Bishop McClory visits Catholic Charities Hammond, Gary offices

August 24, 2020 | Northwest Indiana Catholic

Bishop Robert J. McClory, well aware of the ministries of Catholic Charities, got his first in-person look at the organization that wishes "to be the first place" those in need look for assistance.

Catholic Charities directors and managers greeted Bishop McClory on Aug. 24 at the newly renovated Hammond office, which serves as a local administrative center as well as the new home for the Women's Care Center.

Warm introductions and safe-distance elbow bumps yielded to a tour, which later had the bishop praising the scope of services and sincerity of the staff that makes it all possible.

"I'm impressed with the passion of the team, who really seek to minister to others with the heart of Christ," Bishop McClory said. "I'm impressed with the range of services but also the professional caliber with which we deliver them."

Peeking around the receptionist's desk in the bright and spacious welcome area, the bishop smiled at the fact that the area is decorated with children's toys. Ultrasound technician Angie Navarro then invited the diocese's leader to see the WCC's high-tech imagining system.

"I know what 3-D (three dimensional) is, but what is 4-D?" Bishop McClory asked Navarro.

"4-D is a 3-D image live, in real time," Navarro explained. "So, if the (unborn child) is jumping and kicking, you can see it all in 3-D. It's really cool."

She said this technology helps women in crisis pregnancies see the humanity of the life within them.

"This helps them bond with and fall in love with their baby," said Navarro, with pregnancy counselor Alfreida Chalmers, who also spoke to the bishop, nodding in agreement.

Bishop McClory remarked, "That is beautiful."

Catholic Charities executive director Terry Seljan and director of programs Joanne Pivarnik led the tour, showing the bishop an expanded presentation area, a new kitchenette and private offices.

Pivarnik said the office situated near a shopping district, college and expressway, "is a very good location." As he was apt to do during his tour of the Hammond office and, later, the Gary administrative headquarters, Bishop McClory asked the staff members about their feelings concerning their work.

He turned to Pivarnik, a 19-year veteran of Catholic Charities and asked her, "What do you like most about your ministry?"

Pivarnik said, "I like to be able to do different things; it's not boring. I really do like to think of different ways, be creative, and take that extra step to help somebody."

Pivarnik added, "You have to believe in what you're doing; you have to believe in this mission and find a way to keep doing it."

Seljan who came onboard Catholic Charities as director of finance in 2015, also operated in hybrid leadership capacities as the organization was without an executive director until he took that position in March.

At the helm of five offices and two satellite locations that are staffed by two dozen individuals who serve hundreds of people each month, he said 2020 has been a year like no other.

"We saw a huge increase (in services offered)," Seljan said of his start as executive director that coincided with sheltering protocols to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. "Just through the first six months of the year we had already done more assistance in the community outreach program than we had done all of last year."

Catholic Charities, which functioned locally for at least 20 years before the Diocese of Gary was founded in 1957, now focuses on four main components of ministry: community outreach, food pantry, Women's Care Center and immigration services.

"What's next on the horizon is really just shoring up our programs and expanding the programs we already have … to get a greater reach we stretch out what we're doing," Seljan said from the Gary office, the organization's administrative command center.

Community outreach focuses mainly on financial assistance, and longtime community outreach manager LaShawn Jones-Taylor has ministered on the frontlines for the needy. After speaking with Bishop McClory in the Gary office, she greeted a man who spoke to her through the window in the lobby.

"He looked desperate and I said, ‘don't worry we will still try to assist you,'" Jones-Taylor said. "He walked in with a disconnect notice (from NIPSCO) for tomorrow, but we helped him out with a plan."

Jones-Taylor said many who struggle with utility and rent payments, are not aware of the resources Catholic Charities can tap into. She said, the organization "can dip into many different pots" for funds, including from corporate donors, individuals and municipal initiatives.

Esther Miller brought 20 years of fundraising experience to Catholic Charities when she joined in January as development manager.

Despite the economic consequences of the arrival of the pandemic and the shutdown then gradual reopening of the economy, she has fostered expanded partnerships with corporate and foundation donors. Yet her focus is also on reaching people who need assistance.

"Catholic Charities seems to be the best-kept secret," explained Miller. "I want Catholic Charities to be well-known, not only in Lake County (but also) in LaPorte, Porter and Starke counties, so that when people are in need, this is the first place they go."

Bishop McClory prayed with directors and managers and praised the adaptability Catholic Charities has shown during the pandemic. He is hopeful of their mission's future.

"So my hope and my prayer would be that we'll learn lessons from how we could deliver services in different ways during this time, so that as, pray God, the coronavirus recedes, we'll have a wider range of tools to serve the people," Bishop McClory said.

For more information about Catholic Charities, or to donate of your time, talent, and treasure, call 886-3549, or email

Bishop Robert J. McClory (top, center) bows his head in prayer with officials from Catholic Charities in the presentation room of their newly renovated location in Hammond on Aug. 24. Bishop McClory made his first visit to two Catholic Charities offices, including the Hammond office, which shares space with the Women's Care Center, a ministry that offers free educational and material support for women as they choose life for their unborn child and begin caring for their infant.

Bishop Robert J. McClory stands the Crib Club room as he speaks with officials from Catholic Charities at the new Women's Care Center in Hammond on Aug. 24.

Ultrasound technician Angie Navarro (left) details the material support available for mothers and their infants as Bishop Robert J. McClory views a wall of shelving units stocked with diapers at the new Women's Care Center location in Hammond.

Bishop Robert J. McClory bumps elbows with ultrasound technician Angie Navarro (right) as he is greeted by her and officials from Catholic Charities at the new Women's Care Center in Hammond on Aug. 24.

Alfreida Chalmers (left) pregnancy counselor for the Women's Care Center of Merrillville, speaks to Bishop Robert J. McClory at the Hammond site about her ministry to help women choose life for their unborn babies.

Bishop Robert J. McClory (center) speaks with LaShawn Jones-Taylor (right), Catholic Charities community outreach manager, near her office cubicle at the charitable organization's Gary office on Aug. 24.

Bishop Robert J. McClory speaks with Esther Miller (left), Catholic Charities development manager, in the organization's Gary office on Aug. 24. Bishop McClory visited two Catholic Charities offices, including the administrative hub in Gary and the Hammond location.

Ultrasound technician Angie Navarro (right) shows Bishop Robert J. McClory an image of an early stage of pregnancy, where an embryo has impanted on the uterine wall, as she explains the services available for a mother to learn about her unborn child, at the Women's Care Center in Hammond.