Fr. Pat Cosgrove, founder and president of Chalice. Photo by Michael Swan

Chalice lets Canadian Catholics build personal connections with those in need

  • November 12, 2018

People around the world are poor for a lot of different reasons. 

The poor suffer from neglectful and corrupt governments that can’t or won’t deliver the basics, from roads to schools to clean water. 

The poor are collateral damage when mining companies cut a deal with some distant government that lets the miners dump waste into rivers. 

Poor farmers and fishing families are left to cultivate expanding deserts and cast their nets into dying waters as the petroleum burning, high-consumption lifestyle of the Western world drives climate change.

These aren’t easy problems to solve. 

When Catholics are searching for the right response, what they’re looking for is a personal connection, Fr. Pat Cosgrove told The Catholic Register on a recent visit to Toronto.

“They just want to care for somebody,” he said. “You’re actually helping a person — a particular person.”

Cosgrove is the founder and president of Chalice, a Catholic child sponsorship agency based in Nova Scotia, just north of Halifax. By connecting donors to a child, a family and a community, Chalice gives Canadian Catholics an opportunity to be directly and concretely involved in changing lives, Cosgrove said.

Chalice began in 1992, but its initial approach was all wrong, Cosgrove admits. At first the charity took the sponsorship money and used it to buy necessities for the sponsored child, from shoes to food to school uniforms. A few years in, Cosgrove visited Congregation of Notre Dame Sr. Marilyn von Zuben in Haiti who was flouting the Chalice rule that said no money goes directly to the beneficiaries.

Von Zuben instead brought mothers together for regular meetings where they would talk about what they need and what they would do with the money. When the money came in at the end of the month, the women would parcel out the cash among themselves.

Von Zuben told Cosgrove that trusting the mothers with the money gave people back their dignity. They were free to make choices based upon their needs.

There and then, Cosgrove adopted the Von Zuben model throughout the entire network of Chalice sites spread across the globe.

“We do a ton of stuff, but at the heart of it is direct family funding,” Cosgrove told parishioners at St. John’s Church in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. “Chalice brings the poor to Christ and Christ to the poor.”

Over its 25 years, Chalice has grown to deliver aid in 15 countries at over 200 sites. It has been recognized as a top-rated Canadian charity in MoneySense magazine for the past eight years. It gets a solid B grade from and spends 90 cents of every dollar raised on its programs. 

In 2017, it raised $26.6 million in donations and spent just over $24 million on programming.

“We’ve built a name and a reputation for being Catholic, which we want to be,” Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove has only one answer when asked why Chalice has been successful.

“The goodness of people, of course.”

What the little Catholic charity can do is limited, Cosgrove admits.

“Sponsorship alone is not enough to change people’s lives,” he said. “We can help them help themselves.”

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