Native Washingtonian to lead Catholic Charities

A priest who once worked alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, will head one of Washington’s largest private providers of services to those most in need, including immigrants, the homeless and people with disabilities.

Monsignor John J. Enzler, a native Washingtonian, has been chosen as the next president and chief executive of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, which serves more than 100,000 people in the region each year.

“The exciting news about Monsignor Enzler is that he has firsthand experience working with the poor and the disenfranchised, the very people we serve,” said Carol Shannon, executive director of the Catholic Charities Foundation. “You could not have a richer set of experiences to lead this agency.”

Enzler, who has served on the Catholic Charities Foundation board of directors, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1973 and was named monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1985. He served at a number of parishes in the area, including the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac and, most recently, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the District. For the archdiocese, he has worked as director of youth ministry and vicar for development.

Enzler will begin his new duties July 15.

“I’m very excited,” Enzler said Monday. He said that he has spent his entire priesthood taking care of those less fortunate and that the post with Catholic Charities provides an opportunity to continue on a broader level.

Among his goals for the organization, he said, is finding more resources. “I’d love to be able to say when someone comes to our door, whether it be at Catholic Charities or our parishes, they find an open door, they find full pantries and they find places of shelter.”

Enzler spent about a month working with Mother Teresa’s organization about a year after she died. It was a chance, he said, to experience her principles firsthand, including what it meant to give dignity to the dying. In that short time, he said, he held the hands of about 10 people as they died.

Enzler replaces Edward J. Orzechowski, who is retiring after heading the organization for 20 years.

Under Orzechowski’s leadership, Catholic Charities helped the chronically homeless find affordable housing. In the fall, the organization opened a 178-unit mixed-income apartment complex in the Eckington area. Orzechowski also oversaw a merger in 2004 that led to Catholic Charities increasing its clientele from 60,000 people a year to more than 100,000.

But under his tenure, the organization also sparked controversy by limiting employee health coverage because of the District’s move to legalize same-sex marriage. The organization also now requires new employees to promise they will not “violate the principles or tenets” of the church.

Orzechowski was not available for comment Monday. In an earlier letter to staff and volunteers, he wrote that it was time for “the next generation of leadership to guide us through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

Orzechowski said in a news release Monday that Enzler is well known in the region and a strong advocate for the type of people that the organization has been serving for more than 80 years.

“He is the perfect choice to continue the incredible history of Catholic Charities in our community,” Orzechowski said.

Catholic Charities has 77 programs in the District and Maryland and runs the majority of the District’s homeless shelters.

Enzler, who has served on the boards of numerous local and national organizations, has received the Washington Theological Union’s Service Award, the Potomac Community Service Award and the Catholic Youth Organization National Figure/Outstanding Person Award.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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