CHARLESTON – Dorothy Grillo’s impact on Catholic social ministries in South Carolina will be felt far into the future.
Grillo stepped down on May 12 as director of the Office of Social Minis-tries and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston. After successfully managing a laundry list of projects during her seven-year tenure, she will now apply her abilities to a new position as Southeast regional director of Catholic Relief Services. She will create the regional office in Atlanta and will oversee a nine-state area. Her diocesan replacement has not yet been selected.
Since coming to work for the diocese in 1999, Grillo has directed the expansion of services ranging from helping people in need to implementing parish disaster planning. It seems that no task has been too large for her.
One of her most concrete accomplishments was to oversee the renovation and expansion of the Carter-May Home and the establishment, design and construction of the St. Joseph Residence for retired priests. The project took two years and the facility is now full and has a waiting list, according to Janine Bauder, administrator of both homes.
Grillo also established the Office of Immigration Services, which provides low-cost counseling to those who cannot afford a private lawyer. The diocese now has offices in Columbia, Mount Pleasant and Greenville that assist people who are applying for citizenship, seeking asylum, seeking help in cases of domestic violence, or replacing lost or stolen documents.
Those offices are operated out of Catholic Charities. Grillo added client advocates to all four regional offices. The advocates provide case management and assist people with their finances but primarily work to help them achieve self-sufficiency.
“We have moved from the Band-Aid of writing checks for financial assistance to problem solving and becoming self-sufficient,” Grillo said in an interview with The Miscellany.
Helen O’Leary, the new Coastal Deanery coordinator for Catholic Charities in North Charleston, said Grillo helped her see what Catholics were doing in terms of outreach.
“I didn’t realize how much Catholic Charities did,” O’Leary said. “It has been an eye-opener to realize and to know that we do so much in our country here in times of disaster and times of need.”
Grillo also played a role in supporting the establishment of the Upstate Catholic Collaborative in the Greenville area. It is an effort between Catholic Charities and Bon Secours-St Francis Hospital, St. Anthony of Padua Church and Mercy Housing, designed to address the needs of poor senior citizens. Sister Margie Hosch was the leader in that effort.
Parishes have felt the impact of Grillo’s work in the strides made in disaster preparedness and response.
“We went from no plans to training parishes across the diocese in disaster preparedness and training Catholic Charities offices on how to be long- term responders,” she said.
Diane Bullard, regional director of Catholic Charities in the Pee Dee, has worked in that capacity since well before Grillo came on board.
“Dorothy has managed to take Catholic Charities to the next level,” she said. “We have grown and expanded more than we ever dreamed. We are now connected nationally and this has a big impact on the services we are able to provide and the projects we will be involved with in the future.”
In addition to her diocesan responsibilities, Grillo is on the board of trustees of Catholic Charities USA and its Disaster Response Advisory Committee and is a member of the Sisters of Charity Foundation board of directors. Grillo has a master’s degree in social work and a career history in healthcare administration, which enabled her to act as the Diocese of Charleston’s victim assistance minister, responding to people who have been abused by priests or diocesan personnel.
Grillo’s work has had great meaning for her.
“It’s a ministry and a calling for me, it’s not a job,” she said. “I consider it an essential element of my faith and it has been ever since I can remember working as a volunteer in high school. My whole career has been working with persons in need and the marginalized.”
Grillo described herself as someone who tends to see things as opportunities and not obstacles. But even she felt overwhelmed when resources could not match the needs of the people. She kept a positive attitude, however.
“I really have considered it a real privilege to do this work in the diocese and it has been because of this work I feel called to serve the church and continue the ministry of Christ in another capacity,” Grillo said.