Catholic Charities USA

views updated

Catholic Charities USA

1731 King Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Telephone: (703) 549-1390
Fax: (703) 549-1656
Web site:

Not-for-Profit Company
1910 as National Conference of Catholic Charities
Total Assets: $3 billion (2004 est.)
NAIC: 624000 Social Assistance

Catholic Charities USA, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is the largest private social service network, comprised of more than 1,400 social services agencies and institutions with a combined budget of more than $2 billion. CCUSA supports Catholic Charities membership through program development, training, financial help, national advocacy work, and media efforts. CCUSA is, in turn, a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations located in more than 200 countries and territories.

U.S. Catholic Charitable Work Dates to 1700s

Shortly after Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the Catholic religion came to the United States through the activities of Spain. While the Spanish were successful in colonizing America's Southwest, Central America, and South America, what would become the United States and Canada were dominated by the Protestant English and Jesuit French, the latter concentrating on the upper reaches of North America and a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi called New Orleans. It was here that the Ursuline Sisters from France came to open an orphanage for street girls, becoming the first formal Catholic charity in the United States. After the French were driven out of Canada during the French and Indian War of the mid-1700s, Colonial United States became a predominantly Protestant country.

Catholic numbers grew dramatically in the United States during the 1800s. In 1820 there were 195,000 Catholics and 124 Catholic parishes, located mostly in Maryland and Kentucky. But after 1820 there was a wave of Irish and German immigration, so that by 1860 there were 3.1 million American Catholics and 2,385 parishes. Most of them came to America to escape famine and poverty, and now represented the vast majority of the underclass in the United States, essentially relegated to second class citizenship because of their religion and were often shunted aside by the public institutions. As a result, the Catholics in the United States began to organize to take care of their poor, especially orphaned and delinquent children. By the end of the 1800s there were over 800 Catholic charitable institutions, mostly providing care to dependent children, the aged, and infirm. In many ways it was a chaotic collection of institutions and it became increasingly clear that a national structure was needed to bring some order to it.

In 1909 Brother Barnabas McDonald, F.S.C., a man recognized internationally for his work with orphans, abandoned children and delinquents, asked the President of Washington, D.C.-based Catholic University, Thomas Shahan, to issued a call for a meeting of everyone involved in Catholic charities. Six months later, in 1910, the National Conference of Catholic Charities, the predecessor to Catholic Charities USA, was convened, and 400 delegates from 38 cities in 24 states attended. The attendees included clergy as well as laypeople, representing a wide variety of charitable organizations serving the needs of children, the poor, and immigrants. The mission of NCCC was to help bring professional social work practices to the charitiesmany of which were led by the laypeople who had founded them in their communitiesas well as to promote the creation of diocesan Catholic charities bureaus. NCCC also sought "to be the attorney for the poor." A 22-person executive committee was selected and Catholic University's Msgr. William J. Kerby was named the first executive secretary.

A sociologist at Catholic University dedicated to bringing Catholic values to social work education, Kerby had for many years stressed the importance of organization, and in 1908 helped promote the creation of the short-lived St. Margaret's Union, a confederation of Catholic Women's social work organizations. Kerby was a self-effacing man who knew how to smooth over differences and played a key role in NCCC establishing itself as a fixture among catholic charities. During the 10 years that he serve as executive secretary, the 400 leaders of the NCCC met every other year, bringing national focus to an evolving Catholic social agenda, while urging Catholics to pursue so-called "scientific charity." Kerby was also responsible for grooming his successor, Msgr. John O'Grady, who lead NCCC for the next four decades and shaped it into a modern organization.

O'Grady was an inquisitive Irish-born man who after being ordained at the age of 23 chaffed at his assignment to the diocese of Omaha. He soon moved to Washington D.C. 1912 to continue his education at Catholic University. It was here that Kerby took him under his wing and began grooming him. O'Grady assisted Kerby in organizing the 1912 NCCC conference, including the editing of all the papers presented there. Later Kerby recruited O'Grady to help with the editing of a monthly publication, Catholic Charities Review. In 1915 O'Grady received a degree in labor economics and became a professor in Catholic University's Department of Sociology. The United States was soon involved in World War I and Kerby urged his protégé to wander around the Midwest to get a feel for the country. He reportedly told O'Grady, "John, this war will end someday and a huge army will be demobilized. Think of what that will mean. What it will mean so far as housing, job dislocation, problems of security, reconstruction and all kinds of problems. Go out to the Midwest and check around. Come up with some ideas." As soon as the war ended in 1918 Kerby was instrumental in having O'Grady appointed secretary of the Committee on Reconstruction for the National Catholic War Council. Shortly after finishing this assignment, he was considered to be experienced enough, despite being just 34 years of age to succeed his mentor as executive secretary of NCCC in 1920.

Far less politic than Kerby, O'Grady had already ruffled some feathers within the ranks of NCCC. In June 1919 he spoke before a meeting of the National Conference of Social work and outlined his ideas about expanding the influence of NCCC. The first step, he advocated was replacing lay volunteer leaders with professionals. The lay people objected, but had little influence on O'Grady who reportedly told a colleague, "We cannot change some of these old fellows. After I get full control, I expect to throw some of them overboard." Moreover, once O'Grady took the reins from Kerby, their relationship began to fray, as the steps O'Grady took were inherently critical of the man he replaced.

While his abrasive personality put off some people, O'Grady's ambitious nature provided a key influence on the growth of NCCC for the next four decades. When he took over as executive secretary in 1920, there were just six bureaus. Two years later there 35, and by 1937 there 68, and by the time he retired the number reached 140. Under his guidance Catholic charities did indeed become more professional. They incorporated the practice of family casework, and an organizational structure developed that included professionally trained case workers and supervisors handling day-to-day affairs while the clergy acted as executive officers of the diocesan charity organizations.

NCCC Becomes 1930s New Deal Advocate

Under O'Grady, NCCC also began to champion social issues in the political realm. The primary catalyst was the advent of the Depression precipitated by the stock market crash of 1929. O'Grady now began to become a national voice for social reform, as NCCC and the diocesan bureaus sought to promote social legislation based upon Catholic principles. They became major backers of President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. For example, O'Grady and NCCC played important roles in the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 and the inclusion of child welfare provisions in Social Security. O'Grady would also help in the passage of housing legislation and become an advocate of a liberal immigration policy. Following World War II, NCCC helped in resettling displaced persons. O'Grady visited a number of internment camps and began urging the government to replace its quota system for immigration with a far more liberal policy. He would fight against the restrictive McCarran-Walter Act of 1951, despite its support from the National Catholic Welfare Conference. The law would pass, and Congress would override President Truman's veto. O'Grady's efforts were appreciated by many, however, including his superiors at the Vatican, who sent a message: "God can only reward you for your noble and courageous fight. You win even in apparent defeat."

Under O'Grady's tenure as NCCC executive secretary, the nature of Catholic charity underwent a sea change. According to Dorothy M. Brown in her book, The Poor Belong to Us: Catholic Charities and American Welfare, "By the end of the New Deal, Catholics in financial need were assisted primarily through public agencies. Catholics caring for the material needs of 'their own' increasingly did so from the professional ranks in the public welfare departments." Brown added, "Increasingly the poor were not 'us.' During World War II and after, many Catholics entered the expanding American middle class."

Company Perspectives:

Catholic Charities USA is the membership association of one of the nation's largest social service networks. Catholic Charities agencies and institutions nationwide provide vital social services to people in need, regardless of their religious, social, or economic backgrounds.

After O'Grady was replaced as executive secretary in 1961 by Msgr. Raymond Gallagher, NCCC experienced even more changes, as did the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council that ushered in sweeping changes to the church. The 1965 Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, exhorted the church to become more involved in the world and rededicate itself to serving the poor and disadvantaged. For charitable organizations it meant opening the doors to everyone, regardless of their faith or lack of it. Gallagher was replaced as executive secretary in 1966 by Msgr. Lawrence Corcoran, then in 1969 NCCC launched a three-year study, which would become known as the Cadre Study, to consider the organization's contemporary mission. In 1972 a report called Toward a Renewed Catholic Charities Movement was published, expressing a renewed mission to serve people in need and act as a social advocate.

Some of the outgrowths of the Cadre Study included the creation of the parish outreach program in 1973. A year later NCCC began hosting annual congresses where specific areas of concern could be discussed and policy statements drafted. NCCC then became a legislative advocate of these positions. A few of the most important statements that emerged from these congresses was housing in 1985, the feminization of poverty in 1986, pluralism a year later, and a just food system in 1989.

Name Change in 1980s

Corcoran was succeeded as executive secretary in 1982 by Rev. Thomas Harvey, who would later become the first to assume the titles President and Chief Executive Officer. During Corcoran's tenure NCCC followed up on the work established by Bishop Gallagher, resulting in major growth in the programs, budgets, and staffing of local agencies. Harvey continued that trend. In 1983 NCCC played an important role in the creation of the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program, contributing about $130 million a year to local volunteer organizations. In that same year, NCCC published the Code of Ethics to lay out Catholic values and ethical standards, and to promote quality service. In 1986, NCCC became Catholic Charities USA, a name more suited to the organization's contemporary role.

In 1990 Catholic Charities USA expanded its purview when it entered into an agreement with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to coordinate domestic disaster response on behalf of the conference. A year later Catholic Charities USA gained some national recognition when NonProfit Times proclaimed it to be the largest voluntary social service network in the United States. Over the years an increasing percentage of the organization's funding came from government money, as public agencies contracted Catholic Charities for services, especially its children's institutions. By 1994 contracted services accounted for 65 percent of the $2 billion budget.

After ten years of heading the organization, Harvey was replaced as president and CEO by Rev. Fred Kammer, SJ, in 1992. Under Kammer's watch, Catholic Charities USA continued to refine its mission on both the local and national levels. In 1993, following in the tradition of the Cadre Study 20 years earlier, Catholic Charities USA: Vision 2000, a three-year "dialogue" within and outside the church, was begun. One of the initiatives to grow out of that effort was the 1995 Racial Equality Project. The final report of the Vision 2000 Task Force was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1996 and a five-year effort to implement the report's plan was then put into place. In 1997 the membership of Catholic Charities USA approved the new bylaws that would accomplish these changes and the Board of Trustees was reorganized to increase representation of diocesan directors. In addition member sections were formed, including Health Care, Emergency Services, Parish Social Ministry, housing and community development, and children, youth, and family services. Two years later a report titled In All Things Charity: A Pastoral Challenge for the New Millennium was submitted to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved.

In 2001 Rev. J. Baran Heir became the seventh head of Catholic Charities USA. He would only serve for two years before being called back to his Archdiocese by his Bishop. He would be replaced on an interim basis by Thomas A. Stefan until the board was able to conduct a search for a permanent replacement. In early 2005 Rev. Larry Snyder became president and CEO.

Catholic Charities USA continued to fulfill its mission during the 2000s. In addition to the regular work of its many agencies, it also responded to disasters, such as the hurricane that leveled the city of New Orleans in 2005. It also pursued its role as legislative advocate. It championed the need for greater availability of healthcare. It also fought to fend off privatization efforts and preserve Social Security, a program that it had been instrumental in establishing seven decades earlier. Although Catholic Charities USA had changed names and undergone a pair of revisions it remained just as viable a force in American society.

Key Dates:

National Conference of Catholic Charities formed.
Msgr. John O'Grady named executive secretary.
NCCC plays role in passage of Social Security Act.
O'Grady retires after four decades of leadership.
Cadre Study refines NCCC's mission.
NCCC renamed Catholic Charities USA.
Vision 2000, an update of Cadre Study, is approved by membership.

Further Reading

Berg, Brother Joseph, "Msgr. John O'Grady and Immigration," Charities USA, Third Quarter 2005, p. 13.

Brown, Dorothy M., The Poor Belong to Us, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997, 284 p.

"Catholic Charities: The American Experience," Charities USA, January/February 1987,p. 8.

Dolan, Jay P., "The Church and America," Charities USA, Second Quarter 2002, p. 27.

Reese, Thomas J. Episcopal Conferences: Historical, Canonical & Theological Studies, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1989.

Rice, Douglas, "Why Catholic Charities USA Will Fight to Preserve Social Security," Charities USA, Second Quarter 2005, p. 14.

About this article

Catholic Charities USA

Updated About content Print Article