Photo: Benincasa Community members discuss the scriptures during liturgy. Courtesy of Benincasa Community.
The Christine Schenk Award for Young Catholic leaders is awarded to a young Roman Catholic whose research, writing, advocacy, or ministry exhibits outstanding leadership in promoting justice in the church and whose efforts will inspire and foster a new generation of reformers and activists. This year, we present the Christine Schenk Award to Karen Gargamelli-McCreight.
Karen Gargamelli-McCreight is a co-founder of Benincasa Community in New York City, along with James Hannigan and Sean Gargamelli-McCreight.
Growing up in Branford, Connecticut, Karen’s family instilled a deep commitment for the principle of the preferential option for the poor in her. Upon graduating from Loyola University Chicago in 2003 she joined Dominican Volunteers USA and was placed in New York City, where she lived with three Dominican Sister of Amityville. During her year there, she soaked in the Dominican traditions, charisms and community life.
In 2005, Karen entered the City University of New York School of Law and began volunteering at the Catholic Worker’s Maryhouse (where Dorothy Day herself lived until her death in 1980). In fact, Karen continues to work an evening dinner shift at Maryhouse to this day.
Upon graduating from law school in 2007, she and two friends launched Common Law – an organization to offer free legal education and legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers including undocumented workers, homeowners facing foreclosure, and tenants who were being evicted.
In 2012, National Catholic Reporter, alerted to her legal work, activism, organizing, and civil disobedience, interviewed Karen and named her one of “12 Catholic Women under 40 making a difference.”
In October 2013, she wrote a piece for America Magazine, entitled, “Open Doors: Vacant Convents offer a new opportunity for service,” which would lay out a bold vision for community that would eventually be realized in the co-founding of Benincasa Community. She wrote, “Although the number of women religious is dwindling, they remain the lifeblood of our church, and their convents are holy and fertile ground for new communities of faith. My suggestion: Keep the convents. Open the doors to lay people. Welcome migrants and the homeless. It is a simple plan with a simple mission as old as the church itself: Form local communities of faith where people can practice the works of mercy and grow intellectually and spiritually.”
Rooted in and inspired by the Catholic Worker, Dominican Sisters (and many congregations of women religious), as well as the “98th St Jesuit Community" (Dan Berrigan's Community), the primary works of Benincasa Community are: offering hospitality, promoting lay formation/leadership and seeking right-relationship with our Earth.
FutureChurch is honored to present Karen with the 2019 Christine Schenk Award for Young Catholic Leaders in recognition of her co-founding the Benincasa Community as well as her efforts to promote justice in the world and in the Church. The award will be presented on November 7, 2019 at FutureChurch's 29th Annual Fall Event, where Karen will give a brief presentation about the life and minsitry of Benincasa Community.