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Catholic Charities president to step down

Takes top post at antipoverty group

By June Q. Wu
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2010

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Tiziana Dearing, the president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, is stepping down to lead a new antipoverty organization called Boston Rising.

Dearing, who shepherded Catholic Charities through budget cuts and internal restructuring over the past three years, will be replaced by the organization’s top administrator, Debbie Rambo, 56.

“My time at Charities really galvanized my conviction that I want to use my time to fight poverty,’’ Dearing, 39, said yesterday. “This is an opportunity for me to continue that same kind of commitment at a different part of the continuum, this time working on the funding side.’’

Under Dearing’s leadership, Catholic Charities, which serves roughly 200,000 people in Eastern Massachusetts each year, has attempted to meet the rising demand for basic services despite tight budget constraints. The agency had an $800,000 loss in public funding last year, at a time when an increasing number of families, feeling the effects of the recession, turned to it for help.

Roughly 130,000 people came to Catholic Charities for help with food and other basic needs last year. To meet the demand, Dearing reallocated the agency’s resources to supply 13 food pantries with as much as 12,000 pounds of food a week.

“It just had to be done,’’ Dearing said. “We’ve had to scale back in some places and scale up in others — it’s really hard to do with no additional resources.’’

With an operating budget of $40 million, Catholic Charities relies on government funding and private philanthropy to maintain its programs.

Dearing’s predecessor, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who is the secretary for health care and social services in the Archdiocese of Boston, praised Dearing’s management finesse and dedication. He said she streamlined the agency’s internal operations and supported local families in need.

“In the face of rising demand and falling resources, she managed effectively and efficiently to keep the agency a major player in this region,’’ said Hehir, who is also a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Starting in September, Dearing plans to lead Boston Rising, a grant-giving foundation established just over a year ago.

“I absolutely believe that it is possible to break the poverty cycle,’’ she said. “It’s a fight worth fighting, a fight that can be won.’’

Born in Battle Creek, Mich., Dearing graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in English before obtaining a master’s in public policy at the Kennedy School in 2000.

She then served as the executive director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard, where she met Hehir, who later approached her to take his position as president of Catholic Charities.

“It’s almost like a bad joke,’’ Dearing said. “When a priest walks in your office and says, ‘Would you consider serving the poor,’ how can you say no?’’

Dearing’s successor, Rambo, a social worker who has worked at Catholic Charities since 1978, has spent the past 15 years as vice president for programs.

Rambo, who grew up in Pennsylvania, recounted a story of a young Haitian man in his early 20s who, not knowing a word of English, enrolled in the agency’s adult education program. Nine months later, Rambo said, he announced his plans to begin college-level course work.

“To know that someone can come to us and at the end of nine months be that accomplished is just amazing,’’ Rambo said. “That’s part of what keeps us all going.’’

June Wu can be reached at jwu@globe.com.

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