By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

RADNOR – At Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishop’s agency for overseas relief, the tragic Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti is commanding the attention of the entire staff, including Dennis Fisher, an education program officer who works out of CRS’s Northeast region office in Radnor.

“From the start of the regional offices in 2005 this is obviously the biggest response we’ve seen,” said Fisher, who estimated Haiti contributions to CRS at $40 million and counting.

“We are working to make transportation of food, water and medical supplies easier,” he said.

Before the earthquake hit, CRS had 313 staff in the country, many of them native Haitians. That number has been increased since CRS is working to expand staff in needed skills because of the crisis, especially in the medical profession.

None of the CRS staff were killed, but some of the Haitian staff did lose family members, Fisher said.

For Fisher, who works primarily with schools, this is a second career which ties in nicely with his first.

Born and raised in the former Corpus Christi Parish in Philadelphia and a graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School, he seriously considered the priesthood and entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

After deciding this was not his vocation, he left the seminary and for 32 years taught theology in archdiocesan Catholic high schools. He taught at Msgr. Bonner and Roman Catholic and, for 20 years, at Archbishop Carroll, where at one time he was also vice principal.

He still keeps his hand in education through teaching theology on the adjunct faculty of St. Joseph’s University.

Fisher and his wife Maryanne (Shannon) have been members of St. Denis Parish, Havertown, for the past 22 years. They are the parents of three, Maureen, Megan and Daniel. They have both been extraordinary ministers of holy Communion in the parish, as well as members of various committees including a favorite, the Justice and Peace Committee.

Given his background, working with CRS “is a way to connect social justice with my faith and to connect Catholics with our brothers and sisters overseas who have need,” he said.

In his own work, Fisher does quite a bit of traveling through the area covered by CRS’s northeast region, giving presentations to high schools and other youth groups. One day it might be Hartford, Conn., or Rochester N.Y., or Camden N.J., or right here in the Archdiocese.

In the current crisis, he and all other members of the CRS staff are fielding questions from around the region from people or groups who want to help. Donations have been pouring in.

On the whole, how is CRS doing in Haiti?

The Haitian Government has set up eight zones where there are critical needs, and CRS has been assigned two of them, according to Fisher. In one area alone, a golf course has been taken over and “we have 50,000 living people on it,” he said. “I think there are signs we are getting there, and we are reaching more people. The infrastructure is weak, but large vessels are now getting in.”

These infrastructure problems, which predate the earthquake, are things to be addressed in the future.

“CRS is thinking beyond short-range goals,” Fisher said.


Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.