History of Catholic Charities

October 2006





by Jack Balinsky




Introduction: the Evolution of Catholic Charities in the United States

            To truly understand the history, context and role of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester, one must begin with the treaty of Westphalia of 1648.


            History buffs will recall that this treaty brought to conclusion 100 years of religious warfare in Europe.  The determining principle outlined in the treaty was “cuius regio, eius religio”, “whose territory, his religion.”


            Resulting from this treaty, Europe became even more a series of homogeneous enclaves based on religion.


            It was these homogeneous enclaves that were basically transported from Europe to the United States in the great European immigration waves of the late 1800’s.


            Thus, there were established in many locations in the United States, particularly in the northeast and midwest, Catholic ghettos.  An apt characterization of the ghettos was that in the context of the “no Irish need apply” mentality, Catholic communities became societies unto themselves.  The priest was the ward healer.  Catholics created their own school systems, healthcare services and also met human service needs of their parishioners.  The earliest providers of Catholic social services were the parishes themselves, focusing on financial problems, marriage and family problems, care of the young and care of the old.


            What is now known as Catholic Charities agencies came into being in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s largely to centralize and make more efficient the provision of social services, much as our churches now come together in communities to form one emergency services entity, soup kitchen or food pantry.


            The first convening of representatives from across the country of Bureaus of Catholic Charities occurred in Washington in 1910.


The Growth of Catholic Charities in the United States


            The growth and transformation of the Catholic Charities family in the United States in the last 90 + years has been remarkable.


            Its roots are both the Diocesan structures described above, and the indefatigable work of communities of religious men and women, who even from the early 1700’s established healthcare institutions and programs to serve both the very young and also older persons in the community.


            From earliest beginnings to the mid 1950’s, the typical Diocesan Charities agency provided adoption, counseling and financial assistance services.  The dominant evolution was toward professionalization of services, reflecting the drive of the larger social work profession to gain a status akin to that of the educational profession.


            Catholic Charities agencies, often called Catholic Social Services agencies, were invariably led by priests, had no Boards or, if they did have Boards, had ecclesially controlled Boards and were located almost exclusively in the See city of the Diocese.


            The work of these agencies was often accompanied by Catholic institutions for children created by religious communities, primarily those of religious women.


            It would be remiss not to mention the power of Catholic Charities advocacy during this time period.  It was said, for example, that in a 40 year period not one piece of child welfare legislation was passed by Congress without the imprimatur of Msgr. John O’Grady, national Charities Director.


            Then came the 60’s, both in the Church and in the world.


Within the Church, among the many outcomes of the Second Vatican Council were a heightened sense of social justice awareness, including preferential option for the poor, a recognition of the role of the laity, and furtherance of the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the recognition that issues should be addressed at the lowest possible level of social organization.


            In the world, the 1960’s began for Catholic Charities and other not-for-profit agencies in 1959 with the introduction of the government purchase of service concept.  While Catholic Charities agencies and other not-for-profits had long worked in cooperation with government, this new concept resulted in an explosion of funding for not-for-profits and significant expansion of services.  With this impetus, the initiation of the “war on poverty”, and the creation of Medicaid and Medicare, Catholic Charities agencies became involved in everything from drug abuse and housing to the care of mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons, as well as advocacy programs.


            Within a short period of time, by the late 1960’s, Catholic Charities leaders were asking questions like:


  • not what can we do, but what should we do
  • what is Catholic about Catholic Charities
  • what has happened to our rootedness in parishes
  • if we accept government funding, can we still maintain our role as advocate with government
  • should we serve only Catholics, or all persons in need


These questions were answered through the Cadre Report adopted by the National Conference of Catholic Charities in 1972.


The Cadre Report outlined a three-fold mission for Catholic Charities:


  • the quality provision of direct services (it’s ok to accept government funding) on a non-denominational basis (and to serve more than Catholics)
  • advocacy to transform the social order
  • a convening function, calling together local communities and in particular Catholic faith communities, to address local issues.


While this three-fold mission was updated and refined somewhat in the Catholic Charities USA Vision 2000 process, it remains the central mission under which we operate today.


Catholic Charities in New York State


            Over the last century, the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities in New York State have been blessed by outstanding leadership.


            Today, over 1/3 of all the activity carried out by Catholic Charities in the United States is accomplished here in New York State.


More than thirty years ago, three outstanding leaders: Charles Tobin, the Executive Director of the New York State Catholic Conference, Monsignor Charles Fahey, Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities in Syracuse, and his attorney associate Bob McAuliffe, designed a governance structure for Catholic Charities to respond to the changing civil environment and to implement the Vatican Council concepts of lay involvement and subsidiary.


            They created a decentralized governance concept whereby a tightly controlled hierarchical Board was replaced by a Diocesan Board comprised of priests, sisters and lay persons and whereby there would be established empowered regional or subsidiary Boards to carry on the affairs of the Catholic Charities corporations in a geographical or functional area.


            Syracuse Catholic Charities implemented this structure in 1974, and Albany Catholic Charities followed suit in the late 1970’s.


            Today, in the Syracuse Diocese there are six County Catholic Charities agencies in the seven County Diocese, and 11 County agencies in the 14 County Albany Diocese.



Catholic Charities in the Rochester Diocese


            Over the first three quarters of the twentieth century, Catholic health and social service activity in this Diocese reflected quite closely the national trends outlined above.  The Daughters of Charity established St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester in the mid-1800’s, followed by the creation of St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira.  The Sisters of St. Joseph also established St. Ann’s nursing home facility in Rochester and the Franciscan Sisters created a nursing home in Auburn.


            Catholic Family Center was established in Rochester in 1910 and became a part of Catholic Charities when it was established in 1917.  There was a CYO center in Auburn for a number of years and a Catholic counseling agency in Elmira until it was consolidated with another agency in 1972.


            Through the leadership of many, but especially the priest Diocesan Directors of Catholic Charities, traditional services as described above were provided to many persons.  A list of the Diocesan Directors of Catholic Charities of Rochester is attached as Appendix I.


            The winds of change began to have their impact on Catholic Charities in Rochester in the mid 1970’s.  In 1977, Bishop Hogan appointed Fr. Charlie Mulligan, who had been Director of the Office of Human Development, established first in 1967 by Bishop Sheen, to what was the equivalent of the Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities.  Fr. Mulligan prepared for Bishop Hogan, but presented to a newly arrived Bishop Clark in 1979, a plan for the future of Catholic Charities of the Diocese.


            This plan envisioned the need to create Catholic human services entities in other parts of the Diocese of Rochester beyond Rochester and Monroe County.  The Southern Tier Office of Social Ministry covering a five County area was established in 1980, and the Finger Lakes Office of Social Ministry also covering a five County area, was established in 1982.  Each entity, under local Board leadership, developed its unique set of services in response to community need and in collaboration with existing agencies.


            Through leadership provided by Father John Firpo, Diocesan Director from 1985-1992, and following on the examples of Syracuse and Albany, the Bishop and Diocesan Board adopted in 1985 and refined in 1992, just after Jack Balinsky was appointed Diocesan Director, a decentralized system of governance embracing its then existing three regional entities: Catholic Family Center, Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.  (Attorney Mike Cooney was of enormous help in clarifying responsibilities in this system.)


            What follows is a more detailed history of the evolution of the Diocese of Rochester Catholic Charities from 1992 to the present.


Catholic Family Center and Elmira and Geneva Offices


            In 1992, Catholic Charities of the Diocese had three subsidiaries – Catholic Family Center as well as the two new subsidiaries created in the early 1980’s.


            As indicated above, Catholic Family Center was established in 1910, as part of a community-wide effort to provide services on a more coordinated basis.  For the next fifty years, it provided traditional services as described above.  In 1989, the “new” Catholic Family Center was created from the merger of the “old” Catholic Family Center, the Catholic Youth Organization, and what had been the Genesee Valley Office of Social Ministry, an organization parallel to those established in Elmira and Geneva.  Carolyn Portanova, who had been Director of the Restart program, was hired in 1989 as Executive Director of the “new” Catholic Family Center.


            At that time, Catholic Family Center provided services through the following Departments:


  • Children and Family Services
  • CYO
  • Elder Services
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Homeless and Housing Services
  • Refugee Services
  • Restart Substance Abuse Services
  • Wayne County Services


            It was the flagship Catholic Charities agency, providing services to more than 40,000 individuals.


            The Southern Tier Office of Social Ministry had four major programs: the Samaritan Center (emergency services), the Food Bank, Gateways (community mental health services) and the Transitions program (alcohol and substance abuse counseling).  Father Neil Miller was the first Director, followed by Father Mike Bausch (1982-1985) and then Tony Barbaro, who assumed the position of Executive Director in 1985.


            The Finger Lakes Office of Social Ministry was more focused on parish social ministry and community organization activities under the leadership of its first Executive Director Giovina Caroscio who served from 1982-2003.  The agency established the collaborative community lunch program, and was responsible for creation of a Geneva-based Day Care Council, as well as other community coordinating groups.  A great deal of focus was placed on encouraging education and advocacy activities in parishes in the five county area, and there were service programs such as those for pregnant and parenting women funded by the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.


            In the late 1990’s, the Boards of both the Elmira agency and the Geneva agency voted to change their names to Catholic Charities, following the lead of the Diocesan Board to bring greater consistency and public relations efficiency to our work.


            Over the past fifteen years, these three agencies have continued to provide quality services and encouraged education and advocacy activities in parishes.  The stories of their work are told elsewhere.  What follows here is the story of the evolution of other subsidiary agencies within the Catholic Charities family.


The Creation of Catholic Charities Community Services


            In the wake of the Willowbrook Consent Decree which led to the deinstitutionalization of mentally retarded persons in the state, Catholic Charities in our Diocese, like so many Catholic Charities agencies throughout the State, was asked to develop community residences for this population.  By 1992 we had responded to this challenge by creating eight such residences.


            Further, in the wake of the AIDS epidemic and attention to this poor and vulnerable population by the national Catholic Bishops, and our own Bishop’s widely acclaimed Pastoral, Catholic Charities was also asked to develop AIDS services, which we did in the form of a community residence for women with AIDS and their children.


            In 1992, these services were a function of the Diocesan office and overseen by the Diocesan Board.  Given the positive track record of staff leader Paul Pickering, in light of the principle of subsidiary, and as a vehicle to make possible future program growth, the Diocesan Board established Catholic Charities Community and Residential Services as a separate specialty subsidiary of the organization in October 1992.


            Under the leadership of its newly formed Board, and the continuing strong staff leadership of Paul Pickering, this organization, now known as Catholic Charities Community Services, has flourished in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  Services to developmentally disabled individuals have been expanded through creation of a new IRA’s (individual residential alternatives), and significant expansion of community-based services.  Catholic Charities Community Services has also substantially expanded its AIDS services in a variety of different ways, and developed a Traumatic Brain Injury program which now serves over 50 individuals.


The Creation of Providence Housing Development Corporation


            In the late 1970’s, Catholic Charities agencies throughout the state turned their attention to the development and management of safe affordable housing for low income families and individuals, senior citizens and special needs populations.  In the 1980’s, the State Council of Catholic Charities Directors played a significant role in the establishment of state funded programs to develop such housing.


            Out of a strategic plan completed in 1992 as part of the reorganization process at that time, our Board, led by Strategic Planning Committee members Cathy Cain and Rose Malinowski raised housing as a significant concern.  There was a period of dialogue with Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation in which they indicated that they did not see larger projects within the purview of their mission.


            So, with significant volunteer leadership provided by Mark Greisberger and Tom McHugh, and behind the scenes support of Fr. Joe Hart, was born Providence Housing Development Corporation in 1994.


            Any idea or organization is only as good as the person running it, and the best thing that happened to Providence, Catholic Charities and the Diocese was hiring Maggie Bringewatt.  Maggie was highly recommended by Tom McHugh, for whom she had worked for eight years as Deputy Director of the Rochester Housing Authority.  Maggie was seeking to re-enter the workforce full time as her son John was getting older.  History shows it was a perfect fit.


            Over the past twelve years, Providence has developed over 400 affordable units with a total construction value of more than $73 million, and currently manages more than 600 units.  While the full story of the accomplishments of Providence over this time period is a story to be written elsewhere, two projects deserve special mention here.


            How thrilling it was in March 2006, when Providence was a prominent partner present at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Olean project, the second phase of a major housing development project on the near southwest side of the city.  Literally, a new neighborhood is being created through the work of Providence, its for-profit development partner Cornerstone and the Rochester Housing Authority.


            The second project is mentioned here because of its symbolic value.  In 2002, after several years of trying, Providence received approval to build the St. Andrew’s project, a 13-unit facility for developmentally disabled persons located on the campus of the Diocesan Pastoral Center.  Thus, the Diocese responded directly to those who have opposed affordable housing development with the NIMBY – “not in my back yard” approach.  The Diocese clearly said “we welcome sisters and brothers with developmental disabilities to our front yard”.




            In August 2005, Maggie Bringewatt retired after eleven wonderful years of service and has been ably replaced by Monica McCullough, a very talented woman, who had interned and worked at Providence, and received her law degree and MBA from Syracuse University in May 2005.


The Creation of Catholic Charities of Livingston County

            The roots of Catholic Charities of Livingston County are advocacy by Sr. Rene McNiff, long-time President of St. James Mercy Hospital, that Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier extend its reach beyond Elmira and Corning to the poorer, western part of Steuben County and advocacy by Fr. Jim Hewes, Geneseo Newman Chaplain, Sr. Nancy O’Brien of the CFC Rural Outreach Program, and others that there was need for expanded presence in Livingston County.


            The Diocesan Board of Catholic Charities appointed at its May, 1993 meeting, the so-called Steuben/Livingston Project Committee to do needs assessment and make recommendations on how Catholic Charities might better serve these communities.  Although it was initially envisioned that there might be a recommendation to create a new Steuben- Livingston Catholic Charities office, the committee recommended and the Diocesan Board approved, exploring an effort in Livingston County only.  This decision was made because of the large geographical area of the two counties taken together, numerous differences between the counties, the relatively large number of agencies already in Steuben County, and the relatively small number of agencies in Livingston County.


            At its meeting in September, 1994, the Diocesan Board established a Livingston County Advisory Board, including persons who had served on Sr. Nancy’s Advisory Board, and challenged it to raise $100,000 in seed money for a three year period as a condition of establishing a new County entity.


            For the next year local leadership including Frs. Dan Condon, Bill Trott and Bill Gordonier, and lay leaders including Bill Derby, Jim Dollard and Mabel Treadwell, worked with staff coordinator Moe Tierney, who came out of retirement from his leadership position in Diocesan Catholic Charities (he served 1977-1991) to meet this challenge.  With required funding commitments in hand, the building of some local support, and great enthusiasm, Catholic Charities of the Livingston County was created as a formal subsidiary of Catholic Charities of the Diocese in September, 1995.


            This decision, based in part on the county model in the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses, was made both as a means to better serve those in need in Livingston County, and also as a model for other possible future County office expansion within Rochester Diocesan Catholic Charities.  The focus was on counties because in New York State, human services delivery is a county driven function.  Local ownership can do much more to garner support from government, from business and from faith communities to better serve the poor and vulnerable.


            In Livingston County the theory was that the $100,000 funding commitment would assure presence over a three-year period while Church leaders, the Board and staff worked to obtain more permanent program and funding commitments.  In keeping with the national approach outlined above, within the three-fold mission of direct service, advocacy, and convening, Catholic Charities of Livingston County would seek to address local unmet needs in collaboration with other agencies.


            Through the extraordinary staff leadership of Tim McMahon, together with the support of the newly created Board (especially Father Dan Condon), sufficient funds during this start-up period were generated to assure continuation of the agency.  With further effective efforts by Joe DiMino who took over as Executive Director when Tim retired in 2004, the agency now serves over 2000 people through eleven different programs.


The Addition of Kinship Family and Youth Services


            In 1967, Fr. Tim Weider was assigned by Bishop Fulton Sheen to develop a rural outreach program to poor and vulnerable persons in the Southern Tier.  Among his many accomplishments was the establishment of a group home in Perkinsville for troubled adolescent boys.  Such were the roots of Kinship Family and Youth Services.  First, under Tim’s leadership and for the last twenty plus years under the very effective leadership of Tim’s younger brother Joe, Kinship had become a flagship agency for services to children at risk and their families in an eight County area in the Southern Tier.  In addition, in the last half of the 1990’s, Kinship also developed a highly acclaimed residence for those recovering from alcoholism.


            Recognizing the changing environment for provision of human services, and the many threats to the existence of smaller not-for-profit agencies, Joe and the Board of Kinship began in the early to mid 1990’s to explore possibilities of affiliation with another organization.  Recognizing their Catholic roots, a natural possibility was St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell.  The parties were very close to what presumably would have been an effective partnership, when Sr. Rene’ left St. James Mercy Hospital and her successors indicated that they were not interested in such an arrangement.


            Inspired by Tony Barbaro and Chris Wilkins, who had moved from the Finger Lakes office to the Southern Tier office, discussions began in 1997 about the possibility of an alignment between Kinship and Diocesan Catholic Charities.  With many fits and starts, and ups and downs, effective in 2000, Kinship became a full subsidiary of Catholic Charities of the Diocese and has added a significant component to our presence in many Counties in the Diocese.


The Transformation of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier


            The evolution of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester was significantly enhanced by the generosity of Nellie Monroe and the creative leadership of Tony Barbaro and the Board of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier.


            Nellie was a volunteer for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier who in the early 1990’s donated to that agency a valuable piece of land in Big Flats, to be used “for the greater glory of God”.  A first use of the property was a site for a new Food Bank facility.  In the mid 1990’s, the remainder of the land was sold to Loew’s for $1.3 million.  Under Tony’s leadership the Board of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier committed 10% of this endowment annually to developing county outreach services.


            Again, there has been written a history of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier which details specifics, but “all of a sudden” we had a strong presence in Steuben, Tompkins-Tioga and Schuyler Counties.  Bridget Steed in Chemung , Laura Opelt in Steuben, Paul Hesler, George Ferrari and Christine Sanchirico in Tompkins-Tioga, and Sarah Conley and Mike Gehl in Schuyler, provided the excellent staff leadership to grow these agencies.


            On January 1, 2003, Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier was transformed into four new subsidiary agencies: the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Catholic Charities of Chemung-Schuyler Counties, Catholic Charities of Steuben County, Catholic Charities of Tompkins-Tioga Counties.  With leadership from newly created Boards, the energy of the new Regional Executives and the support of Tony Barbaro, who assumed the position of Associate Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities on January 1, 2003, the significant expansion of county offices in these five counties has brought help and hope to thousands.


            The Food Bank of the Southern Tier was an early component of the work of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier, started by Father Neil Miller, its first Director, in 1980.  A critical moment in the evolution of the Food Bank was the decision in 1992 to build a new facility in Big Flats on the land donated by Nellie Monroe.  A second major factor in the evolution of the Food Bank was the decision in 1998 to hire Paul Hesler as Executive Director.  Under his outstanding leadership the Food Bank has gone from delivering one million pounds of food to nearly six million, serving 200 soup kitchens and food pantries in 12 counties in the Southern Tier of New York State and northern Pennsylvania, helping over 145,000 people in these counties.  Through Paul’s leadership, the Food Bank is now developing a capital campaign to address its future work.


The Creation of Catholic Charities in Wayne County


            Father Jim Hewes had been most instrumental a decade earlier in the creation of Catholic Charities of Livingston County.  Soon after his appointment as Pastor of Clyde/Savannah in July 2000, he began his advocacy for the establishment of Catholic Charities of Wayne County.


            More than twenty years earlier, Diocesan leadership of Catholic Charities had created confusion about the organizational presence of Catholic Charities in Wayne County.  In 1979, Catholic Family Center established an intensive services program in Newark.  When Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes was established in 1982, its Charter gave an authority to be the Catholic Charities Service provider in Wayne County, as well as the other four Finger Lakes Counties.  Dual service provision in the county had been a source of confusion and frustration ever since.


            Father Hewes and Father Peter Clifford in November were able to generate strong support among the pastoral leaders of Wayne County for creation of Catholic Charities of Wayne County.  Recognizing that seed money was needed for the start-up of any county agency, the notion arose that a percentage of the local share of the Partners in Faith Campaign could be a source of this seed money.  In early 2004, the eight pastoral leaders of Wayne County agreed to tithe from the local share of Partners in Faith.  In addition, with designated gifts (largely from Father Hewes parish), there was available $200,000 over four years.


            After a somewhat difficult joint planning process involving the Diocesan Board, Catholic Family Center (where John Guarre was most helpful), and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes (where Robert Kernan was most helpful), the Diocesan Board approved its June 22, 2004 meeting, the creation of Catholic Charities of Wayne County.  Loretta Kruger was hired as Executive Director in November 2004, and has skillfully overseen (together with Sister Janet Korn) the creation of La Casa, the integration of Catholic Family Center programs into Catholic Charities of Wayne County and the development of a strong Board.


Catholic Family Center – the Acquisition of Family Services of Rochester


            For nearly a century now, Catholic Family Center, the Catholic Charities subsidiary agency serving Monroe County, has been a leading human services provider in Monroe County, and the flagship agency of Catholic Charities of the Diocese.


            For more than thirty years, Catholic Family Center has benefited from the extraordinary leadership skills of Carolyn Portanova, who has been Executive Director since 1989, and who has received numerous awards and leadership accolades.


            For the last twenty years, Board leadership at Catholic Family Center has worked with Carolyn to assure that Catholic Family Center is on the leading edge of service delivery.  Catholic Family Center now services more than 70,000 persons annually through numerous programs at 17 different locations in Monroe County.


            Reflective of the trend of declining funding availability and the need to make service delivery more efficient, Catholic Family Center was once again on the cutting edge of the evolution of human services provision when it acquired Family Services of Rochester in October 2005.  Made possible through extraordinary leadership of Board members, Brian Dwyer, David Pitcher and Maureen Mulholland, this acquisition brought to Catholic Family Center some fifty five additional employees with approximately $4 million in annual funding, and new lines of business, including especially community health services.  This acquisition further solidified Catholic Family Center’s position as the leading multi-service provision agency in Monroe County.



The Evolution of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Charities


            Probably the most significant leader of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rochester over the last fifty years was Father Charlie Mulligan, who was appointed to the Diocesan leadership position in 1977, and was in office until 1985.


            In a variety of ways, Charlie reorganized the work of Catholic Charities.  Throughout the country, and in this Diocese over the last forty years, there has been tension between “social justice advocates and the more institutional Church, as represented in part by Catholic Charities.


            In this Diocese, Charlie sought to bring these sometimes opposing factions together into what he named the Office of Social Ministry.  The ideal of the structure was that in the Diocesan office and in each Regional office there would be four leadership positions: the overall Director of Social Ministry, then a Director of Catholic Charities (services), a Director of Peace and Justice (advocacy), and a Director of Chaplaincy Services (actually transferred out of Catholic Charities in a Diocesan organization in 1991).


            What this organizational structure accomplished was no mean achievement.  Still to this day in many dioceses in the Country, there is dissonance and sometimes open conflict between the more institutional Catholic Charities agency and the social justice advocacy community.  In one of his last public addresses, the revered Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, exhorted our Catholic community to work together, in his emotional appeal at the Conference in 1997 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


            In our Diocese, through Charlie’s good work, three results have been achieved.  First, significant advocacy activities occur within the framework of Catholic Charities, effectuated by the outstanding work and regular meetings of our Justice and Peace staff.  Second, rare among Catholic Dioceses, our parishes and priests are comfortable with to advocacy activities.  We live out the dictum articulated from the World Synod of bishops in 1971 that “advocacy on behalf of social justice is a constitutive element of the preaching the Gospel.”   An example of this focus on advocacy was that as part of an advocacy campaign in 1981, every Parish Council in the Diocese of Rochester passed a resolution supporting an increase in the public assistance benefit level.  Third, we have an important presence in promoting parish social ministry, which will be even more important in the days ahead.


            In this context of this structure, created by Charlie, and the decentralized nature of the Catholic Charities organization, it is the responsibility of the Diocesan office to carry out only those functions which are Diocesan-wide in nature, or can best be accomplished by a Diocesan approach, including especially public policy advocacy.


            There have been several such initiatives over the last fifteen years.


Diocesan Public Policy Committee


            In 1992, Catholic Charities took a lead role in the establishment of the Diocesan Public Policy Committee.  This 25-person body has representation geographically throughout the Diocese, as well as functional representation of different interest areas (education, health care, life issues, social justice).  It was first chaired admirably by Father Mike Bausch and for the last ten years, Father Brian Cool has provided excellent leadership.  Annually the Committee develops our own Diocesan legislative agenda, and chooses issues for Diocesan-wide parish-based petition or postcard advocacy.  The committee also plans the Annual Bishop’s Legislative Luncheon, and our participation in the annual New York Sate Catholic Conference Public Policy Forum and is a grassroots vehicle through which public policy priorities can evolve.


Consistent Life Advocacy


            One of the four major priorities of the Diocesan Synod held in the fall of 1993 was Consistent Life Ethic Advocacy and Diocesan Catholic Charities was given responsibility for implementation of this priority.  From September 1995 to June 2000, Suzanne Schnittman ably filled the role of Consistent Life Ethic Coordinator, and upon completion of the formal Synod implementation period, Diocesan Life Issues Coordinator.


            She approached her responsibilities with passion, and among other things was responsible for implementation of Project Rachel and the Parish Pledge for Life, as well as the establishment of Vita Awards and the Consistent Life Ethic Grant fund made possible by the Consistent Life Ethic Dinner.  An excellent symbol of the many challenges present in promoting the Consistent Life Ethic was Marty Moll Jr’s comment after trying with great frustration to raise money for this cause, “give me any disease to raise money for and I’ll be more successful.”


            From June 2000 to the present Suzanne has been ably succeeded by Jann Armantrout, who, like Suzanne had a long history of connectedness with the Diocese before her appointment.  In addition, she played a significant role in the community, including her leadership of the Common Ground advocacy group.  In her six years here, Jann has brought an organized approach to Life Issues advocacy in the Diocese, and has been a significant participant in activities at the State Catholic Conference, providing much needed leadership to the Diocesan Human Life Coordinators group.  She has emerged as a recognized  expert on stem cell research.


Catholic Charities USA Annual Convening and Follow-up Initiatives


            From the early 1990’s, Catholic Charities has been blessed with wonderful Diocesan Board leadership, stemming from participation in the Catholic Charities USA Annual meeting in Milwaukee in 1996.  Board leadership, especially Marty Birmingham and Pat Fox, facilitated bringing the National Annual Conference to Rochester in 1999.  (All the Diocesan Board Presidents during this time have made enormous contributions.  They are listed in Appendix II.)


            This event was spectacular, and provided the context and visibility for subsequent two efforts.  The first was in 2000 Catholic Charities Capital Campaign, from which we realized over $1.2 million to enhance our endowment, (another $2.5 million will be added to endowment through the Diocesan Partners in Faith Campaign).


            The second spin-off from Catholic was creation of the Works of Love program designed to give greater visibility to Catholic Charities within the Diocesan community, particularly in parishes, schools and youth ministry groups.  This effort was ably led by Ruth Putnam Marchetti, who had been a Diocesan Board member and had twelve years experience teaching a Catholic School.  In October 2001, over 8000 people from 75 different groups throughout the Diocese performed service tasks during Works of Love Week.  With funding constraints at regional levels, Ruth moved into her new role as Justice and Peace Coordinator for Livingston County, the Finger Lakes office and Wayne County in September 2005.


Project Unity


            Sr. Janet Korn was hired as Diocesan Social Justice Awareness Coordinator in September 1998.  Initially hired to help promote social justice awareness in conjunction with the 1999 CCUSA national meeting, she has contributed to this awareness in many ways, but primarily now focuses on Project Unity.


            Project Unity has roots in this Diocese from the so-called Urban-Suburban Task Force, formed in 1994 and co-chaired by Fr. Peter Clifford and Jack Balinsky.  This Task Force produced a report on how the Diocese might better foster urban-suburban connections in a similar fashion to what Bishop Anthony Pilla had done in Cleveland at that time through his Church in the City initiative.


            In 1999, Bishop Pilla made a joint presentation to the Stewardship Council and Priests’ Council.  A joint committee of these bodies recommended a year later the creation of Project Unity in our Diocese.  In the last six years, Sister Janet has fostered creation of ten new inter-parish cooperative efforts throughout the Diocese.  In 2002, under Sister Janet’s leadership, Project Unity announced creation of three pro-active projects to provide a framework for person-to-person connection: a WIN school tutoring effort, (initially led by Bill and Chrissy Carpenter) a mentoring program for first time homeowners, and an effort to create a safe house for migrant farmworkers in Sodus.


            The history of the creation of LaCasa, the transition housing facility for the migrant community in Sodus, is written elsewhere.  It is a remarkable story, made possible by Janet’s extraordinary work and the leadership and generosity of Tom McDermott, of how an entire Diocesan community rallied to create this important outreach effort, now operated by Catholic Charities of Wayne County.


Ongoing Efforts


            No history of the Diocesan Office would be complete without mention of Judy Taylor.  Judy’s seventeen years as a Catholic Charities employee came to conclusion on April 2005 when she retired for health reasons.  During her tenure, she made enormous contributions through the Christmas Appeal, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Operation Rice Bowl of Catholic Relief Services.


            She was properly recognized as recipient of the Bishop Clark Award at the All Boards Convening on October 24, 2005.


            With her retirement, Kathy Dubel (long-time Justice and Peace staff person in the Southern Tier) has taken responsibility as Diocesan Director of Catholic Relief Services and Marvin Mich (a noted social justice author and staff member of Catholic Family Center) has taken responsibility as Diocesan Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.




            What’s Next


            This history of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester, described here in some detail over the last fifteen years, would not have been possible without the leadership and support of Bishop Matthew Clark.  Bishop Clark gives high priority to carrying out the work of social justice, both in service delivery and advocacy, and has given rock solid support to Catholic Charities in his 27 year tenure as Bishop of Rochester.


            Over the last fifteen years, Catholic Charities has also benefited greatly from the staunch support of Vicars General Father John Mulligan and Father Joseph Hart.


            This leadership and support has been especially valuable in light of the many complexities that arise because Catholic Charities is truly at the intersection of Church and society, serves an at risk population, and faces “messy” issues like politicians and abortion, and issues surrounding provision of services to persons who are gay and lesbian.


            Presuming continued strong leadership and support from the Diocese, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester nonetheless faces significant challenges over the next several years.


            Much of the recent history has focused on the establishment of county offices.  It is still to be determined what will be the ultimate form of Catholic Charities presence in two counties – Cayuga and Schuyler.


            We have had a long and inconsistent presence in Cayuga County, which is more oriented to Syracuse than Rochester.  More than ten years ago, in the wake of the establishment of Catholic Charities of Livingston County, there were discussions abut the possibility of creating a Catholic Charities of Cayuga County.  It was only with the appointment of Laurie Trojner as County Director on a fulltime basis in 2001 that Catholic Charities began to gain some traction in Auburn.  With Tony Barbaro assuming the role in September 2005 as Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes on a part-time basis, he now has an opportunity to provide his considerable talent to helping the work of Catholic Charities in Cayuga County.


            In many ways, what has happened over the last ten years in Schuyler County is amazing.  Driven almost solely by the leadership work of Sarah Conley, Catholic Charities established a strong presence with an annual operating budget of nearly $1 million in this small rural county.  Since Sarah retired early in 2005, she has been ably replaced by Mike Gehl.  Like in Cayuga County, the question of whether Schuyler County, now linked with Chemung County, becomes an autonomous subsidiary, remains to be determined.


            There are three more generalized current challenges to Catholic Charities.  For more than ten years, Jim Crowley contributed enormously in his position as CFO.  Following his retirement, through the spectacular work of the Diocesan Information Technology Department, and the internal staff leadership of Tony Barbaro, Finance Director Lee Randall and Human Resource Director Barb Poling, much progress has been made in centralizing and consolidating “back-office” services,  (IT, financial, and human resources), while retaining autonomy of decision-making at the subsidiary level.  There is still much work to be done in these areas, work that is ever more important in light of continued funding cutbacks.


            Second, work needs to continue on building the endowment funds of Catholic Charities, as a safeguard against future funding cutbacks.  Through Catholic Charities Capital Campaign 2000 and the Partners in Faith, nearly $4 million in endowment money has been secured.  An informal goal is $10 million.


            A third major challenge is recreating and developing the next generation of staff leadership for the organization.  Like leadership staffs in human services and Catholic Charities agencies around the country, our Executive staff is “of an age” where succession planning is mandatory.


Happily there are in place a strong Diocesan Board and strong Regional Boards to help Catholic Charities meet these and other challenges, and to continue to bring help and hope to those in need.


P.S.     Like so many accomplishments in Catholic Charities, the production of this work would not have been possible without the able work of JoAnn Anderson, Administrative Assistant to the Diocesan Director.