WILKES-BARRE -- Monsignor Joseph Kelly, executive director of Catholic Social Services, put it best when asked about the late Anne Marie McCawley.
She simply spent herself working on behalf of the poor, he said. She literally gave her life to serve others.
McCawley died Friday in hospice care. She retired in August after serving 25 years as director of the St. Vincent DePaul Kitchen on Jackson Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Anne Marie dedicated her life to reminding all of us what our mission is to serve the poor and needy, Kelly said. She worked tirelessly to make everyone feel welcome.
Kelly said McCawley came to him eight years ago and asked him to help establish Rose of Sharon – a program for pregnant women ages 18 to 25 who had no place to go. The program operates out of several sites in the area.
Anne Marie saw these women coming into the kitchen, Kelly said. She also started Gabriel House in Hazleton for homeless women.
Kelly said McCawley had two previous bouts with cancer, beating the disease back both times. This time, he said, the cancer won.
Her legacy, her mission, has to continue, Kelly said. We are all challenged now to assure it does continue.
It was Kelly who called her the Mother Teresa of Wilkes-Barre, added Joseph A. Frank of Laflin, a kitchen board member since it opened in 1983.
Every year we have a dinner for the staff of the kitchen, Frank said. She came to that and we presented her with a picture of Mother Teresa.
He recalled a search committee was formed to replace the first coordinator and McCawley stood out for the job.
As McCawley stepped out of her position at St. Vincent De Paul in September, Mike Cianciotta stepped in; a transition that he said McCawley helped him through as much as possible.
She was a great mentor and very helpful, he said. She made sure I knew everything I needed to before she left.
Cianciotta described McCawley as someone who was very kind, but strict when it came to work, and rightfully so. She was very precise in how things were to run, how the people here were going to be cared for, he said.
She wanted to make sure that the people who came in to eat were taken care of the proper way and felt comfortable, not looked down upon.
Is-rael Allah of Wilkes-Barre has been a cook at St. Vincent DePaul since 2009 and worked with McCawley every day. He also shared the sentiments that his first impression of her was someone who was tough, but he soon found that that gave way to a kind and caring individual.
She was honestly one of the nicest people I've known, he said. She would do anything for you, as long as she knew that you were being honest.
Another kitchen worker, Jim Sobieski, called her a tough chestnut at first glance, offering up the nickname with a smile.
She had a heart of gold, I'll tell ya, he said. She would go out of her way for everyone. All she wanted to do was help people.
Staff writer Jerry Lynott contributed.