Sunday, June 26, 2011

At CRS, Hail to the Chief

In a notable move at center stage, the longtime leader of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business is set to become one of the most prominent women -- if not the most -- in the leadership of the Stateside church.

After an intensive search that's lasted the better part of this year, Carolyn Woo (above) was named Friday as the incoming president of Catholic Relief Services, succeeding Ken Hackett, who's led American Catholicism's lead humanitarian arm with distinction for 18 years, growing it to a global staff of over 5,000 in more than a hundred countries, with a budget just shy of $1 billion.

The handover formally takes place on New Year's Day.

Born in Hong Kong, where she was taught by Maryknoll Sisters, the president-elect, 57, came to the States to attend Indiana's Purdue University, earning bachelors and masters degrees and a Ph.D in strategic management there before serving on its faculty and as an administrator. Over her 14 years at the helm at Notre Dame's biz-school, Mendoza -- quite possibly the only building in the country where daily Mass is held amid management classes -- has come to be ranked repeatedly as the top undergraduate business program in the country by the financial wire Bloomberg.

Among other memberships and commitments away from the Golden Dome, the incoming Relief Chief serves as a lead adviser to the United Nations on responsible management.

Hailing the choice made under his watch, the current bishop-chair of CRS, Tucson's Gerald Kicanas, said that Woo is "a woman of deep faith with a strong commitment to the mission of the church... [who] will bring exceptional abilities and gifts to the task of serving the poor around the world in the name of Catholics throughout the United States."

While several other church social-service arms have taken heavy fire in recent years over claims of an insufficient Catholic identity, CRS' Baltimore Mothership has gone practically unscathed in the ad intra battles. Now, after one landmark tenure that's left it bearing the "special diadem" of a solid, strong ecclesial link, the shop falls into the hands of a daily communicant -- and, in any age, you can't really get more faithful than that.

A mother of two who met her husband at a daily Mass in her Purdue days, a certain member of the search committee (and former CRS chair) reports that Woo's youngest is studying for a Master's in theology at Notre Dame.

Over recent decades, a sizable influx of (among others) Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese and Koreans has swelled the US church's Asian ranks to an ever more significant standing among the nation's 67 million faithful, as many as 4 million of whom trace their origin to the world's largest continent. With Woo's ascent, for the first time, one of their own will take on a position of top-tier visibility and import in the American Catholic orbit.

In other words, the dream continues, even into our own time.