Tradition of Catholic social concerns goes back to early U.S. history

Bishop GrutkaIn his first appearance following his return from Vatican II in Rome, Bishop Andrew G. Grutka attends the annual meeting of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Dec. 8, 1963. These diocesan officers posing with the bishop are, from the left, Richard Frichtl, William Holajter, Vernon Miller, and William Schneider. Catholic Charities helped spread the Vincentian movement, which that year helped an estimated 600 people. (NWIC file photo/Elmer Budlove) 


BELOW: Diocesan women attend a "Harvest Coffee" benefit in Hammond for Catholic Charities in this undated photo. (NWIC file photo)


Catholic Charities in this country may be a little more than a century old, but its origins go back centuries. The tradition of Catholic social concerns can be traced to Scripture.
In Acts 6:1-7, in response to a quarrel between Jewish groups, the Apostles selected seven helpers to oversee the daily distribution of funds to Greek-speaking Jewish widows.
In the present United States the first formal Catholic charity was in 1727 with the arrival from France of Ursuline sisters to open an Catholic Charities vintageorphanage, school for street girls, and health facility in New Orleans. In 1845 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S. was founded in St. Louis. By the start of the 20th century, more than 800 Catholic institutions were offering care to children, the aged, disabled, and the ill.
The forerunner of Catholic Charities USA was created in 1910. The National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC) was founded to promote the creation of diocesan Catholic charities bureaus, "to bring about a sense of solidarity" among those in charitable ministries, and "to be the attorney for the poor."
By 1922, 35 central bureaus of Catholic Charities had been formed, and by 1937, 68 diocesan bureaus would be organized in 35 states.
Catholic Charities made its presence known not just at diocesan levels but at the federal level. By the late 1920s, the Great Depression prompted intense activity by NCCC and diocesan bureaus to promote social legislation based upon Catholic principles. In 1935 the Social Security Act passed Congress for the first time, with NCCC strongly supporting the concept of insurance benefits based upon rights, not a needs test for benefits.
The NCCC also backed the National Housing Act, passed in 1949, and helped found the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program, providing approximately $130 million annually to local volunteer organizations across the country.
When NCCC marked its 50th anniversary in 1960, President Eisenhower joined in the celebration. President Reagan was on hand for the organization's 75th anniversary in 1985. The following year, NCCC became Catholic Charities USA.
As Catholic Charities USA approached its centennial, its national reputation grew. In 2001, in response to 9/11, Catholic Charities USA received and administered $31 million in gifts to dioceses. In 2007, the national Catholic group initiated the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, with the goal of cutting poverty in half by 2020.
Within the past few years, Catholic Charities USA received a contract to pilot a disaster case management program in the Gulf Coast. Following hurricane relief efforts, Catholic Charities USA was selected by the government to provide disaster case management nationwide.




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