It is with great sadness that I share with you the passing of our colleague and friend, Bernadette Washington. Bernadette passed away peacefully this morning at Holy Family Hospice after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
Bernadette served Catholic Charities for 35 years and held a number of roles in that time. She started her employment with what would become Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland in 1982 working as a Marriage and Family Counselor at Catholic Social Services of Cuyahoga County. She then moved onto the position of Director, for the Urban Region Catholic Youth Organization in 1985. In 1989 Bishop Pilla appointed her to become the Executive Director for the Catholic Social Service Bureau of Lorain County which became part of Catholic Social Services Corp in 1992.
In 1997, she was asked to take on additional responsibilities as the Acting Director of Family Center Services which included St. Martin de Porres, Fatima, and Childhood Services, while continuing to oversee some of the responsibilities in Lorain. Throughout the early 2000’s she held numerous leadership roles with the Family Centers. In late 2009 Bernadette was promoted to Executive Director, Catholic Charities Community Services, becoming the first African American woman to serve in a senior leadership position for the organization.
Bernadette was passionate about Catholic Charities, its clients and employees. She invested much of her time developing new models to better serve the people of the Diocese of Cleveland. She was particularly interested in programs that benefited families and children and was a natural fit to oversee those services. In her later years, Bernadette developed a special interest in the challenges facing older adults and became a tireless advocate for expanding and enhancing the work Catholic Charities provided to the aging population.
Within the organization, she took a keen interest in mentoring and developing leaders, working especially hard to recognize, encourage, and advance women in the organization. She was an advocate of discovering new and better models to make Catholic Charities as productive and efficient as possible. Bernadette embraced change and was involved in numerous strategic planning efforts over the years.
Bernadette was a fascinating woman to know – she loved to travel and read, you felt like you learned something every time you spoke with her. Her Catholic faith was an integral part of her life and guided her throughout her career and personal life. As an active parishioner at St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima and a board member of River’s Edge Retreat Center, her absence will be felt throughout the Diocese of Cleveland. Above all else, she loved her family, she spoke fondly of her siblings, nieces and nephews. I know you will join me in keeping her family and loved ones in your prayers.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
President & CEO, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland