The Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship welcomes a new Associate Director of Evangelical Charity. Get to know our new coworker in mission, Dcn. Fred Billotto, and what he brings to help unleash the Gospel in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to this new role at the Archdiocese of Detroit?
My wife Serena and I have been married for almost 38 years. We live in Livonia and have 5 grown children and six grandchildren. I was ordained a permanent deacon in 2019 and serve at Our Lady of Victory in Northville. After ordination I felt the Lord calling me to full-time ministry. I took that feeling to prayer and eventually discerned it was time to leave my career as an automotive Lead Design Engineer and Program Manager and to actively pursue a position that would allow integration of my work and life as a deacon.
What experiences in your life have deepened your appreciation for the work you get to do as the Associate Director of Evangelical Charity?
Catholic schools and parish life instilled a desire to serve in my heart. I grew up in Southwest Detroit and attended St. Cunegunda grade school. I think that the Franciscan Sisters who taught there inspired in us kids a sense of responsibility for our community. A sense that we needed to give back in whatever way God was calling.
Additionally, Serena and I decided to send our kids to Catholic school. They first attended St. Edith elementary in Livonia then our sons graduated from Catholic Central and our daughters from Ladywood. Catholic schools and parish life in general, draw one into service. Because our kids were in school at St. Edith and inspired by the self-giving of the families we came to know, we became heavily involved, working fun fairs, fish fries, parish festivals, coaching sports, leading the school committee, teaching catechism, creating, and working pro-life fundraisers etc. In a nutshell Catholic schools and parish life helped us to realize that we shared in the responsibility to sustain and improve our community through service.
Furthermore, formation for the Permanent Diaconate requires participating in a summer ministry each year. Over the course of three summers, I served:
As a prison minister at Huron Valley Women’s Prison where I provided pastoral care for prison inmates, including assisting at communion services, leading, and participating in scripture studies, offering prayer and pastoral guidance.
As a Volunteer Hospital Chaplain at Detroit Receiving Hospital where I provided spiritual care to patients and their families.
In ministry to the homeless at Manna Meals in Detroit. My primary responsibility was to assist in preparing /serving meals and to help clean up after closing for the day. In addition, I spent time in conversation with our guests and gained a greater appreciation for their needs.
Who do you look up to as models of Evangelical Charity and why?
There are many but I’m particularly moved by the lives of saints who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds while continuing to raise their families. For example, after the death of her husband St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was rejected by her family and social circle and left in poverty to raise her five children. Despite these personal tragedies she founded the Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph and by the time she died at the young age of forty-seven, approximately twenty schools and orphanages were opened in several cities. We truly, “can do all things through him who strengthens (us)” (Phil 4:13).
What are your goals for the Office of Evangelical Charity in your first year?
First, I would like to thank my predecessor Chris Leach for his passionate and dedicated service to the AOD. Chris built a solid foundation for all of us Evangelical Charity Directors. Thank you, Chris.
My goal in this first year is to build relationships while maintaining momentum and expanding our reach. We have a solid roster of provider partners, Evangelical Charity directors and coordinators already at work. I plan to meet with each of them very soon to learn from their experiences. Additionally, organizing into families of parishes offers exciting new possibilities for outreach. Guided by the Holy Spirit, I hope we can work collaboratively and creatively to find new ways to serve.
Why do you think strong Evangelical Charity in our families of parishes is so critical for the Archdiocese of Detroit, at this particular moment?
The families of parishes (FoP) structure are a powerful enabler for Evangelical Charity efforts. Each FoP has an Evangelical Charity Director (ECD) leading and acting as a point of contact for the parishes in the family, streamlining implementation of charitable programming and communications. Furthermore, the ECDs are in tune with the specific needs of their surrounding community enabling us to offer programs and services the people want and need.
Evangelical Charity in our FoPs is critical at this moment because Christian service is a highway to relationship with Jesus Christ. We may tend to think that love of neighbor is an essential outcome of knowing Jesus, which of course it is, but it can be an entry point as well. In his Holy Thursday homily our pastor Fr. Denis Theroux mentioned how we can see the face of Jesus in those who serve. Indeed, we can. Disciples of Christ bearing witness to our faith through acts of charity will attract others to, “come and see.”
How do you see Evangelical Charity fitting into our mission to unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan?
In his pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel Archbishop Vigneron teaches that, “Our service to the poor and marginalized needs to be a clear witness to Jesus our Lord, not mistaken for humanist philanthropy.” He goes on to point out that, “In recent decades… there has been a tendency for Catholic charitable work to become separated from our primary calling to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is time to overcome that distinction. We need to ensure that in ministering to the material needs of others we are also responding to their spiritual thirst for God” (Marker 8.3).
In addition, many people who do not yet accept the Good News or who have fallen away from the faith can be moved to reconsider the Gospel message by participating in charitable work that is rooted in an authentic expression of Catholic faith.
How do you live out Evangelical Charity in your personal life?
The diaconate is a ministry of service. Currently I conduct communion services at a local retirement home, prepare couples for marriage and families for baptism, preside at vigil services, preach, and teach the faith.
How can parish leaders get in touch with you?
Parish leaders can reach me at [email protected] and on my mobile phone at 734-716-6603.