Meet Donna Crilley Farrell, the woman behind the World Meeting of Families

Charles Mostoller

Remember Kenneth from the television show 30 Rock?

He was the dopey farmboywhose gullibility and innocence stood in stark contrast to the cynicism and sophistication of the other characters. Kenneth was a page for NBC, and believe it or not, that wasSpringfield nativeDonna Crilley Farrell’s first job after graduating from Penn.

Something tells us that Farrell was no Kenneth. She went on to become a television news reporter and then director of communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She now serves as the lead planner for the World Meeting of Families.

Farrell — her official title is Executive Director of the World Meeting of Families — is a mother of two, and oversees a staff of 38 and an event that will eventually play host to 1.5 million visitors and 10,000 volunteers. She says they’ve registered 6,000 already.

Metro: I’m looking at your resume and I see some work in the television business, then years as a TV news reporter. From there you went on to executive communications for the Archdiocese and Independence Blue Cross. The planning behind the papal visit seems like it requires a different skill set. How did you know you could do this job?

I must admit that this role would not appear to be a predictable next step for a person who began her career as a television reporter and then worked in church and corporate communications. But I truly feel that my time as the Archdiocese’s communications director has prepared me to handle anything. I worked for the Archdiocese during some its most difficult moments. To have the opportunity to bring something so wonderful and healing to Philadelphia, in the visit of Pope Francis, is a role I knew I could handle because I had seen the Archdiocese through those painful moments.

Tell us about your day. When does it start? When does it end? Do you take breaks in the middle? Is coffee important?

When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is say some quick prayers. It helps me remember what’s important as I start the day. I try to exercise no matter how briefly. Now that it’s nice out I also try to go for a walk with my children after dinner. I’m a devoted tea drinker – no coffee.

As for when the day ends, I’ve always been a voracious reader and would often read several books a week but because I’m tired at night I now listen to audio books while I fall asleep.

And my favorite way to deal with the stress is lots and lots of hugs from my twins. Seriously, is there a better stress reliever?

I’ve heard a lot of residents say that they’re going to get out of town because city is going to be too crowded during the papal visit. Would you tell them to stay?

We encourage the people of Philadelphia, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to stay in our city to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.

As a sophomore in high school, I had the honor of serving as an usher at Pope John Paul II’s Mass at Logan Circle in Philadelphia. Thirty-six years later, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to invite everyone to take part in the joy of welcoming His Holiness to our world class city. Trust me, it will be an extraordinary experience for all in attendance.

You served as the communications director for the Archdiocese during the height of its sexual abuse crisis. Is the papal visit a response to the crisis? Can you talk about how the visit plays into the diocese’s plan and desire to move forward?

Pope Francis has often expressed that the primary motive for his visit to the United States is the Eighth World Meeting of Families, as it is tradition for the Holy Father to be present at the closing events of this international gathering. I can’t say whether it is a response to the crisis, especially since it was Pope Benedict who selected Philadelphia, but what I can say is that this Congress and this visit is truly a gift to all.

This gathering also comes at a pivotal time for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Church in the United States and for the country itself. Pope Francis has not only reinvigorated the Church but has inspired conversations across all faiths around the globe. As Archbishop Chaput so frequently reminds us, “this event has the power to transform and heal in deeply positive ways.” I believe that this event will help reenergize Catholics – and truly those of all faiths – to reconnect to the importance of family in all of our lives.

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