-purposing a former convent to create a space for community organizing, advocacy, service for the immigrant community, urban immersion experiences and revitalization projects, like community gardens. Welch has served in multiple leadership and volunteer positions within the Catholic Church, including service on parish councils, in national Catholic organizations, and with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award honors a Catholic between the age of 18 and 40 who demonstrates leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States through community-based solutions. It is named for the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as archbishop of Chicago from 1982 till his death in 1996. More information is available online: www.usccb.org/about/catholic-campaign-for-human-development/cardinal-bernardin-new-leadership-award.cfm