Back in 1954, the WHAS Crusade’s first year, celebrity host Pat O’Brien lit a fire that’s still burning in the hearts of Catholics more than six decades later.
He saw donations pouring in from various donors, including Protestant and Jewish groups, and called on Catholics to do the same.
“Pat was a devout Catholic and much to his chagrin, Catholic groups were not represented,” said Dawn Lee, president and CEO of the Crusade, noting that this story is part of the Crusade’s history file, which says: “Late in the evening, he grabbed the microphone and demanded, ‘Alright, where are you Catholics, you K of C’s, you priests, you nuns?’ ”
The next year and every year after, Catholic parishes and the Archdiocese of Louisville have been faithful partners in the Crusade for Children, Lee said.
“We could not do what we do without the archdiocese, without getting all the parishes engaged,” she said. “We are so grateful for our partnership with the archdiocese and the huge difference it makes to the children in the community.”
Most years, she noted, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s collection is the largest contribution after the firefighters’ collection.
This year, the archdiocese donated $235,419 during the telethon on June 6. That brings the archdiocese’s total contributions since 1955 to more than $8.6 million.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who presented the archdiocese’s contribution during the telethon, said that helping children “brings out the best in us.”
While the church’s other official collections are church-oriented — supporting the ministries of the church — the Crusade for Children is an exception.
“We’re not doing it as a church ministry or to help the church,” he noted. “It allows us to be good neighbors, good citizens. I admire the way in which the faithful are so supportive and the priests who support it from the pulpit.”
He noted that his late brother, George Kurtz, who had Down syndrome, didn’t have the benefit of the kinds of services funded by the Crusade, but he had good neighbors.
“Georgie was born in 1941 in a coal town. We didn’t have any services from institutions, but we had a lot of good neighbors. If he started wandering away, the neighbors would call. There are a lot of stories that he was an explorer,” he said. “The Crusade is an expansion of that neighborly help. You have fire departments asking people to roll down their windows and churches asking people to reach in and give what’s in their pockets — free-will offerings.”
Those offerings this year amounted to $5.1 million, which was allocated for 230 grants. The grant decisions are made by a panel of 13 area ministers from WHAS’ “Moral Side of the News” program. They comprise the WHAS Crusade for Children Advisory Panel.
Lee said ministers have made these decisions from the beginning.
“It’s such a great model because it takes all of us out of the decision-making process,” she said. “It puts those who only have the best interest of the community in charge of the decision making.”
Beginning in January each year, members of the panel meet face to face — and now virtually — with grant applicants to hear their application. Panel members recuse themselves if they are personally involved with an applicant organization, said Father Joseph Graffis, chair of the panel and one of three priests currently serving on it. The others are Fathers Anthony Smith and John Stoltz. The panel also includes men and women from Protestant and Jewish traditions.
Father Graffis is a veteran of the Crusade. He has served on the “Moral Side of the News” since 1985 and has been on the minister’s committee for 23 years.
Over the years, he said, it’s been a privilege to learn about and offer the Crusade’s help to agencies that aid children.
“You see the passion when they explain it. You say, ‘Gosh, we really need to help this group.’ You learn a tremendous amount hearing about what these agencies do,” he said.
The Crusade, he noted, is “one of the very rare charities where we can say every single dollar goes to help some kids. That’s the unique thing. I’m old enough to remember it started to help crippled children. Now it’s all special-needs kids that we serve — the needs are incredible. We get $12 to $15 million in requests each year. So we’re doing a third of the requests.”
Lee said this year’s grants are estimated to assist about 225,000 children in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Grants are allocated to three distinct categories:
- Education grants provide scholarships for teachers studying special education and provide programs and equipment to meet special learning needs.
- Agencies may receive grants to provide services for children with special needs.
- Hospital grants fund equipment and improvements for medical intervention, such as improvements to neonatal intensive care unit services services in a rural hospital, Lee said.