By NATALIE HOEFER
Criterion Staff Writer
At its annual Giving Hope-Changing Lives fundraising gala, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, Ind., presents one or two Spirit of Hope Awards to honor those who have contributed generously of their time and talent in helping the organization and those it serves.
Frances Brown and Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day, a priest serving in the New Albany Deanery, will each receive a Spirit of Hope Award at this year’s gala to be held April 20 at The Galt House Hotel.
“St. Elizabeth has been blessed to have two such loving and caring people as part of our team,” said agency director Mark Casper. “We are very proud to have them receive the Spirit of Hope award this year.”
One of this year’s winners is an Archdiocese of Louisville parishioner.
Brown is a member of Epiphany Church and married to retired deacon Charlie Brown.
While on a routine trip to the grocery recently, Brown struck up a conversation with the store manager. And being a devotee to the mission of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities, she mentioned the organization.
“He said, ‘If I can help in any way, let me know,’ ” Brown recalled. “I said, ‘I will — what have you got to give me now?’ He gave me 10 bouquets.
“Run if you don’t want to help, because I’ll take you up on it if you say yes!” she said.
This story embodies Casper’s comments about Brown.
“Fran is unique in that she is very effective in inviting and connecting other people and organizations to St. Elizabeth and donate their time, talent and treasure to further the St. Elizabeth mission,” said Casper.
Brown has been a member of the St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ executive board since 2009. She said she likes to “direct folks to the ministry and bring them onsite to try to raise awareness of the mission and this wonderful organization.”
She also does more than call others to serve the charity — Brown devotes much of her time to helping and mentoring the residents of the maternity home, emergency shelter and domestic violence transitional program.
“I started mentoring a young lady” at the maternity home in 2009, she recalled. “I took my sewing machine one day to see if she might be interested in sewing. That was the start of my beginning to be in the maternity home pretty much on a weekly basis and providing programs for the residents. That grew to a team approach to facilitate sewing, crafts, games and cooking.”
Sewing projects — with neighbors and friends Brown also recruited — now include making blankets, hats and scarves for the charity’s Marie’s Blessings distribution ministry and the supported living program — a ministry near Brown’s heart as a former special education teacher.
Spending time with the women served by St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities is “a ministry of presence,” she said. It’s part of the Benedictine spirituality of “listening with the ears of your heart” she’s learned as an oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad.
“The church is about community, being a community of people that work and pray for the good of others,” she noted. “It gives me great pleasure to connect with people and listen to their stories. … You never know what piece of a puzzle you’re plugging into someone’s life and what they’re plugging into yours.”
Brown served others for years before joining the St. Elizabeth board. She joined her husband Charlie, a retired deacon of the Archdiocese of Louisville, in helping those he served since his ordination in 1996.
“We could write a book (about our service) because we’re joined at the hip,” Brown joked. “Serving others is the way we answer God’s call.”
She said she was “humbled” to receive the Spirit of Hope Award.
“I only accept it because of other people I have collaborated with through the years, either on the board or other volunteers,” she said. “I really feel their prayer, support and encouragement — we’re all a team.”
A team, perhaps, but Brown serves as a role model, said Casper.
“Fran leads by action,” he said. In doing so, he said “she challenges all the St. Elizabeth stakeholders to do more every day.”
The Giving Hope-Changing Lives Gala will take place on April 20 at The Galt House Hotel, 140 N. Fourth St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and dinner will be served at 7 p.m. Register to attend by April 5 at www.stecharities.org/gala-reservations or by calling 812-949-7305 or e-mailing email@example.com.