Our History

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.



Imagine your dream student - someone who is bright, inquisitive, kind to others, and comes to class eager to learn. Well, that is Koffi. He first came to my ESL class in May of 2014. He had only been in the United States for about 6 months at that time.

For many people, those first 6 months can be overwhelming and hectic, but Koffi’s spirit is indomitable. He came to class every night ready to learn and in a short time he found a job. Even after a long day of working hard, Koffi would come into class with a smile on his face. He greeted his fellow students with a smile and was ready to learn.

After being in the country for a little over a year, Koffi decided he would like to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). He took the initiative and researched his options before deciding on the program at HACC.
Koffi continued with his English studies right up to the time his CNA class started at HACC. I was sorry to see him leave, but so happy for him.

In June of this year Koffi graduated from the CNA Program at HACC. We are all so proud of Koffi. He has been such a positive influence on all of us, staff and students alike. It is impossible to look at Koffi’s smiling face and not want to smile right back, he is that full of kindness and hope. I am so glad he was my student and I feel certain that he will do even more amazing things in the future.

- ESL Instructor

Tiffany starts her story by openly stating that the first 39 years of her life were a waste. She spent all of her time drinking, which was her way of coping with the many let downs in her life.

Fearing for her life, a friend convinced Tiffany to check herself into a 30-day detox program. Upon completion she entered the Evergreen House program. While this was not her first choice, Tiffany ended up residing at Evergreen House for seven and one-half months.

Tiffany credits Evergreen’s staff and their patience with her eventual success in the program. Evergreen’s staff understood what she was going through and eventually became like her family. The Evergreen House program provided the structure and support she needed to maintain her sobriety.

Tiffany credits Evergreen House for a second chance at life and she is determined to have a positive impact on others.

- anonymous

Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Specialized Foster Care not only provides foster care and adoption services, but it also helps adoptees and their birth families to connect with one other through Search services. Nearly 50 years ago, Tina was an accomplished athlete who found herself pregnant while pursuing an advanced degree. With housing and supportive services from Catholic Charities, Tina made the difficult decision to place her daughter for adoption. Following the adoption, Tina pursued her career as an athlete, coach, and business administrator. While she was confident that she had made the right decision, Tina constantly thought about the daughter she had placed for adoption and wondered about her well-being. She eventually made attempts to find her daughter through various sources and by updating her online information in the event that her only child might someday want to meet her. After several years, Tina had come to the conclusion that meeting her daughter was just not meant to be.
This past year, Tina’s daughter, Beth, contacted Catholic Charities with a request for information about her birth parents. After talking with Beth and encouraging her to pursue the search, Catholic Charities was able to connect Beth with her birth mother. The two later traveled to meet each other, and Tina was given the opportunity to meet Beth’s husband and daughters. Tina was thrilled to learn that she was a grandmother, but she was most happy to hear that her daughter had loving adoptive parents who had given her a good life. Tina later wrote to Catholic Charities that “I think someone did a lot of praying and the prayers were answered.”

- Anonymous

A native of Puerto Rico, Maria* moved to Harrisburg with the dream of building a bright future for herself and her baby. While working to gain her bearing, Maria was kicked out of the house in which she had been staying, rendering Maria and her son homeless. Maria had very few options, as she had not yet secured a job, childcare, or private housing. In March 2017, Maria and her two year old son were welcomed into the Interfaith Shelter.
Upon entering the Interfaith Shelter, Maria immediately began building the skills needed to obtain self-sufficiency. The first challenge to overcome was Maria’s limited English proficiency. Determined to improve her English, Maria enrolled in ESL classes at the Tri-County Adult Learning Center, and she began practicing her growing language skills with residents and staff at the shelter. Maria also enrolled in a workforce development program offered through the PA Department of Human Services, working to develop marketable skills and gain permanent employment. Although many of the area’s transitional housing programs were completely full and had long wait lists, Maria eagerly applied to the YWCA Transitional Housing program. She knew that, with determination and hard work, she could build a better life for her family.
As she was nearing the end of her stay with the Interfaith Shelter, Maria was accepted into the YWCA Transitional Housing program and was assured that a room would soon be available. In order to keep Maria on the path towards success, the Interfaith Shelter granted Maria an extension until she was able to move into the YWCA. During her stay at Interfaith, Maria successfully obtained childcare, enrolled in a cash assistance program, improved her English proficiency, and began developing employment skills leading to a new job. Maria has served as an inspiration to others at the shelter that any barrier can be overcome.

- Anonymous
Council on Accrediation Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations United Way

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