Denis Costello started with CFS in 1992. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Catholic social agency needed now more than ever, retiring CFS director says

  • December 17, 2018

If Denis Costello can take anything away from more than a quarter century with Catholic Family Services Toronto, it’s knowing that the need for the agency has never been greater. 

A society that has become so secular over the years and has pushed the needs of the faithful so far to the side that those seeking a place where faith is important need an agency like Catholic Family Services in a time of need.

“We need to have a strong social service agencies, solidly following the teaching of the Catholic Church, so that we can push back against a very aggressive secularization and have something to show that we are a forceful good in society,” said Costello, 71, who is stepping down after 26 years with CFS Toronto, the past three as executive director. 

He’s seen it over the years in the various roles he has filled at CFS, from counsellor through director of Clinical Services and Programs up to executive director. People of other denominations come to the agency because they see it as a place where faith is taken seriously.

“I think there’s great wisdom in our tradition that we can share with the total community,” he said.

“When people get into trouble then you’re going to need Catholic social agencies.”

It’s one of the traits that led Costello to CFS back in 1992 when he came on board, on contract, to do marriage counselling. 

“I like working in an agency where my values are aligned with the agency’s values,” he said.

Costello will be retiring at the end of the year and said the “long journey” has been a good one. He has tried to take the best practices of his predecessors — the community orientation instilled by Lucia Furgiuele and the connection with the Catholic element of the work by Gladys McMullin — and infuse them with his clinical focus. It has left CFS with an impressive team, Costello believes, well placed to carry on CFS’s almost 100 years of strengthening families, marriages and individuals. 

“I’m highly impressed with their passion, their dedication to their work. I’m seeing the young social workers and they give me great hope for the future. I leave behind a terrific team of managers,” he said.

Costello also leaves satisfied that CFS has helped its clients develop “very positive outcomes,” as discovered through surveys of clients after their interactions with the agency. He won’t take all the credit though, likening the work to that of a personal trainer at the gym. They can guide a person onto the right path, but it takes the person themselves doing the work to achieve their goals.

“If somebody comes, and comes regularly, and does the work, they will often get a good result,” he said.

Costello also believes it is an honour to be entrusted with helping someone in crisis.

“It’s an enormous honour and responsibility to be invited into someone’s life,” he said. “This counselling is really, really simple. You need to be able to listen. You need to help the person arrive at the solution that is right for them.”

Sure, there are things Costello knows he could have done better, but he understands that “nobody ever lives up to the ideal that we set for ourselves.”

“At the same time, this agency has allowed me to live my Christian faith and my social ethics so fully that they overwhelm any regrets.”

As for his future, Costello will take some time to discern what comes next.

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