By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
ORANGEBURG – Brother Jeremiah O’Leary enjoys giving gifts but they do not come wrapped in colored paper and tied with curling ribbons.
The new executive director of the Cooperative Church Ministries of Orangeburg gives gifts of the heart in the form of time, care and effort helping others make it through difficulties.
The outreach is a ministry of 25 churches in the Orangeburg area that operate the center for residents who need help ranging from food and clothing to emergency assistance paying medical and utility bills.
Brother O’Leary has been assistant director of CCMO for 11 years. Prior to the outreach he worked at Holy Trinity Church for its St. Vincent dePaul Society and school board.
It was while he was working at Holy Trinity that the CCMO was created. Brother O’Leary was doing outreach work in the St. Vincent dePaul Society and, together, the ministers at St. Andrews United Methodist Church, came up with the idea to start an ecumenical ministry. The churches now coordinate the appeals for help. The executive director’s position requires that the soft-spoken Brother O’Leary make public appeals for the organization, oversee the pick up and disbursement of donations and work the business end of CCMO. He does all of this with the aid of volunteers.
“It was a little bit overwhelming in the beginning,” he said, “but the volunteers made it quite manageable. We have a great group of people. Everybody works so well together.”
That humility has been a consistent characteristic for the Xavierian. Brother O’Leary has been helping the poor all of his adult life. He joined the Order of the Brothers of St. Francis Xavier right out of high school, such was their impact on him. The Boston native had been taught by the brothers throughout his education and was taken by the spirit of friendship, community and concern the religious displayed for their students.
Those traits are also apparent in how the CCMO director approaches his work. He never fails to credit the hard work the volunteers at the outreach ministry do or the fact that they are the reason it thrives.
He is also clearly focused on his responsibilities and must look constantly for ways to meet the needs of the ministry which operates by donation.
“People are willing to give and we have had a dedicated, supportive core group over the years,” he said. “We get great support from our churches and other local organizations and for the most part we are able to meet needs, but we do have to turn people away at times.”
Of course, Brother O’Leary adds with a smile, they could always use more donations.
The coming together of churches for one outreach ministry has had an important cohesive effect on the community. The director said they get to know people of other religious denominations and cultural backgrounds.
“The experience might have helped to break down stereotypes and is helping us to see that each person is a different case,” he said.
Those cases include people who are destitute and in need of food or clothing, some are families who have lost their homes to fire and some are people who have lost their jobs.
“The people we help are truly people in need,” he said.
Brother O’Leary’s goals are to get more member churches, increase their funding, get a new truck for picking up donations and increase the working space. Their office is located in a 5,000 square foot building that formerly housed a grocery store. The owner donated it to the ministry on a rent-free basis. The Xavierian wants to expand the ministry to include a job-training program.
“This is satisfying work,” he said. “At times it is stressful, but always rewarding. This is a service organization inspired by the example of Jesus Christ. We are all aware of that and do the work there on that basis.”