Carattini wants Spirit to abide within Catholic Social Services

Stephen Carattini says he hopes it becomes clear that CSS is proclaiming Jesus Christ


Stephen Carattini says he hopes it becomes clear that CSS is proclaiming Jesus Christ

May 2, 2016

Not a week goes by that Catholic Social Services' CEO Stephen Carattini doesn't visit one of the homes run by the agency in the Edmonton Archdiocese.

During the visits he engages with residents and staff and also pays close attention to the quality of service and the physical condition of the residences.

Over the last few years CSS has made a concerted effort to provide not only safe, secure and dignified spaces for its staff but also for the people it cares for. Recently CSS moved its central office to a better, more spacious building on Stony Plain Road.

Residents should expect no less. CSS has decided that all of its homes will be maintained at a certain level. If that means certain homes have to be renovated, rehabilitated or replaced, that's what the agency will do.

"We have close to 100 residences throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese and want to make sure they are good homes, that the people are being treated well in those homes and that the homes are kept in good repair," Carattini explains.

He joined the inspection team because he wants to know what is going on as much as he wants to engage with the residents.

"To go to these homes is not an imposition for me; it's a joy because I see the work of our agency being done in these places. I see love, I see compassion, I see great competence and great care and that's very fulfilling to me. That's the most fulfilling part of my job."

Home inspections are just one of many things happening at CSS these days and are part of a larger vision for the agency - one that includes reaffirming the agency's Catholic identity, serving with integrity and being good stewards of the resources entrusted to it.

The New York-born Carattini has been promoting change at CSS since he arrived in Edmonton three years ago from Catholic Charities in Denver, Colo. - a large multi-function social service provider, similar to CSS.

Under his watch, the first thing CSS did in terms of reaffirming its identity was to change its mission statement "to better reflect who we are and what we are about."

"We wanted to be very clear that we are a Catholic social services organization and we are guided by faith and we do our work with humility, compassion and respect," explains Carattini.

Mass is celebrated once a week in the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel at CSS headquarters.


Mass is celebrated once a week in the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel at CSS headquarters.

"We also created a new set of guiding principles to inform and instruct agency decisions, the first of which is the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity of every human person."

In line with this, CSS now provides direct ministry to the unborn through the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre, which it took over last year.

It also started an online prayer ministry called Oremus, which consists of sending a weekly prayer intention to hundreds of supporters and volunteers.

"It is simply an invitation to join us in prayer for that day and hopefully the rest of the week," explains Carattini. "The most powerful way that people can engage with us is in prayer."

The agency has also opened a chapel in its central office building. The Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel, a place of prayer and reflection for staff during working hours, will offer Mass every Friday at noon.

CSS also hired Deacon Randy Abele as its chaplain. He leads a spiritual care team that provides ongoing spiritual support and guidance to the people the agency serves.

In reaffirming its identity, CSS is renaming all group homes and offices with the names of saints.

"In the last two months I have been to 13 renaming ceremonies and blessings," noted Carattini. Homes that used to be known by their addresses or the neighbourhood they are located in have been named after saints such as St. Nicholas, St. Dominic Savio or St. Catherine Drexel.

In its aim to serve with integrity, CSS has added a new system of accountability "where we systematically and consistently are going back to our various ministries to ask them how we are doing."

"We have to ask those questions because we don't have a marketplace that punishes us," explains Carattini.

"If you go to a restaurant and get bad service, you are never going to go back to that restaurant. In our world people don't have those choices so it's really up to us to provide that integrity, to be asking those hard questions and to hold people accountable."

That's where the home visits fit in. "At minimum, I am out two different times a week visiting one of our homes. Obviously, I want to talk to the staff, meet our residents that are in our care and talk with them but I'm also looking at the status of the house," the CEO explains.

"I go in and would look at the bathroom, I'd go down to the laundry room and it is not because I'm crazy; it's because we want to make sure we are providing good care in a good place. It's a hard job but we have several staff participating in it."

An agency-wide client satisfaction survey conducted early this year shows Carattini's efforts to transform the agency are paying off. Of the 800 residents who participated in the survey, 95 per cent strongly agreed they had been treated with dignity and respect by staff.

Ninety-three per cent said they were very satisfied with the service they had received and 92 per cent said they were likely or extremely likely to come back to CSS if they were to need service again.


The survey results will help managers see how their departments are doing and to set benchmarks for next year.

Where change is most noticeable is in the agency's approach to fundraising. Last year's Sign of Hope campaign, for instance, was kicked off with an evening at the park and didn't have a financial target.

"We don't call it fundraising anymore; we call it community engagement," explains Carattini. "What we wanted to do was send a signal that we are not a fundraising organization. We are an organization that's called to share the love and consolation of Jesus Christ with those who are suffering."

Asking people for money is not the best way to engage people in that mission, he said.


"What I want to do is to grab your heart. I want to ask you to come in; I want you to pray for us. I might ask you to volunteer for us and, if you can, please feel free to make a financial gift to us (but) that's not why I'm talking to you," he asserts.

"If we know who we are and we know what we are about and we are proclaiming Jesus Christ and we are going about doing the work with integrity and we are treating people with dignity and respect, then God will give us the resources we need."

Instead of establishing a dollar figure for last year's campaign, CSS established other criteria for success.

"We wanted to increase the number of people praying for us; we wanted to increase the number of people volunteering for us. And yes we wanted to increase the number of people willing to donate to us, but the dollar number didn't matter; it only mattered that people would be engaged and would be willing to do so."

The agency was successful on all counts.

Out of approximately 400,000 Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese, "we probably are only in touch on a consistent basis with maybe 3,000 or 4,000 (people)," notes Carattini.


"We need to expand our base, not in term of the dollars but in terms of the number of people who can be engaged with us. We think this is a better longer-term proposition for us than to simply be raising a dollar amount."

He talks about expanding to a younger demographic. "How do we engage young people with Catholic Social Services? This is the task. This is the challenge."

Change is challenging, and Carattini knows that. "It's part of our human nature. None of us likes change, but change is constant. It's really about how we respond to it, and in some ways we don't have much choice," he says.


"I'm not naïve. I think that there are people who object to the changes, but I hope and pray that people will be open (to believe) that it is possible that what is happening now is really inspired by the Holy Spirit. That's all we ask.

"If it doesn't work I'll be the first one to say so and I will take responsibility for it."

Founded by Msgr. Bill Irwin in 1961, Catholic Social Services is Canada's largest multifunction social service agency, with about 1,600 employees, more than 1,000 volunteers and over 130 programs. Each year, CSS serves around 30,000 people in central and northeast Alberta.