Following the crowd would have been the easier choice for Heather Huot, but stepping out of her comfort zone forever altered the course of her life.

During her senior year at Jesuit-run Boston College, Huot considered joining her friends in applying to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to do a year of volunteer service. Instead, she opted to complete her service year with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry and was assigned to help those experiencing homeless at St. Francis Inn in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.

While soup kitchens are not usually considered ideal places to find a spouse, that is exactly what happened to Huot. She met her husband Chris, who also was volunteering at the Inn, and their relationship began while serving the homeless there.

“I always tell everyone I met my husband at a soup kitchen, and I get all kinds of crazy looks,” Huot said. “That year of service was the basis of our relationship.”

Franciscan Father Michael Duffy, who still ministers at St. Francis Inn, married the couple at St. Matthew Church in Northeast Philadelphia where Huot grew up and attended the parish school. She and Chris have been married 21 years, and the couple have three children, Matthew, 18, Zachary, 15, and Lidia, 9. The Huot family are members of St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

Huot’s volunteer year at the Inn not only had a positive impact on her personal life, but it also solidified her commitment to serving those in need in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“When you see people coming to you for the most basic needs and how humbling that is, you just feel drawn to being there with them in that space,” said Huot, a 1996 alumna of Nazareth Academy. “When I was at St. Francis Inn, the tagline was, ‘Love Lived in Service.’ That is how you express your care and your concern and your love for one another, by taking care of one another.”

Huot began her Catholic Human Services career in 2002 as a case manager at Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) Women of Hope-Vine, which provides long-term care and housing to women experiencing chronic mental illness who were previously homeless. She then worked as a Systems Administrator for CSS’ Housing and Homeless Services for six years before becoming Assistant Director of Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) in 2015 which serves older adults throughout the region.

She was named CHCS director in 2020 and during her tenure the agency was instrumental in expanding the Archdiocesan portfolio of affordable senior housing in the Philadelphia region.

Heather Huot speaks during a Nov. 2021 blessing and dedication of St. Rita Place. The affordable senior housing complex is located next to the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia at Broad and Ellsworth Streets in South Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb/CatholicPhilly)

Huot is prepared for her next challenge as she becomes the Secretary for Catholic Human Services effective Jan. 1. She is succeeding James Amato who recently retired after 40 years of serving people in need throughout the Archdiocese.

“When Bishop [John] McIntyre told me that I received the appointment, I was speechless and didn’t know what to say,” she said. “I’m so excited and honored and humbled to step into this role.”

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As the first woman to lead the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services, Huot noted the influence of women who played pivotal roles throughout her life.

“When I look at my own faith life, I can see the important women who have shaped where I am now personally, spiritually, and professionally,” she said. “I feel like I’m bringing all of them with me as I step into this new role.”

Huot shared that her mother, Angela Burns, was the spiritual leader of the family and ensured everyone attended Mass every Sunday, including her father, Bob, who was not Catholic.

“My mother was a very strong Catholic, so all five of us would go to the 10:00 a.m. Mass and sit in the front row of the lower church at St. Matt’s,” she said. “It was her faith that formed the faith of the whole family.”

Huot’s father eventually converted to Catholicism, and his faith journey led him to become a permanent deacon at St. Matthew’s.

“Watching his transformation as a child was a pretty significant experience,” she recalled. “That wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t married my mother who had a very strong foundation of faith.”

As the new leader of Catholic Human Services, Huot emphasized the numerous ways the organization helps people throughout the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Catholic Human Services hits every corner of the Archdiocese, whether it’s through Nutritional Development Services bringing meals to schools or food cupboards or our five Family Service Centers located throughout the region, there are people in need who are constantly turning to the Church, and we’re responding in many different ways,” Huot said.

“I don’t think you can find another social service agency that has the diverse programs that we do, from intellectual disabilities to refugee resettlement, to food programs, to senior services. We are looking at what the needs are in the communities and finding a way to address those needs.”

As Huot begins her new role, she plans to take time to meet with CHS staff members and clients to gain a deeper understanding of the work the organization does across the Archdiocese. Her primary goal is ensuring that CHS continues meeting the diverse needs of those who seek help from the Church.

“I really hope in the years to come that we will strengthen the great works that we do, that we will find new ways to meet people where they are and give them what they need, and that we will really be a shining light of hope for this Archdiocese.”