Agnes Thomas, the new executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Photo courtesy Agnes Thomas

Agnes Thomas driven to make impact

  • April 9, 2023

Dr. Agnes Thomas’ depth of experience, gleaned from years of service to several communities, has led to a new role as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Thomas will assume her role April 13. She takes over from Michael Fullan, who recently retired after nearly three decades in the role.

Describing herself as a bridge builder, Thomas is humbled and grateful to serve her neighbour in a fresh capacity with the 110-year-old organization. She hopes to bring her experience working with various groups, including young people, women, immigrants, migrants and people with disabilities, to the role. 

In joining the team at Catholic Charities, Thomas is moving on from her most recent position as executive director at one of its member agencies, Catholic Crosscultural Services, where she has served for the past five years.  

“I am called to be here,” said Thomas of her new role. “My strong suit is to be a servant, helping others to succeed. I think of leadership as creating impact and influence, bringing people together in a spirit of synergy and collaboration and helping them to reach their potential. If your people are good, your community will be great. I am appreciative that we are not working for people but with people.”

Even as a teenager growing up in India, Thomas was thinking deeply about social justice and how she might contribute to the betterment of the world. She started out in youth ministry which in 1993 led her to L’Arche International, a global organization devoted to building communities for people with developmental and physical disabilities. Thomas worked there for more than a dozen years in India, the United States and Canada, a time she says deeply impacted the person she has become in her career. It was there that she learned leadership is about learning to build relationships with people side by side as the path to greatest influence. 

“My professional journey has been more about where God is calling me,” said Thomas. “Where am I going to be the most helpful or impactful while I learn and grow as well. I think as a lifelong learner that growing and changing with people is so important. I would imagine (being at Catholic Charities) was a natural progression because it was never really power that attracted me to any roles, but the opportunity for influence and impact.”

Thomas believes leadership is about having positive influence. She grew up believing she wanted to change the world, and though her perspective has shifted, the goal has remained the same. 

“As you mature, you learn it is really not about going and changing the (entire) world,” said Thomas. “You change the world around you — your immediate context.”

After moving to Toronto, she joined local charity Yonge Street Mission, where her duties included developing initiatives and self-help groups for immigrant women and families and serving as an executive council member of Toronto South Local Immigration Partnership. Prior to joining Catholic Crosscultural Services, she was director of community development and programs at the Jane/Finch Centre, fostering and promoting innovative programs and services.

Thomas notes that Catholic Charities is at a “crossroads” as the world begins to move forward from COVID-19 and the agency welcomes Archbishop Francis Leo as its new chair. 

The core values underpinning the organization, however, remain timeless and values-driven. Catholic Charities, she says, is built upon Catholic social teaching and she says she’ll lead with a constant awareness of “what we need to do to welcome and create spaces that are safe for some of society’s most vulnerable people.” 

Catholic Charities’ board of directors and 21 member agencies are excited to begin working with the new executive director, says board president Maureen Leon. 

“Dr. Thomas has consistently demonstrated her commitment to serving those most in need,” said Leon. “We are excited to welcome her to the Catholic Charities family where, under her leadership, we know that the legacy of serving the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities is in good hands.”

Thomas earned her PhD at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Her PhD followed a Master of Arts degree from York University, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, India, a diploma in social development from the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, and ongoing professional development. 

Thomas currently lives in Scarborough with her husband, Santhosh, and their three children who she says are her greatest supporters. In her free time, she is a busy volunteer, serving as a student mentor for OISE and sits on a variety of boards and committees in the Toronto area. Thomas has continued in her role as educator, teaching university courses on community transformation and religion and migration. 

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