By Ken Hackett
In early July we received the sad news of the death of Bishop Edwin B. Broderick, who served as executive director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) from 1976 to 1983. He devoted his life to the church, was a staunch advocate for the poor, and through a variety of communications initiatives helped to spread the good word and deeds of the Catholic Church and CRS.
Bishop Broderick's tenure saw CRS respond to numerous crises on the world state, including the 1976 civil war in Angola, a massive cyclone in 1977 in India that left two million people homeless, the genocide in Cambodia in which 1.7 million people were killed between 1975 and 1979, and civil war in Afghanistan and Lebanon. Under Bishop Broderick's leadership, CRS resettled thousands of Vietnamese, Lao and Hmong refugees during the Southeast Asia refugee crisis of 1980 and responded to the deadly earthquake in Mezzogiorno, Italy, which at that time was the worst earthquake in Europe in 65 years. In the early 1980s, when martial law was declared in communist Poland, leading to widespread food shortages, CRS was a leading agency in ensuring thousands of tons of commodities were delivered through local church channels.
It was also under Bishop Broderick's direction that Operation Rice Bowl was made a national program in the United States. Since then ORB has become one of the most successful and recognizable of CRS' programs.
When Bishop Broderick took the helm at CRS in 1976, he laughingly called the agency “the best kept secret in the American Catholic Church.” As a bishop, he had received promotional materials about the agency in order to help publicize the annual appeal, but the extent and variety of the agency's programs were a revelation to him. As a result, Bishop Broderick made it his mission as Executive Director to help increase the awareness of CRS throughout the U.S. Catholic community. Short films were made, new publications were printed, and three telethons took place, hosted by entertainment luminaries like Arthur Godfrey, Buddy Hackett and Trini Lopez. All of these efforts helped to educate viewers about the agency's work around the world. The response was very generous and provided CRS with a foundation for its first direct mail appeal to donors.
But what many of us at CRS remember most fondly about Bishop Broderick was his generous spirit, his gregarious personality and his wonderful Irish tenor voice, which he'd use to break out into an operatic aria or a misty-eyed rendition of Danny Boy that would enliven many a gathering – or even a few staff meetings.
Please keep Bishop Broderick, our beloved CRS colleague, in your prayers.
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