I consider it a privilege to be here tonight to join with you in this magnificent kick-off dinner for the Italian-American Charitable Society. This charitable movement has increased tremendously within the past few years. Its growth has been rapid and uninterrupted. It is difficult to describe the great contribution that this organization has made. Think of what your contributions have done –for the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation – in its relentless fight against cancer - in helping the Children’s Medical Centre develop its outstanding record in the care of children and in pediatric medicine, surgery and research - in the education of our youth at the Don Bosco Schools - at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary - for the unfortunate paraplegics that you have helped at the Medford Rehabilitation Centre - for the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and its many charities. Yes, think of the starvation that you have prevented by your contributions to the Flour for Italy Committee, and the wonderful work done for the crippled children by the help you have given to the Pontifical Commission. Yes, think of how you have broken the barriers of race prejudice in providing scholarships for Negros - think of the contributions you have made to the highest of all charities - the aiding of students at St. John’s Seminary.
This long litany of charities is but a few of the beneficiaries from your wonderful organization.
What is private charity? In the words of a great civic leader – “it is the priceless ingredient of our modern civilization. It flowers amid our luxuries and comforts, our mechanical triumphs, our fearful invasion of the atomic mystery. It is the spiritual triumph over the material, an instant and personal link with all the good that has been done through all the centuries. It is a sure sign that, amid the suffocating onrush of modern times, men still retain their individual personalities and still may continue to live, as their fathers and forefathers did - free men in a free society”.
The growth of the Italian-American Charitable Society is the best testimony to the vitality of this stirring impulse.
In stating the achievements and accomplishments of the Italian-American Charitable Society, I would place first and foremost, not the dollars raised, nor indeed the work done by those dollars, but the great and intangible profit which comes to all people, who voluntarily band together for the needy, the poor and the suffering. Organizations such as the Italian-American Charitable Society represent a mass movement by the people to insure that the health and welfare of the community shall be maintained on the highest possible level.
The scarlet thread that runs throughout all of the thoughts and actions of people all over the world is one of resignation of great problems to the all-absorbing hands of the great leviathan-the State. This trend is not divisible - we in the United States suffer from it, if less intensely.
I suppose it would be easier for us if we requested that the government assumed the responsibility for the money that we are seeking to raise.
Yet, only by doing the work ourselves - by giving generously out of our own pockets - can we hope in the long run to maintain the authority of the people over the State - to insure that the people remain the masters - the State the servant.
Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people.
And so, I say that the Italian Charitable Society and other such organizations are the very essence of democracy.
The job of supporting this drive is not only the job of your efficient committee, --it is everybody’s job. I feel confident that your drive for $50,000 will be successful. I am confident that it will be successful, not only because of the magnificent turnout here tonight, but because of the traditional generosity of the Americans of Italian descent who have always recognized their obligations to one another. I know that your goal will be over-subscribed.
Your organization is truly an important architect in the future of this country. You are helping to build a better community for all of the people.
Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 02. Speeches, 1946-1952. Box 95, Folder: "Italian American Charitable Society, 22 April 1950".