Sr. Ana Pia to head new Catholic Charities leadership team

By: By Jennifer Willems

After months of collaboration between the diocese and the agency, a unique new leadership team has been put into place for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria.

Joining the Catholic Charities staff as president and director of mission and ministry is Sister Ana Pia Cordua, a member of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the community that ministers at Nazareth House in rural Henry and at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University in Normal. (See the profile of Sister Ana Pia below.)

Serving with her are Tricia Fox as chief executive officer and Anthony Riordan as chief operating officer. Rounding out the team is Jeff Myers as chief financial officer.

The goal of the new structure is to seek out more and better ways of bringing together the services and resources that Catholic Charities offers with the work being done by diocesan agencies, organizations, parishes and schools to benefit people in need across central Illinois.

One sign of that desire to integrate both missions is that 18 members of the leadership team and administrative staff from Catholic Charities have moved from the Heading Avenue campus to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. Three people who work in advancement for Catholic Charities already were located in the pastoral center and joined their coworkers in their new office space.

Collaborating to create the new model were Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Msgr. Paul Showalter, vicar general, Patricia Gibson, chancellor and director of the curia for the Diocese of Peoria, and senior leadership from Catholic Charities.

“With all the changes facing Catholic Charities across the country, dioceses and local Catholic Charities agencies have to be so much more connected,” Gibson told The Catholic Post. “We have to combine our talents and resources.”

She said the new structure will provide a “hands on, dynamic relationship with the diocese that will allow Catholic Charities to move on and deal with the challenges of the future.”

This is unique, according to Gibson.

“We are unaware of any other model like this in the country right now,” she said. “We spent a lot of time looking how it’s being done in other places and developing a model that will work in our diocese.”

While the roles are new, Fox and Riordan have worked at Catholic Charities for 25 years or more and bring a sense of continuity to the table.
Fox had been assistant executive director to Peggy Arizzi, who was executive director of the agency from 1995 until last April, and was the interim executive director while the restructuring took place. Riordan had been associate director.

As chief executive officer, Fox will maintain many of the responsibilities she already had. That includes supervising Catholic Charities child welfare program, foster care, services to intact families, the adoption program and senior services, as well as overseeing the accounting department, human resources, the facilities manager, the training coordinator, and the quality improvement department.

Riordan will supervise the advancement department, which includes development and communications, and many of the things he has “done and done so well for so many years,” Fox said. Among them are the counseling program, the residential program, youth and community services, the daycare and the food pantry.

Based in Rock Island, Riordan continues to see clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist two days a week. He plans to be in the Peoria office the other three days.

“It’s definitely a shift for me, but it’s gone very well,” he said.

As the public face of Catholic Charities, Sister Ana Pia will be responsible for representing the agency and raising awareness and visibility, Fox said.
Other responsibilities are collaboration between the agency and diocesan offices and entities to implement the bishop’s vision for social services in the Diocese of Peoria, and coordinating and developing the parish social ministry project and relationships with the priests, parishioners and parish volunteers.

“We haven’t had a mission director in a long time,” Fox told The Post. “So this role also picks up that piece of mission integration, which is very, very important at Catholic Charities. We want everyone that works here to understand how their role in the organization fits with our mission.”

Myers is responsible for all of the accounting and financial aspects of the $23 million agency. Fox said his calling “is to be of service in such a way that it allows us to do more of our mission.”

While change can be difficult, it also opens doors to new opportunities, Fox said.

“The things you didn’t see or think of before you start to look at,” she said. “This kind of change renews our spirit of justice and compassion and love and that’s exciting.”

It also allowed them to look at what they had in terms of talent and what they needed. The structure that resulted allows each person to play to their strengths, Fox said.

Riordan appreciated that part of the process and the collaborative spirit that Bishop Jenky, Gibson and Msgr. Showalter brought to it.

“We were very, very happy with the nature of the discussion and how empowering they were,” he said. “This is a structure that best meets the needs of our clients first and foremost and the vision the bishop has for Catholic Charities overall.”

Being in the Spalding Pastoral Center makes it clear that Catholic Charities is part of something larger than itself, he added.

“It brings more resources to bear for everyone. We’re already seeing that,” Riordan said.

“Our opportunities to collaborate and to be better stewards of our resources are already happening just because we’re walking in the same halls with the people from the other diocesan departments,” Fox agreed.
Gibson sees good things ahead.

“We’re in great hands with Trish and Tony and Sister Ana Pia,” she said, noting that Fox and Riordan have “done it all” at Catholic Charities. “To have their broad base of experience and Sister Ana Pia’s appreciation for mission will truly be a good combination.”


Sister Ana Pia’s life has prepared her to guide Catholic Charities

By Jennifer Willems
of The Catholic Post

Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, started to develop a heart for service at a very young age. As a girl growing up in a “fervent and committed Catholic family” in Nicaragua, she watched as her parents took their faith beyond Sunday Mass to make it a part of their everyday life.

On Feb. 14, Sister Ana Pia will begin to share that heart for service — and a lifetime of love for those in need of spiritual and physical care — with the people of central Illinois as the new president and director of mission and ministry for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria.

In addition to Sister Ana Pia, the leadership team for the restructured agency includes Tricia Fox as chief executive officer, and Tony Riordan as chief operating officer. Jeff Myers continues to serve as chief financial officer. (See story above.)

“She’s going to be amazing at telling our story, wherever it needs to be told,” Fox told The Catholic Post. “Her love for her Lord and her love for serving those in need just emanates from her.”

“She told me that everything she’s ever done has prepared her for this,” said Patricia Gibson, chancellor and director of the curia of the Diocese of Peoria. She added that Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, is “immensely grateful” to Mother Adela Galindo, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, for allowing Sister Ana Pia to come and work with Catholic Charities.

Sister Ana Pia has been working with the pre-postulants and postulants for the Miami-based religious community since 2007.

At Catholic Charities she hopes “to help the souls and bodies of all those the Lord entrusts to our care in whatever way the Lord asks.”

She also wants to help people understand that everyone has a responsibility to care for the Body of Christ and together live out Matthew 25: “You did it for me.”

The daughter of Harry and Maruca Cardenal Cordua, Sister Ana Pia was born in Managua, Nicaragua. She said her parents were “very devout, very committed to the church” and involved in Cursillo and the Christian Family Movement.

“I remember, when we were little kids, the meetings they would have among the families, and what we perceived that they were doing or not doing,” she said. “It’s very beautiful as an adult to look back and see how committed they were to their faith and their ministry as parents.”

The Sisters of the Society of St. Therese staffed the Catholic school she attended and they offered opportunities for the girls to pray and grow spiritually while also doing apostolic work. Sister Ana Pia said they visited the small villages around them and helped the children prepare for First Communion.

“I was always involved in some sort of ministry,” she said. “Seeing my parents prompted me to service, too, and to grow in the faith.”

Her father, a World War II veteran from Galveston, Texas, provided the ultimate lesson in selfless concern for the poor during the political unrest in Nicaragua in the 1970s. After a group of 200 teenagers was killed while marching in protest of the dictatorship government, he went to see if there were any survivors and eventually published the names of those responsible for the massacre.

Sister Ana Pia said her father was killed. While they don’t know why, “we think it was revenge for his act of courage.”

She would go on to care for the poor in her own right while in formation with the Missionaries of Charity in Chicago and San Francisco. She was exposed to all of the ministries in which the community is involved: caring for the elderly, those with HIV and AIDS, and pregnant girls; feeding the poor and working in soup kitchens; visiting the sick in their homes and nursing homes; and teaching religious education.

Religious life is not something one chooses, however, but the result of a divine call.

“It’s a vocation for which you are chosen,” Sister Ana Pia explained. “You respond to a calling. That calling comes from the Lord. You only have a choice to respond or not respond to it.”

Discerning with the leaders of the Missionaries of Charity as she was about to complete her formation, “it became obvious that the call of the Lord was real, but the Lord wanted me to minister in a different direction.”

Sister Ana Pia returned to Nicaragua to continue that discernment and it was there that she met Mother Adela, who had traveled there to preach at the first Marian Congress in the nation. She spent three months with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary and saw their work.

“My heart really felt at home within the charism and the way of life and the ministry that we do,” she said. An “ample charism” of evangelization, it allows them to work in education, respect life, guiding people spiritually as the community does at Nazareth House in Henry, and journeying with college students as the community does at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University.

What it all comes down to is ministering with “a maternal and a feminine heart,” she said.

“That is how a religious is to minister,” Sister Ana Pia told The Post. “When we serve others we are giving our maternal and feminine heart to what we are doing.”


Born: Managua, Nicaragua, on Jan. 23, 1964

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology (minor in theology) and a Pastoral Institute degree from Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, Texas, in 1987; a master’s degree in education from Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts, in 1993; a diploma in sacred Scripture from the Pontifical University in Mexico City in 2005.

Religious life: Entered the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1998 and professed vows in 2000.

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