Catholic Charities director accepts Washington assignment

Sister Mary Christine Cremin to lead D.C. Religious Sisters of Mercy community

By Emily Booker for The East Tennessee Catholic

Sister Mary Christine Cremin, RSM, has served as executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee for the past four years. But now she is stepping down from that position to take a new assignment in Washington, D.C.

Sister Mary Christine first came to CCETN as a counselor in 2009. On July 1, 2013, she became the executive director, succeeding Father Ragan Schriver, who held the position from 1999-2013.

“She’s done a beautiful job,” Bishop Richard F. Stika said. “When she came into it we had some challenges at Catholic Charities, which is true for all not-for-profits at times. She came in at my invitation and the assignment of her superior to this position. … She’s just done a marvelous job, just a wonderful job. She was truly the face of Jesus in so many different ways.”

Sister Mary Christine’s goal as executive director has always been to uphold the mission of CCETN in each of its programs.

“That first year, I think, was really trying to get a handle on what, because we are the charitable outreach of the diocese, what did that look like in our diocese,” she said.

By working with other agencies, CCETN was able to look at its programs to see if they were better resourced or being duplicated by other local agencies.

“In an effort to really identify our mission and to be putting our resources into the mission, we discovered that we were spread too thin in some places, and so we were able to transfer some programs. We didn’t cut any program out. We were able to transfer every single program that we no longer have because we transferred it to somebody else. And the reason we transferred them is because either another agency in town was already doing the same thing and doing it better than we could or it did not exactly fit our mission and there was another agency in town who was doing something similar,” Sister Mary Christine said.

She was happy that they were able to transfer the programs so that vital services to CCETN clients did not get cut.

“There was not any instance where we had to drop services to clients,” she said.

Other programs have been expanded. Under Sister Mary Christine’s leadership, the Pregnancy Help Center in Chattanooga reopened, and two new centers opened in Johnson City and Newcomb. There also are centers in LaFollette and Knoxville.

“That really hits our mission so well, not only because it’s pregnancy, but because we can support families for two years, essentially mentoring them for a period of two years to help them become good parents,” Sister Mary Christine said.

“It really does give them confidence as parents, and in my mind that’s a real building block for establishing an individual family unit,” she added.

Catholic Charities’ Office of Immigrant Services also has expanded. Most recently, it received a grant to hire an attorney that can work with immigration clients who are victims of crime in the Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Knoxville offices.

And Samaritan Place, which provides shelter for seniors in crisis, is currently planning an expansion project to admit 10 more residents.

“I think streamlining our mission allows us to strengthen those programs that are really key to us. And the other ones that we haven’t expanded, they’re still very stable — programs for mentally ill adults, for people with HIV/AIDS down in Chattanooga, emergency shelter for children, and the boys’ home,” Sister Mary Christine said.

“The services we have now, programs we have now, really are, I think, what we would say are essential to our identity as Catholic Charities. We talk about this 360 degrees of hope, but they really are services — particularly in this day and age — to very vulnerable populations.”

As a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Mich., Sister Mary Christine is called where her order sends her. And now, that place is Washington, D.C., where she will be serving as the superior of a community of sisters there.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve loved being here, and it really has been an enormous privilege to do this, but I’m also so excited about going, so it’s kind of like the best of both worlds.”

What advice does Sister Mary Christine have for her successor at CCETN?

“Enjoy,” she said. “Also, I think to really understand the privilege that is ours at Catholic Charities. To be — I know it’s a term that the bishop uses very often, you know — to be the hands and face of Jesus. That really is what we are to people. … Just by being there, we are His presence in those people’s lives. And we do make a difference. I think that for a lot of those people, that may well be the only experience they have of the Catholic Church, or of the person of Jesus Christ in their lives.”

It is keeping that in mind that keeps her focused through the day-today activities of running a nonprofit organization, she said.

She’s most grateful for the people she has worked with during her time here, from Bishop Stika to the CCETN board of trustees to the social services agency’s staff.

“A note of tremendous gratitude, really, to everybody that I have worked with here,” she said. “The staff here has been wonderful. People have been very responsive. It’s just been a really good four years; a lot of challenges, but a lot of wonderful things that have happened.”

Bishop Stika said he hopes to have Sister Mary Christine’s successor in place by mid-2018.

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s mission is to foster human dignity of the vulnerable in the region through shelter, counseling, education, advocacy, and reverence for life. Fewer than 5 percent of its clients are Catholic. The nonprofit social services agency offers 13 programs across East Tennessee.

[Click here to read an open letter from Sister Mary Christine Cremin to the People of East Tennessee]

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