Washingtonians of the Year 2012: Monsignor John Enzler

Pioneering programs for the forgotten.

By: Leslie Milk

Some of Monsignor John Enzler’s most important work has begun at kitchen tables.

As a parish priest in Potomac, he met in a private home with several parents whose children had developmental disabilities, and he realized that the Catholic Church’s efforts to support them weren’t sufficient. Enzler and the parents started Potomac Community Resources, a constellation of 35 programs that now helps more than 500 people with disabilities and their families.

One of these efforts offers caregivers respite from their responsibilities while providing physical and occupational therapy and medical care for the disabled family member.

The Shepherd Foundation was born at another kitchen table. More than $6.3 million has been raised to help 10,000 young people attend Washington-area Catholic schools. The scholarships don’t cover full tuition, but Enzler is a master negotiator, working with local schools to get additional help for families in need.

As with his other projects, the beneficiaries aren’t necessarily members of his faith. “The question is never ‘Are you Catholic?’ ” he says. “It is always ‘How can we help?’ ”

It will take more than kitchen conclaves and negotiating skills to fulfill Enzler’s current mission. He’s now CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, a job he took in 2011 during what he calls the “perfect storm” of shrinking government and philanthropic resources and growing community needs. He relishes his role in marshaling resources for those who deliver the services Catholic Charities supports: “Everything I’ve done has been in preparation for this job. I want to be a change agent for people whose lives are a daily struggle for food, shelter, and clothing.”

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