By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Bearing in mind the plight of Philadelphia immigrants, Bishop John Neumann founded Beneficial Bank in Philadelphia in 1853, one year after he became Philadelphia’s fourth bishop.
Having a saint as a founder is humbling, said Gerard Cuddy, Beneficial’s president and CEO. Cuddy, 52, is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr.He also attends St. John Baptist Vianney Parish in Gladwyne and the chapel on the campus of Villanova University.
Bishop John Neumann recognized the influx of immigrants and the necessity to assist them in finding a safe place for the money they accumulated as cash laborers. “In the discharge of his pastoral responsibilities, he figured the best thing to do was approach a group of business people who were inclined to support that position,” Cuddy said.
“It’s somewhat telling, when you look at our ledger from when the bank opened in 1853, we had a carpenter, a couple of maids, a shoe delivery person and a cobbler” as customers, Cuddy said.
Before they had a bank to deposit their money, the laborers relied upon their churches to serve as a safe haven for their funds, according to Cuddy. They would give some money to the church to act as a bank while an alarming amount of cash would be hidden at home, under the mattress, for example.
But Bishop Neumann knew the immigrants needed more than a reservoir to store their money; education in how to responsibly save and grow their money was essential.
“As a Catholic and as a bank president, I think it’s a tremendous legacy that we have him as our founder,” Cuddy said. “I do believe that he looks out for the safekeeping of the bank.
“It’s a powerful thing – not just for Beneficial, not just for banking, but from a historical reference point for this area – that we have a Catholic saint whose whole mission in life was improving life for the downtrodden and those who didn’t have access to opportunity.”
A statue of St. John Neumann has a place of prominence in Cuddy’s office at Beneficial headquarters at 510 Walnut St. in Philadelphia. A portrait of the saint also hangs outside Cuddy’s door, in the hallway of the bank’s executive offices.
“What he set out to do is something we continue to set out to do,” Cuddy said of Beneficial. “We’re committed to educating people to do the responsible thing with their finances.”
Beneficial conducts financial literacy programs in parochial, private and public schools, as well as workshops for those who are homeless and attempting to get back on their feet.
Why bank at Beneficial? “If you’re Catholic, it’s a mortal sin if you don’t bank here,” Cuddy joked.
All kidding aside, “We don’t view ourselves as a financial sales company; we view ourselves as a financial education company first.
“We get credit for the fact that we have a different type of legacy story given really humble origins. Economically, there is no way this bank should have survived its first 40 years, given all the tumult and crisis with the economy from 1853 through the mid-1890s. Just a legacy of endurance, and sticking to a core set of values, distinguishes us to a certain extent,” he said.
Although St. John Neumann is attributed as the founder and is referenced in records of the minutes as present in the room at the bank’s organizational board of directors meeting, because he was the Bishop of Philadelphia he could not be associated with a profit-making enterprise. The founding board of directors acted under his supervision.
“Just based on moral authority and intellectual leadership, I don’t think anybody was leaving that room until he was satisfied that the problem was taken care of.”
Cuddy has personally brought Bishop Neumann’s hallway portrait into his office on at least three occasions in his four years at the bank’s president and CEO.
“On tougher days, it’s good to have him staring directly at me,” he said.
March 28, the date of St. John Neumann’s birth, is annually acknowledged at the bank. “The insurmountable odds that this man overcame is an incredible story of leadership and faith,” Cuddy said.
“The fact that we’re celebrating his 200th birthday is a huge milestone,” Cuddy added.
“I would hope, in some small measure, Beneficial, by its actions, celebrates him every day.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.