Catholic Charities of East Tennessee honors those who serve

Annual event raises funds for operations throughout the Diocese of Knoxville; Chattanooga dinner postponed        

By Emily Booker

Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, presents Michael Wrinkle with the organization’s Pope Francis Service to the Poor Award.

It was an evening of hope and celebration at the Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s annual “Sapphire Soiree” dinner on March 5 at Rothchild Conference Center in Knoxville.

Hundreds attended for an evening that honored those who serve their community in love and charity.

Bo Williams, news anchor for WATE-TV, emceed the event, and Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities, welcomed those in attendance. Father David Boettner, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, gave the opening prayer.

“You have joined us tonight because you believe that acts of kindness, generosity, and prayer truly make a difference. … Tonight we will share with you many of the good works in our community and award the Pope Francis Service to the Poor Award in celebration of living out our call of faith and love,” Mrs. Healy said.

The evening included a cocktail hour, a silent auction, live music, dinner, and a live auction. Jim Wogan, Diocese of Knoxville communications director, served as auctioneer. Money raised from the auctions went to support the programs of Catholic Charities.

Bishop Richard F. Stika closed the evening with prayer.

But the highlight of the evening was the awarding of the Pope Francis Service to the Poor Award, which honors an individual or group who gives exemplary service of charity.

Catholic Charities’ board of trustees votes on candidates who are nominated by their community. A video highlighted the missions of the three finalists: Jim and Connie Brace of All Saints Parish in Knoxville; Michael Wrinkle of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville; and Community Services of Cumberland County, which is supported by St. Alphonsus Parish in Crossville and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade.

Mrs. Healy announced Michael Wrinkle as this year’s Knoxville recipient.

“I’m not much for awards or plaques, but if it brings attention to any type of cause or need, then I’m all for it,” Mr. Wrinkle said. Mr. Wrinkle is the Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council 16523 at Holy Ghost Parish and has led the parish in serving Knoxville’s homeless population in several ways.

He has long had a heart for serving the homeless and getting to know them as individuals.

“I’ve always been somebody that instead of going to the normal areas, to feed or clothe or take care of, I pretty much go in the trenches,” he said.

“When I came to Holy Ghost, the priest that was here, Father John Dowling, and I were talking, and he knew that I was passionate about this, and we talked about it. I said, ‘We’re at ground zero, Father.’ I said, ‘They’re coming in asking for food when we’re doing breakfast or any type of food events, and I’d like to get the parish rallied behind this.’ And Father said it perfect. He said, ‘the parish is hungry. They’re hungry for something like this,’” he added.

So Mr. Wrinkle spearheaded the parish effort to provide hundreds of meals to the homeless on Christmas Day.

Mr. Wrinkle lets guests at Catholic Charities’ annual dinner know about his service to the homeless community in Knoxville.

“They started showing up with vehicles full of presents and personal-care items and clothing and gloves and hats. By the time we got the trucks loaded, it was amazing,” he recalled. “And we went out there and stood out in the parking lot. It warmed up to 13 degrees that day. What hit me was these people are freezing, and it was Christ’s birthday. The cold did not impact them that much; they were happy and joyful that somebody had remembered them on Christmas.”

From there the mission grew, providing more meals throughout the year and working with other groups to provide clothes, showers, haircuts, and resources for this population.

Mr. Wrinkle said he has seen people transform when they are treated with a little respect and dignity.

“What we’ve learned over the years is it’s about dignity. It’s not just about feeding. With dignity and showing them you care, they seem to come around, and they start talking to you. …They start telling you their problems and their needs, and their hopes, and their dreams,” he said. “In the needy people’s eyes, I see Christ’s eyes every time….That’s what Christ taught us to do, and that’s why we’re on this mission.”

Catholic Charities’ annual dinner in Chattanooga, scheduled for March 12, had to be postponed due to precautions over the coronavirus epidemic.

In a statement announcing the postponement, Catholic Charities said it is making this decision based on the love and concern for all of its supporters who were planning to attend the event.

Catholic Charities said it will continue to follow guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, and it hopes to reschedule the dinner for a time in the future that will be appropriate.

“We pray for all of those affected by the virus,” the nonprofit service agency said in a statement.

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