Sister Mary Christine Cremin directing area’s key social service agency as Father Ragan Schriver begins sabbatical
Sister Mary Christine Cremin, RSM, is adjusting to her new duties as acting executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, knowing she has large shoes to fill as Father Ragan Schriver begins a sabbatical that will take him away from the position he has held since July 1999.
Sister Mary Christine, who has been serving as CCET acting executive director since July 1, is familiar with her new surroundings after serving as a counselor with the Diocese of Knoxville agency for three and a half years.
She said the transition is going well, largely because the CCET staff is so accommodating.
“People are very understanding of Father’s need for a break,” she said. “There are really good people who have been there for years and are devoted to their work.”
Bishop Richard F. Stika asked Sister Mary Christine last spring if she would fill in for Father Schriver while he was on sabbatical. While on sabbatical, Father Schriver will teach a class at the University of Tennessee and also be involved in a Catholic Charities USA project.
Before she could accept the job, Sister Mary Christine first had to get approval from superiors with the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., who gave their blessing.
“Our basic orientation is whatever the Church wants us to do that we’re able to do is what we should do,” Sister Mary Christine said. “I consider it a real privilege because there is wonderful work going on.”
Sister Mary Christine’s plans for CCET do not involve major changes. But she will be highlighting the Diocese of Knoxville’s role in the agency.
“The real opportunity is that because we are Catholic we have a mission to reach out to those in need,” she said, noting that most of the clients served by CCET are not Catholic, nor are many CCET employees. “I understand the philosophy behind the organization and the direction we want to go.”
Steps she wants to take include becoming more involved in programs immediately, giving employees and clients a chance to know her in her new position; supporting the staff, which she calls a “very important piece”; emphasizing the agency’s Catholic identity; and working closely with the CCET board of trustees, which she describes as a “very good” board.
“We do what we do because we are Catholic. It’s precisely because we are Catholic that we are serving those in need,” she said.
An immediate focus for Sister Mary Christine is to complete a reaccreditation process. Under Father Schriver’s leadership, CCET has been accredited by the Council on Accreditation, an independent child and family service and behavioral health-care accrediting organization. Accreditation is important in being recognized as a top social service agency.
“Father Ragan has done a tremendous job. Look historically at where CCET has come since he has led it. He managed to pull all the pieces together into one unified agency. Because of this, we were able to become accredited. It’s a way of guaranteeing that there are best practices done and gives a professional dimension to the organization,” she said.
The accreditation also will enhance CCET’s statistical research and ease the process for getting funding, according to Sister Mary Christine.
“(Father Schriver) is a fundraiser par excellence and has been devoted to the agency,” she said.
By continuing the progress made under Father Schriver, Sister Mary Christine is confident the transition will be seamless and CCET’s focus will remain where it should be—on the clients served.
CCET served more than 16,000 individuals throughout East Tennessee last year through 16 programs ranging from housing and emergency shelters to pregnancy counseling and immigration services.
The agency, with offices in Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities and Knoxville, serves those in need regardless of race or religious affiliation. Fewer than 5 percent of those served are Catholic.
“Catholic Charities of East Tennessee has a pretty long reach. I know we’re doing a good job,” Sister Mary Christine said. “I didn’t come in with any intention to change programs. My hope is to create an atmosphere where if people have concerns they’ll let me know. I am a familiar face and didn’t just land out of nowhere. People have been welcoming and supportive.”