Catholic Relief Services announces agency veteran as CEO

Sean Callahan

A six-month search for a new president and CEO for one of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world ended at its doorstep, with Catholic Relief Services announcing Sept. 16 that it is hiring a veteran employee—the agency's No. 2—Sean Callahan, as its new president and CEO.

"We looked all across the nation and found that the best person for the job was Sean, already working for us," said Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, head of the CRS Board Search Committee, in a statement announcing Callahan's new position, which begins Jan. 1, 2017. He succeeds Carolyn Y. Woo, who ends her five-year term at the end of 2016.


Callahan began his career with CRS 28 years ago and has served as director of Human Resources, regional director for South Asia, head of its Nicaragua program and executive vice president for overseas operations. Four years ago he was appointed as the agency's chief operating officer.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the CRS board, said in a statement that all that experience is what makes Callahan "eminently qualified" for the top spot.

Callahan said mission, not climbing the corporate ladder, is what has motivated him in his almost three decades at CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore. In his new leadership position, he said he wants to inspire and motivate staff and CRS partners around the world to be united in humanitarian efforts, incorporating different elements of the Catholic Church to help humanity.

That means emphasizing the sanctity of life and how charitable efforts to help those suffering around the world is part of that Christian mission.

"Sacredness of life is key," Callahan said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service from Montreal. "We need to be aware of the of the situation of the least among us. We have a responsibility."

That means teaching others about situations that bring suffering and snuff out lives around the world. It means finding a way, whether by prayer, voting, volunteering or giving financially, to become involved with finding a solution to the hardship of others.

In Pope Francis and the recently canonized St. Teresa of Kolkata, whom Callahan met while working for CRS in Asia, the church has great models and inspiration to meet that mission and understand that Christians have a call to help those in distress, including the poor, refugees and migrants, Callahan said.

As head of CRS, he said he wants to help connect those in the United States to see "brothers and sisters in other parts of the world ... connect those who have more with those who have less."

It also means helping others understand that leaving one's country is not the preferred option for those who leave their homelands, which is why CRS has programs to help people not emigrate.

"Many of these people, what they want is safety and security," he said. CRS tries to provide a livelihood, health care, education, but sometimes they still are faced with having to leave their homelands.

"Once they do migrate, it's our responsibility that they're safe and protected. ... That's where we have been inspired by the Holy Father" in reaching out, teaching those who may not be comfortable with foreigners, whether migrants or refugees, understand that Jesus was a migrant, he was a refugee, too, Callahan said.

While Americans are rightly proud of their homeland, not all immigrants who are here have chosen to leave what's familiar to them by choice and they would stay in their home countries if they had had safe and secure places to live, he said. That's where organizations such as CRS step in to put mechanisms in place that build stronger communities and try to alleviate some of the hardship.

Callahan, 56, has master's degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University and is president of Caritas North America. He also is on the board of trustees for Catholic Charities USA and has served on the Executive Committee and Representative Council of Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations.

When he takes over in January, he will be leading an agency of 5,400 worldwide. In a statement, CRS said its operating expenditures will reach almost $900 million in fiscal year 2016, the highest in its history, rising from $585 million in fiscal year 2013.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
2 years 6 months ago
Relations with the Vatican have continually improved over the tenure of Woo. May this positive trend continue. It would be nice if the new CEO were to consider spelling out the Logo to show the word Catholic. YMCA (formerly Young Men Christian Association) changed its name officially to YMCA to accomodate tolerance and recognize that it is no longer a Christian Association according to some. Perhaps the CRS could take the small steps of spelling out and also placing the Crucifix on the bags. After all the reason why we do this is because of Jesus-God come in the flesh express command. Just my opinion, in Christ


The latest from america

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., shakes hands with Alabama State Sen. Henry Sanders at the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Ala., on March 19. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., responded to a question about his religious views by talking about his own faith and what he sees as a distortion of Christianity among U.S. conservatives.
Since retiring from my job, my husband has found me irritating. We had a talk (after fighting), and he is right: I am mothering him. Smothering him. “I have a mother,” he said. “I want a wife, a partner, a best friend.”
Valerie SchultzMarch 25, 2019
Jesus asks us to be generous with the poor. It’s one of the foundations of his public ministry: caring for the poor himself and asking his disciples to do so.
James Martin, S.J.March 25, 2019
We are invited, today, to listen—and as the psalmist today colorfully puts it, God has even done us the courtesy of digging out our ears so that we can hear.