Catholic Social Welfare in America
Catholic Charities in America can trace its origins to the early 1700s when French Ursuline Sisters first opened an orphanage in New Orleans.
By the early 20th century, the Diocese of Harrisburg founded two institutions to care for children in need: Sylvan Heights in Harrisburg for young girls (1901) and Paradise School for Boys in Abbottstown (1911).
Before the professional social service system we have today, the government turned to religious as well as secular groups care for the orphaned, poor and marginalized. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the role and spending of government increased and we starting building the social service system we know today.
Faith-based agencies, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services and Jewish Family Services became nondenominational social service providers who were affiliated with religious organizations.
Development of the Catholic Charities Corporation
The first meeting of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg was held at the Bishop’s residence on December 4, 1944. Monsignor Tighe was appointed by Bishop Leech as Director.
The purpose of this new corporation was “to coordinate, standardize and develop Catholic Charities and charitable enterprises throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.”
Specifically, Catholic Charities was charged to:
- Engage in relief work among the needy; to secure employment for the unemployed; to assume care guidance and control of destitute, dependent, neglected or delinquent children;
- Receive children by surrender, from parents, guardians or custodians and from court;
- Conduct investigations of conditions and develop remedies for evils found to exist.
In 1968, the Catholic Charities Corporation became Catholic Social Services and the scope of the agency was expanded. According to Father Bridy, “the agency is undergoing a period of transition from a child-centered agency to a family-oriented one, with emphasis on preventive casework and counseling.”
Managed Care and Faith-Based Initiatives
In more recent years, the agency has experienced tremendous growth, as well as increased oversight by funding agencies and government entities. Changes included:
- Counseling Offices became licensed Outpatient Psychiatric Programs
- Immigration and Refugee Services expanded and contracted due to local needs and funding sources
- Managed care companies helped oversee government funding of our day treatment, outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, as well as Evergreen House for those recovering from addiction.
- Funding from the Real Alternative charity helped stabilize our Lourdeshouse program for pregnant women.
- Our Adoption Services group contracted with SWAN (Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network), making government dollars available for special needs adoptions.
Today, Catholic Charities is challenged to provide a range of services with the oversight and control of governmental and managed care organizations. We are also challenged to preserve our Catholic foundations as we strive to meet the needs of all who come before us, regardless of their religious beliefs.