By Tanya Connor
Catherine Loeffler, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Worcester, is leaving the position she has held for 25 years on Aug. 1.
Judith A. Zeh, assistant director since 2012, has been named interim executive director, effective Aug. 2. For 16 years before that, and since, she has been in charge of personnel.
“Twenty-five years – it’s time,” Ms. Loeffler, who turns 67 in August, said of her decision to leave. “It’s time for new life adventures. I’m not referring to this as retirement because that’s for old people. It’s really a re-purposing of my life’s passions.”
Aug. 1 she and her husband, James Pfeiffer, are to leave for Canada to visit friends, she said. She said they’ve been married 41 years and have no children, and that he does freelance work related to video production.
Asked if she plans to look for another paying job, she replied, “It’s all part of the life adventure. You’ve got to untether yourself to be open to life’s adventures. And a full-time job tethers you.”
Ms. Loeffler said it’s a good time to leave Catholic Charities because the organization has a strong management team and is in a strong financial position to effectively carry out its mission with its approximately 250 employees.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have Cathy for 25 years,” said Michael Grenon, president of the board of directors. “She’s been a wonderful steward of the organization.”
She’s left it in excellent financial health and with an excellent senior management team that she put together over the years, he said. All staff members are quite experienced (some have been there for years) and do a good job, he added.
Catholic Charities, a not-for-profit social service agency with nine locations throughout Worcester County, has a $9.5 million budget, he said. He said it has federally funded and state funded programs and programs funded by the general operating budget. Annually it serves 40,000 people with various needs.
The search committee for a new executive director is to have its first meeting in the next couple of weeks, he said. The bishop will appoint the executive director and the board will hire him or her.
They are looking for someone who can be a presence in the local community, to raise awareness about Catholic Charities and its programs and possibly to help with fundraising, Mr. Grenon said. Ideally, the person would have a background in social services and some management experience.
Asked about spiritual and theological qualifications, he spoke of the person being familiar with the Catholic mission of Catholic Charities and likely being a practicing Catholic.
He spoke of a desire to continue existing programs and having the opportunity to expand them and/or start additional programs.
Ms. Loeffler said she recommended that the board choose Ms. Zeh as interim executive director. Ms. Zeh said that June 13 the board voted to have her take the position, effective Aug. 2.
Ms. Zeh and Ms. Loeffler said they have worked closely together for 20 years, since Ms. Loeffler hired Ms. Zeh to manage human resources.
Ms. Zeh is now human resources administrator as well as assistant director of the organization. She said when she becomes interim director she will ask some other people to help with human resources, and continue to do some of that work herself.
She said she has not yet decided whether to apply for the permanent executive director’s job.
When she becomes interim executive director she hopes to continue empowering and enabling the staff to continue their work with clients, providing them with needed resources and “making sure we’re good stewards of those resources,” she said.
Ms. Loeffler said there are multiple challenges working for Catholic Charities.
“When you’re involved in the world at large,” contracting with the government and trying to live out Catholic teaching, challenges pop up, she said.
“But every time somebody walks in the door, there’s the challenge of: ‘How can we be of help to them and welcome them in ways that are beneficial to them?’” she said.
“One of the biggest challenges we have – there are still so many people that have not recovered from the economic downturn” in 2008, said Ms. Zeh. She said the numbers don’t seem to go down; they stay the same or increase.
“Sometimes we lose sight of the working poor – people who are underemployed or don’t have the opportunities they once had,” she said. She said they see many such people and do a lot of providing for basic needs such as food and assistance with rent and utilities.
“All of that, I think, is a pretty big challenge,” she said.