“She had an incredible heart and drive to make people’s lives better,” said Lizanne Hagedorn, Executive Director of Nutritional Development Services (NDS) of Lorraine M. Knight, her predecessor in that role.
“She had the energy, the spunk, to push things forward. She was very goal-oriented and faith-driven,” Hagedorn said of Knight.
Knight passed away on Oct. 16 at age 76, leaving behind a 33-year legacy of service working for Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Born in Glen Cove, New York, a city on the North Shore of Long Island, Knight was the oldest of four siblings – three brothers, Tom, Paul, and Kevin, and her sister, Jean.
Hagedorn described Knight as “very family-oriented with a wonderful network of friends she made throughout her career,” which began as an elementary school teacher in her home state of New York.
Knight later joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in Newark, NJ. JVC is an organization which fosters the formation of young people dedicated to faith and social justice.
Knight was a Volunteer Coordinator with JVC, and eventually led their East Coast operation.
“The thing that inspired me most is the fact that Lorraine lived the Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ values of Spirituality, Social justice, Community, and Simple living,” said Anne Ayella, former NDS Assistant Director and Archdiocesan Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Director. She first met Knight about 40 years ago.
“Her deep faith moved her to action and justice on behalf of others,” said Ayella. “Whether she was planning a board meeting, welcoming a newcomer to the U.S., or helping with food distribution, Lorraine did everything with love for those being served. She was a true servant leader who made all of us better.”
Karen Becker worked for 43 years in CSS and was Director of Family Services during the time Knight was Director of Support Services for CSS.
She says Knight “embraced the whole philosophy” of being a servant leader. “There was a spiritual aspect to her work to serve people. The sick, ill, hungry, strangers in a new land exemplified her work,” she said.
In Oct. 2000, Becker and Knight traveled with other CSS colleagues to attend the canonization of Saint Katharine Drexel by Pope John Paul II. They also toured the Roman Catacombs and the city of Florence.
Almost a year later, the two women prayed together in a CSS office on Sept. 11, 2001, while watching the television news coverage of planes flying into the World Trade Center.
“Lorraine had family who worked in New York City” at the time, said Becker. To Knight’s relief, none of her immediate family members were harmed on that tragic day.
In 2009, following the unexpected death of NDS Founder, Patrick Temple-West, Knight became the Executive Director of NDS. Under her leadership, NDS expanded its outreach and increased funding in order to serve thousands of people in need through its Community Food Program.
“Lorraine was a no-nonsense type of administrator,” said Hagedorn. “She was not one for frivolity. She was incredibly practical and very resourceful.”
“If something was an issue or a problem, you had to come up with some ideas how to resolve it or correct it. You had to do the extra work. But that was the beauty of Lorraine. She inspired us to not only do our best, but also to go beyond that.”
Knight retired from NDS in 2017, though still remained very active with various organizations within Catholic Human Services. She was a Trustee at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and remained active in various other areas in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
“She was also active with CRS, which is an outgrowth of her work here at NDS,” said Hagedorn.
Knight was also known to accompany migrants, refugees, and undocumented persons to immigration court. “She never stopped trying to help others,” said Hagedorn.
In 2019, Knight was honored with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and Pontiff) by Pope Francis. The award is conferred for exceptional service to the Catholic Church by lay people and clergy.
Becker says her relationship with Knight shifted from colleagues to friends in later years. Becker describes Knight as “fiercely independent,” even as Knight experienced health issues later in life.
“She found real joy in the simple things of life,” agreed Ayella, “like making her mother’s Irish Soda Bread, enjoying a cup of tea, and breaking bread with friends and family.”
Knight also loved spending time in the backyard of her Philadelphia home. “She spent time tending to her garden in her final years, growing herbs, and spices, and planting different flowers in pots. She loved her plants. Sunflowers were her favorite flower,” Becker said.
“She touched a lot of lives in a lot of different ways. She had a lot of people around her. We all didn’t know each other. She reached out to each of us and cared. We were all a part of Lorraine’s village,” said Becker.
On Oct. 23, a Funeral Mass was held for Lorraine Knight at Old Saint Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia, where family and friends gathered to pray and say goodbye to their former leader, sister, and friend.
“Her heart was for others. Just always striving to fulfill the mission, to do it effectively and efficiently. Those are some of the lessons I learned from her,” said Hagedorn.
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