Jack Callahan will be honored by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, at the annual “Justice for ALL” Awards Dinner, on Thursday, April 19, at the Adelphia Grand Ballroom in Deptford. For information, call 856-342-4117 or online at www.CatholicCharitiesCamden.org
Sister Anita wouldn’t recognize the rascal who routinely disrupted her class at Camden’s old St. Mary’s School.
At the end of her patience one day, Sister blurted out to the holy terror, “Jack Callahan, if your father were not dying in the hospital, we would throw you out of St. Mary’s!”
Thrown out! And shame his sick father. Worry his overburdened mother. Embarrass his innocent siblings, Peggy and Dick, who later became Msgr. Richard Callahan.
Mortified at the prospect, 7-year-old John Patrick “Jack” Callahan fell from his high horse at Broadway and Market, and, like Saul on the road to Damascus, he reformed on the spot.
The imp became an altar server and, without further incident, graduated from St. Mary’s, Camden Catholic High School and La Salle University, where he pursued graduate studies in law, finance, management and counseling. He has spent his adult life in service to God, family, church and community.
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden will honor Jack Callahan, now of Cherry Hill, on April 19 with the Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio Award for Leadership.
“Jack epitomizes Christian leadership,” says Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities. “His lifelong passion for justice, service to church and community, and commitment to the sacredness of all life makes him a model for us all.”
Callahan says his wife of 48 years, mystery writer Barbara Callahan, their children Richard, John, Kevin and Paul Callahan and Liz Nicastro, and six grandchildren are his “highest priority.”
Friends call him “the delegator,” saying Callahan not only enlists disinclined volunteers, but convinces them that it was all their idea.
A defining moment in Jack Callahan’s life was a three-day Cursillo weekend in Philadelphia. A Christian renewal movement, Cursillo seeks to promote individual and apostolic action.
“It was then that I saw Jesus clearly,” Callahan said, “as a role model, a friend and a brother I could trust.”
He helped organize the Cursillo Movement of South Jersey as well as Kairos, an ecumenical prison ministry which has been held in every New Jersey prison and spread across the nation.
Callahan began his professional life at RCA, Moorestown, followed by establishing his own personnel recruitment and placement service. In 1971, he moved to the public sector, where he served as director of State Auditing in the Legislative Office of Fiscal Affairs and as deputy director of the Division of Youth and Family Services.
After 12 years of public service, Callahan founded the Callahan Group, Inc., a company that provides consulting services to Fortune 100 companies and others on planning, development, mergers and acquisitions. At the same time, he was an adjunct faculty member at Rutgers University and lectured at other institutions.
Later in his career, Callahan accepted an appointment as senior staff person responsible for special projects for the Senate Majority in the State Legislature, where he helped develop legislation aimed at urban revitalization and rehabilitation of imprisoned youth. He also initiated a study on the exorbitant costs of capital punishment in New Jersey.
Callahan retired from the Senate in 1996 and returned to his consulting service, but he always found time for his countless pro-bono activities. He co-founded New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium and chaired the New Jersey Justice Fellowship Task Force, which examined issues of justice in the correctional and judicial systems. Working with the Camden Diocese, he helped establish a Job Club for inner city youth.
Currently, Callahan chairs the Governor's Advisory Council on Voluntarism and Community Service and is New Jersey co-chair for the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. He also helps raise funds for infirm and retired Sisters of Mercy, the sisters who taught him, including the beleaguered Sister Anita. A Eucharistic minister, he provided weekly pastoral care to patients at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and he has met with his weekly prayer group for more than 30 years.
He is busy, not only at his church, St. Peter Celestine in Cherry Hill, but several Camden City parishes. He serves on the redevelopment committee of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He delivers Christmas baskets for Sacred Heart in South Camden, and he and his sons helped rehabilitate the first of many abandoned homes there. And he served eight years on the board of trustees of the Jesuit Urban Service Team (JUST), which provides educational, medical and social services in North Camden.
Father Thomas Newton, pastor of St. Peter Celestine noted, “Jack more recently participated on our parish’s first service trip to Guatemala and brought with him his gifts, energy and empathy, particularly for the Mayan children of that country. One could see the pure delight that came over Jack as he interacted and played with native children. His actions and commitment to the people of Guatemala was an example and reminder to me of his life-long dedication of living his faith and his compassion for the poor and marginalized.”
Jack Callahan says, when his prayer life leads him to an opportunity for service, “I must be obedient to that call.”
The indefatigable Callahan says that helping others is his attempt to follow Christ in an authentic way, adding that his philosophy, like St. Francis of Assisi’s, is: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”