The 1990s
by Kathy Brewer-Gorham

The nineties found many families, parishes and dioceses experiencing financial concerns. As a result, many Family Life Offices were closing, much of the diocesan support diminishing.  The divorce recovery ministries were the hardest hit.  In the few dioceses that kept their Family Life Offices, the offices were given added tasks.  This meant several ministries had to be eliminated or minimized.  The Divorce Recovery groups once again felt abandoned by the church.  As a result, the divorced individual found support locally, either in their own parish church or other local divorce recovery group.  This brought many hardships on NACSDC.  First, membership declined; second, attendance at Regional and International Conferences dwindled resulting in a substantial decrease in income.

Kathleen Kircher turned in her resignation as Executive Director in the fall of 1991 to pursue other interests.  At the same time Rev. Christopher Witt resigned as chaplain.  The search committee spent many hours interviewing for both a Executive Director and Chaplain.

On April 20, 1992, Dorothy Levesque from Providence Rhode Island became the third Executive Director of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics.  The NACSDC Central Office was moved from Rochester, New York, to Cranston, Rhode Island.  Dorothy brought to the office years of experience ministering with the divorced and separated.

The 1992 Conference was held in Denver, Colorado, with keynoters Sheila Murphy, Bruce Fisher, and Patricia Livingston.  During the House of Delegates Meeting an annual Day of Prayer of Separated, Divorced, and Remarried Catholics was established to be held on the Sunday closest to the September 12 anniversary of of the death of Rev. James J. Young, CSP, Founder and first Chaplain of NACSDC.  Father William O’Keeffe, Interim Chaplain to the International Board of Directors of NACSDC following Jim Young’s death, was given the honor of receiving the James J. Young Ministry Award, which was established by the NACSDC Board of Directors in 1986 after Father Young's death to pay tribute to those whose untiring service had advanced in significant ways both ministry to and gifts of divorced Catholics within the Church.

In July of that year a new chaplain, Rev. James Heneghan, who resided at St. Ita Parish in Chicago, join the Board of Directors.  Because of financial problems the board made the decision to reduce the Executive Director position to part time.  The Board of Directors took on many more duties to take up the slack.

The Catholic University in Washington DC was the sight for the 1993 conference.  Father John Powell, Dorothy Levesque, and Rev. James Heneghan were keynoters.  Participants attending enjoyed warm hospitality and hot weather.  Sister Joannes Clifford, active in Separated and Divorced Ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore since 1981, received the James J. Young Ministry Award.  Because of parish obligation Father Heneghan resigned. The Board of Directors, because of financial problems due to poor attendance at conferences, accepted Father William O’Keefe’s offer to be an interim Chaplain.

Most of 1993 was spent with the board making commitments to increase funding.  Brain storming to reorganize began.  The Executive Committee and past board members (self-funded) met with a professional Organizational/Facilitator to begin the reorganizing process.  The first decision was to move the annual conference back to Notre Dame beginning in 1995.  The second decision was management cut backs.  The Executive Director hours were cut and the secretary position dissolved.  Father O’Keefe paid to continue the secretary’s position.  Several Board members could no longer continue because of the financial commitments they were being asked to absorb.  The board then consisted of six members who worked hard to keep NACSDC financially solvent.

In 1994, Sister Fran Ferder, Rev. John Heagle, Rev. David W. Blake, and Dorothy Levesque stimulated the conference participants as keynoters at the International Conference in Tacoma, Washington.  Region XII and the International Board of Directors showed those attending true western hospitality!  Roni Bissett, active in Seattle Divorce Ministry since 1973 and serving on the first NACSDC Board of Directors, received the James J. Young Ministry Award for her continued work in Divorce Recovery Ministry.  Father Bill O’Keeffe resigned as interim chaplain, though he paid for all his own expenses and also donated money for a secretary’s salary and new membership brochures.

After consultation with past presidents, past board members, and other resource people, the board asked then-current president Kathy Brewer to continue as president even though her term on the board was expiring.  The reason for this was that, while restructuring, the Board felt it needed someone who knew the ministry’s history to help make appropriate decisions — such as: restricting the Executive Director's main focus to financial aspects of the organization; directing the executive committee and board members to do most of the everyday work; and researching a leadership training program.

Since NACSDC could not offer Dorothy Levesque a full time position with benefits Dorothy Levesque resigned her position as Executive Director to take a similar position with the Diocese of Providence.  Her resignation, submuitted February 24, 1995, was to take place July 12, 1995.

Four proposals were submitted to keep the Central Office open during these trying times.  The board felt that it was in the best interest of the members to investigate for a year or two the real needs of the organization — and how to keep NACSDC alive even though many past officers and advisors counseled the board that it might be time to "close the doors."  With insufficient funding to pay for an Executive Director and continued discussion on restructuring the organization, the realization came that a more cost effective Central Office was necessary.  The board voted to accept the president’s proposal of moving Central Office to her house in LaGrande, Oregon, and hire a part time office manager.  On July 15, 1995, while continuing as head of the International Board of Directors,  Kathy Brewer became the fourth Executive Director at no cost to the organization.  She was asked that this be a two year commitment.  Krista Dennis was hired as the office manager.  Father Vince O’Brien from the DC area volunteered to be honorable chaplain for one year.

The 1995 conference was held on the Notre Dame campus for the first time in ten years.  Anthony Padovano, Paula Ripple, Kathleen Kircher, and Dorothy Levesque were the keynoters.  Many old traditions were resumed: the grotto walk; a prayer service in front of the “Woman at the Well;” and the Celebration Mass at the Basilica.  Many felt that bringing in some of the old legacies while continuing to investige a new structure was the resurrection of a stagnated ministry.  Beginning Experience was the recipient of the James J. Young Ministry Award.

During the next year the executive committee took on much of the business duties.  Many members also volunteered to help.  Kathy and Krista kept the Jacob’s Well newsletters, every day business, and conference details in task.  Father Joseph Breighner from Baltimore served one year as an interim Chaplain.  God was truly blessing NACSDC.

Separated, divorced, widowed, and remarried persons are called by God to journey forth to a new place, to make a new beginning.  The 1996 conference challenged attendees to start this journey with a new vision.  Nancy Harshman, Pat Livingston, Father John Shea, and Father Joseph Breighner as keynoters paved the way for stimulating workshops at the 1996 conference.  The board had worked hard all year establishing new energizing ways to make the conference the best ever.  Father Vince O’Brien from the DC area and Caroline Mallett from Lorton, Virginia were recognized with the James J. Young Ministry Award for their generous service in ministering to the separated and divorced.  They were presented with engraved earthen vessels symbolizing the encounter of Jesus and the Woman of Samaria at Jacob's Well.

Rev. Richard Sparks, NACSDC’s chaplain, Mary Ann Massey, Ron Heilman and Br. Loughlan Sofield as keynoters made the 1997 conference very successful.

Even though the ministry had grown by leaps and bounds in the previous two years, the board spent many hours in 1997 trying to come up with ideas to continue the Ministry with more financial stability.  The board had heard many options and, with the help of a hired reorganizer facilitator, approved a new structure consisting of five executive directors instead of just one.  The reason for the team approach was that past executive directors had marvelous talents in some areas and had difficulty in others, and that no one person could be expected to have the number of talents and areas of expertise that was needed for this job.  It was also determined that volunteers could not do the volume of work and did not have the time or, perhaps, even the expertise to accomplish all that was needed to make the organization healthy and viable.  Each director was to be responsible to raise funding for their specialty.  These specialties were: Conference Director; Administrator (in charge of office and fund raisers); Program Director; Research and Development Director; and Financial Director.  Since the board had so much business to attend to they voted to form an all-volunteer Ad Hoc committee to figure out how to implement the new structure.  This program was presented to the membership at the International Conference, Carrie Hansen was chosen as the committee chair, and Carrie was to report back to the Board at its 1997 fall meeting.

Because Kathy Brewer had served two years as executive director and five years as president, she asked if the board could come up with other options for the Central Office.  Once again a financial facilitator was called in to help the board make some tough decisions about the future of NACSDC.  The board decided they needed to hire a financial expert executive director first to start the restructuring process.  Interviews were started and Richard Weimar became the fifth executive director with the understanding that he would be responsible for soliciting funds for both his own salary for NACSDC operation.

The board's Ad Hoc committee limited to five volunteers due to the fact they were asked to pay their own expenses: Caroline Mallett from Region IV, Janet Glisson from Region VI, Father Dick Sparks, current president Irene Varley, and chair Carrie Hansen.  The Committee’s decision was to only have three of the five specialities, i.e., NACSDC would be administered by an administrator, a conference planner, and a program planner — a three-member team with equal decision making authority.  These were to be part time paid positions with funding from money generated by the International Conference and programs to be developed by the program administrator.  It was thought that one, or possibly two, programs would be designed each year and be presented at various cities throughout the country.  The final restructure program was presented by committee chair Carrie Hansen at the 1998 spring board meeting.  It was approved by the Board for implementation to be completed within the next three years.