Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 16, 2000
Even PM comes out to honour Irwin
Founder receives plaudits as CSS marks 40th birthday
By GLEN ARGAN
Catholic Social Services has come a long way from the day 40 years ago when Father Bill Irwin started it all with a $500 loan and a $40-a-month office.
Today there are more than 120 programs, a $33-million annual budget and services provided to more than 60,000 people in need every year.
The agency has one of the highest accreditation ratings given to any social service agency in North America and it's the largest multi-function agency in Canada.
And for the past 10 years, CSS has been running programs with people living on a garbage dump in Manila, the Philippines.
But one thing has stayed the same. Irwin, now a monsignor and laden with honours from honorary doctorates to being an officer of the Order of Canada, remains close to the pulse of the organization.
At 72, his health is not the best. But Irwin still puts in a day's work while others run the show.
And on Oct. 6, more than 300 people, including the prime minister of Canada, came out to a Mass and banquet to honour Irwin and the agency he founded. The event was the wrap-up to a two-day conference on Ethics in Action, held at a downtown hotel to mark the agency's 40th anniversary.
"There are more things in life (than greed) and Father is a good example," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said during a brief talk at the banquet.
"I'm happy to be here because you're celebrating a person like many unknown people who spent their lives working for those in need," he said.
"Very rare that guys like that become a monsignor," Chretien joked while looking at Irwin. "As prime minister, it is my pleasure to say on behalf of everybody, 'Thank you for a job well done.'"
Other political leaders, Irwin's nephew Rick and former CSS board chair Kay Feehan were among those singing Irwin's praises at the banquet. But the last word belonged to retired Archbishop Joseph MacNeil.
MacNeil praised Irwin as "extraordinarily loyal."
He recounted how Irwin had cared for MacNeil's childhood parish priest, Edmonton Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald, when he became old and sick "in need of a great deal of help."
"When somebody is in need, when somebody is victimized, when somebody is hurt, he took it personally.
"Msgr. Irwin has really learnt that lesson, that as a human being, as a priest, he is meant for service," the archbishop said.
"He has poured out his life, and is still doing that, for us, for others."
As well as running CSS, Irwin shouldered many other difficult jobs in the archdiocese, MacNeil said. When a new parish had to be started in Millwoods, "Who did we turn to? Bill Irwin."
And people "thought we had rocks in our heads" when we asked Irwin to be master of ceremonies at the 1984 papal Mass north of Edmonton, he said. They said Irwin didn't know much about liturgy, but they had forgotten that he was a very good organizer.
Irwin, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, did not address the banquet, but he passed on his thanks through his replacement as director of Catholic Charities, Father Micheal Laporte.
Laporte also announced the establishment of the Msgr. William Irwin Endowment Fund, the interest from which will be used to fund international social service projects.