Feb. 28, 1978.
And why wouldn’t he? It’s his only “first day on the job” the last 45 years.
He’s had different roles and responsibilities in that time, but the current executive director of the Catholic social services agency has been helping clients in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland the entire time.
That will come to an end at the beginning of next year when Jones retires.
January 2024 might seem like a long way off, but Jones believed it best to give the diocese time to find his replacement and hopefully bring that person in to work with him and soak up his considerable institutional knowledge before he begins retirement.
Jones, a lifelong Delaware resident, achieved a college degree in criminal justice and believed he was pointed toward a career in corrections when he interviewed for a job as child-care counselor at Siena Hall, which was a facility for abused kids run by Catholic Charities.
“I just got hooked,” Jones said. “I knew early on that I just had a way with kids that made them feel comfortable.”
It was a comfort level that he carried through his various responsibilities as he continued working his way up as a manager at the facility, then director of group homes and eventually head of children’s services. He became one of two regional directors about 15 years ago and then took over program operations for Catholic Charities. He was named executive director a little more than two years ago.
He said he had a conversation with his boss, Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, when he was asked to fill the top job. He knew he only had a couple of years remaining before retirement, and he wanted to be sure that was OK with the boss and then-Bishop Malooly.
“For decades, Fritz has been a leader in our efforts to serve the people of God, especially families and individuals in need,” Bishop Malooly said in appointing Jones to run Catholic Charities, replacing Richelle Vible who retired in March 2021 after 13 years on the job.
Catholic Charities has been serving those in need for 190 years and offers a wide range of services to strengthen families, care for children, assist the disadvantaged and build human relationships in the region. No one is excluded from service because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin or ability to pay.
Jones, 67, is retiring at the same time as his wife of 37 years, Donna, who also works for the diocese.
“We have 85 years combined working here,” he said.
He hasn’t worked every job in the organization, but it seems like it.
“As I moved up, I was given the opportunity to do different things,” Jones said.
In 2004, Catholic Charities took over Bayard House, a private nonprofit program for pregnant adult women.
Jones said supporting pregnant women is one of the most important things a pro-life organization can do.
“That’s clearly the most tangible thing we do that speaks to that. There’s a lot of different ways of supporting pro-life. Making sure people are fed. Making sure people’s mental health needs are met. Making sure people are employed. But sometimes folks need more than that, and for them to have a healthy baby and become the kind of parent they need to be, they need that kind of program.”
Helping people get jobs, keep a roof over their head and making sure everyone has enough food are among the important priorities for everyone who works at Charities, Jones said. Assistance for home energy costs has skyrocketed with a greater need for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) heating program managed by Catholic Charities. LIHEAP supports thousands of families and direct assistance that was at $5 million not long ago will be $12 million this year, Jones said. “Which is pretty mind-boggling.” He attributes it first to COVID, then inflation.
“The demand for rental assistance is significant,” Jones said “In 2019, direct assistance to clients for rent and basic needs was $380,000. This year, it will be over $650,000.
“Remember, the folks that we have are the working poor, a lot of our folks. There are only so many choices they can make. Rent, power, food, medicine.”
Jones has favorite parts of the job he will miss.
“The privilege of seeing how the work we do can change people’s lives,” he said. “I’ve seen the power of that for years and years.”
Like most people, he’s OK leaving some parts of the job behind.
“I won’t miss having to deal with bureaucracy,” he said. “It’s not the people, it’s the culture.”
An accomplished drummer, he has been playing with bands for 50 years. He hopes to do more of that in retirement. His plan is to play classic rock and blues with a new band in as many weekend gigs as possible.
“We think we’re really good,” he said. They go by “Tweed Dogs” – with Dogs being short for “Delaware Old Guys.”
In replacing Jones, church leaders are looking for someone who will plan, develop, implement, manage and evaluate all services in keeping with the mission of the diocese and Catholic Charities, while representing the diocese to the larger community, other social service agencies, parishes and government bodies. They hope to have someone in place by September to work several months with Jones.
Jones will take a lot of memories with him when he finally makes it out the door for the last time, especially the gratitude of clients.
“They’re the ones that I’m grateful for,” he said. “If they didn’t have the courage to come here for us to help them, we wouldn’t be doing this work. You want to see that what you’re doing is important.”
He has a folder filled with notes from grateful clients and he pulled out one that he got recently, thanking him for having a positive influence in their lives.
“I’ve never taken that for granted,” he said.
The Dialog provides readers news to your inbox with the Angelus e-newsletter. Sign up here for a free subscription to the Angelus.