Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Mission, History & Achievements


The Bertram M. Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty is an ecumenical institute that partners with New York City interfaith religious and lay leaders who are moved to alleviate poverty in our affluent society.  It is committed to preparing leaders who promote social justice and serve the poor.  Founded in 1999 and based at Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Service, the Beck Institute promotes interdisciplinary collaboration across University departments and with the broader community.

  • Build bridges toward a just, equitable and compassionate society.
  • Promote and support the rich traditions of the faith community's response to the poor.
  • Work with the University and the Graduate School of Social Service in collaboration with the faith community in service with and for the poor of New York City.
  • Develop faith-based leaders committed to work for social justice and those affected by poverty.
  • Act as a catalyst influencing the direction of scholarship and professional study concerning issues of social justice and poverty.
  • Sponsor research, conferences, seminars, and courses to foster mutual learning across university, religious congregations, and community groups.


The Beck Institute was established as a multi-faith organization whose mission is to be a resource for information and education to support religious leaders and their congregations to meet the challenges of poverty. Since its inception the Institute has received support from the Graduate School of Social Service, and various foundations and congregations that have supported specific projects.

The brief history that follows chronicles the Institute's evolution that speaks to a continued effort to bring together the academic resources of Fordham University in collaboration with the faith community to work on developing our collective capacity to advocate for and serve the poor in more effective ways.

  • 1999:  Bertram M. Beck established The Fordham University Institute on Religion and Poverty with the support of Dean Mary Ann Quaranta, Dean of the Graduate School of Social Service.  She shared Beck's vision and commitment to develop an institute that would have a role in advocating for the poor of New York City. Beck was Associate Dean to Dean Quaranta, until his untimely death in 2000.
  • 2000:  Annie Rawlings was named the first director of the Beck Institute and was instrumental in developing a host of programs and publications that forwarded the initial vision for Beck (chronicled in our archive).   She was an inspiring champion of the Beck mission to develop a base for advocacy in congregations throughout New York City.  Her work continued as a member of the Beck Advisory Board and in her position at the Inter-faith Center. It is most unfortunate that her untimely death in the Spring of 2014 has left us without her indomitable loving spirit, and a valued advocate and collaborator.
  • 2003:  Dr. John Cosgrove, Associate Dean of Research became the Acting Director.
  • 2004-2006:  An important transitional period, as the Institute gained new leadership with the co-directors  Dr. Anita Lightburn and Dr. Gemma Beckley. Dean Peter Vaughan and Vice President Fr. Gerald Blaszczak, S.J., with Fordham’s new President, Fr. Dr. Joseph McShane, S.J., emphasized the importance of furthering the Jesuit Mission for social justice though strong educational programs.  A renewed vision emerged that became part of the Graduate School of Social Service strategic plan for centers of excellence (see Beck Mission).
  • 2006:  Dr. Beckley returned to Rust College to direct the Social Work Program and Dr. Lightburn continued as Director.
  • 2007:  Dr. Dale Lindquist was appointed as Associate Director of the Institute.  Drs. Lightburn and Lindquist presented the work of the Beck Institute at the first national conference on "Social Work for Social Justice: Strengthening Social Work Practice through the Integration of Catholic Social Teaching", St Paul, Minnesota, June 3-6. Their presentation, "Celebrating Faith in Action: Capacity Building Through a University Institute's Social Justice Mission for the Poor", has been published in a Resource Guide: Social Work for Social Justice, School of Social Work, St Paul: Minnesota, School of Social Work, College of St Catherine and St Thomas
  • 2008- Present:  Dr. Lightburn continues to be the Beck Institute’s Director and Dr. Lindquist the Associate Director, with ongoing work that has provided new direction for Beck. Successful conferences promoted the faith communities work for the poor; educational symposiums, training and a documentary film have been a welcomed addition.  Research and program evaluation has contributed to new services, and provided evidence for program development to meet congregants health needs, support teen mothers and assisted faith-based programs as the meet the needs of persons in transition.

  • 2007:  A successful daylong conference was held “Celebrating the Faith Community’s Best Practices” with keynote speakers:  Dr. John Kretzmann form Northwestern University, Rev. Bryan Hehir from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Senior Pastor of the Riverside Church.  The afternoon session consisted of some 15 workshops highlighting successful faith based programs. During this year work began on developing a website to engage the broader faith community.
  • 2008:   Under the leadership of Dr. Lightburn and Dr. Lindquist, a graduate level course was developed, offered through Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service.  This course, that in the future will be offered online, focuses on capacity building for the poor through the work of faith-based communities.  A symposium was also offered, held at Fordham with Cathedral Community Cares, entitled “Feed the Solution: Ending Hunger Through Civic Participation, Advocacy, and Community Empowerment”. This symposium included an opportunity to engage political leaders in New York City.  Collaboration with the Covenant House was established to study young homeless mothers during their transition time in the Covenant House program that continued into the next year under the direction of Dr. Judith Smith, a GSSS faculty member. 
  • 2009:   The Institute, in collaboration with the GSSS Alumni Association, held an all-day conference “The State of the Urban Family: An Introduction to Faith-Based Interventions and Resources”.   Also, The Institute, in collaboration with the Office of Mission and Ministry, presented a symposium “Poverty and the Common Good: New Ways of Understanding Collective Responsibility”.  The symposium focused on key concepts in Catholic moral theology and how they relate to poverty from the perspectives of business, law social service and theology.
Dr. Dale Lindquist began filming a documentary on faith-based emergency food programs in New York City.   Lastly, the Institute has developed a proposal to replicate and evaluate a congregation based mentoring/life skills/socialization program for homeless individuals. This project is based on an established program developed and administered by Catholic Charities of New York and the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing.
  • 2010:  Dr. Lindquist gave the keynote address at the 43rd annual conference of the New York State Social Work Education Association (NYSSWEA), Nov. 10-12, 2010 in Saratoga Springs. N.Y where his talk “Poverty, the Faith Community and the University: A Creative Collaboration” focused on the work of the Beck Institute in collaborating with the faith community in serving the economically disadvantaged.  A preliminary edit of the Beck documentary on faith based emergency food programs was shown.
Dr. Yvette M. Sealy, a GSSS faculty member began collaborating with Dr. Carolyn M. Tucker of the University of Florida (UF) on the Health-Smart Behavior Church Program study. 
Lastly, research on the life skills model began in the spring with homelessness, domestic violence, veterans and reentry populations.  Participating congregations and agencies included All Angels Church NYC, Brooklyn D.A.’s office, Catholic Charities NYC,  Xavier Mission, NYC, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and the Reformed Church of Bronxville. 
  • 2011 - 2102:  The research to replicate and evaluate a congregation based mentoring/life skills/socialization program for homeless individuals at the above named congregations and agencies continued throughout the year involving MSW interns as case managers and PhD candidates as part of the program evaluation team.  Two important grants supported this work.  The Fahs-Beck Fund for Innovation supported a pilot study, and the New York Community Trust Silberman Fund supported a demonstration building on the pilot study. Eight programs that provide life skills and community experiences for those homeless, or formerly homeless due to post incarceration and/or domestic violence were included in these studies.  To date, since July 2012, the Beck Team has worked in collaboration with our community partners to support and evaluate 12 program cycles of these eight programs. Data collection concluded in December 2013, with the six-month follow-up evaluation. This is a major accomplishment for all involved and could not have been possible without the help of Fordham MSW and PhD students.
  • 2013:  As a period of transition for Fordham and Beck, Dean Peter Vaughan retires as Dean of the Graduate School of Social Service.  In addition, also a great loss was the passing of Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, who was one of the founders of the Beck Institute and a source of inspiration and support over the years. As Chair of the Beck Advisory Board he was instrumental in shaping the mission and forwarding the work of the Institute. His life mission was advocacy and service to the poor.
 Dr. Dale Lindquist presented his film, Our Daily Bread: Feeding The Hungry in New York City. This 45-minute documentary was premiered at Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus and profiles three emergency food programs in New York City, all organized and run by churches and their affiliates. 
Mentor manuals were developed for the Life Skills Empowerment Programs (LSEP) supported by the Bronxville Reformed Church, and mentor training followed to support the LSEP programs.  Two program manuals were also developed for post incarcerated and domestic violence populations as modifications to the LSEP model.   In addition, a number of presentations were made as well as publications by the Beck team both locally and internationally.  Lastly, the number of MSW and PhD student involvement grows to a record high.
Beck collaborated with several partners to host the Restorative Justice Consultation held at Fordham Lincoln Center, November 18th.. Monsignor Quinn, Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Fordham, welcomed over 65 invited guests for the full day event. A panel of national and international restorative justice experts confronted U.S. justice practices, based on their experience of restorative justice.  The day-long consultation resulted in new directions for justice reform. 
  • 2014:  Thanks to a very generous grant from an anonymous donor, 18 Life Skills Empowerment program cycles were supported and evaluated toward the goal of developing broad replication of the model with the faith community.  Included in the successful eight fall program cycles were two new programs, one in Ossining for the post-incarcerated at the First Presbyterian Church with exceptional community collaboration, and the LEAP program at the Reformed Church of Bronxville.   Catholic Charities Educational Outreach Program celebrated their 49th program cycle.   Metro Baptist church added a domestic violence LSEP group in addition to their Veteran’s group.  Panim el Panim found a permanent home at the West End Presbyterian Church.  And the First Congregational Church of Poughkeepsie became the home for a vital new LSEP program serving the needs of domestic violence survivors.  MSW and PhD students continue to be significant contributors to the successful development of the LSEP programs and program evaluations.
The College of New Rochelle, the Columbia School of Social Work, and Union Theological Seminary recently screened “Our Daily Bread”, Beck’s first documentary film. The documentary was screened at three international film festivals and received the Merit Award from the Best Short Films Competition. 
Sadly, as a loss to Beck and the grater community, two Institute Board members passed away between 2012 and 2014:  Dr. Jim Dumpson, Dean Emeritus at Fordham GSSS,  and Annie Rawlings (past Director of Beck).  We are forever grateful for their leadership and service.

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