Catholic Charities celebrates 70 years of service

September 10, 2013

HOUSTON — Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston began 70 years ago in 1943 as a referral service for families in need and to coordinate adoptions. 

Now the agency has grown into a multi-service organization employing 300 staff members, including social workers and attorneys, helping more than 80,000 clients a year with more than 15 different programs ranging from foster care to senior services and immigration legal services.

In 2012, more than 2,000 volunteers from all walks of life assisted Catholic Charities in its mission and vision as people of faith helping people in need achieve self-sufficiency.

While Catholic Charities has been in America since the beginnings of the United States with the Ursuline Sisters starting their orphanage ministry in New Orleans in 1778, it was not until Oct. 28, 1943 when an official chapter began in Houston. 

On that date, Bishop C.E. Byrne appointed Monsignor John Roach as the diocesan director of Catholic Charities. The ministry of helping others had begun. 

The early services of Catholic Charities were dedicated to referrals, pregnancy and adoption services, counseling and providing basic needs. Longtime employee Marion Bell, now retired, recalls those days fondly. “Monsignor was a wonderful soul. He was a miracle worker. We would help young mothers find a home for their babies and complete families who wanted to give a home for a child. Every day was a source of joy.”

Her work, along with the efforts of Father Larry Lee, helped Catholic Charities become “a well-known organization that provided various services to the community” according to Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, who shepherded Catholic Charities for two decades before His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who now leads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston since 2006.

“Through the hard work and generosity of countless people, Catholic Charities has become a vital organization for many who are in need,” Cardinal DiNardo said. 

He added, “After 70 years, we often find that the needs are as great today as they have ever been. Catholic Charities remains steadfast in its commitment to the dignity of the human person and to help others as Christ guides us.”

Cardinal DiNardo is scheduled to celebrate Catholic Charities’ 70th Anniversary Mass on Oct. 6, at 11 a.m. at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston.

Current Catholic Charities Board Chairman David Harvey Jr. saw the beginnings of Catholic Charities as a child.

“I knew the Bell sisters (Marion and Phyllis) who were frequent visitors at the Harvey house. They always brought Monsignor Roach and we literally grew up around them. Houston was very small and different back then,” Harvey said.

“We are happy to be living in the vibrant and successful city that Houston has become and to continue the Catholic Charities mission that Monsignor Roach started so many decades ago. He has given us a great organization with wonderful leaders over the years and a solid foundation to take into Houston’s future,” Harvey said.

President/CEO Cynthia Nunes Colbert, who began leading Catholic Charities in December 2012, is working with Harvey and board members in creating a strong Strategic Plan for the organization’s future.

“We want to assure that we meet the needs of our community while remaining accountable to our supporters,” Colbert said.

She added, “To do so, the board, along with input from parishes, the community and our staff, is reviewing where our programs need to be strengthened. We seek to be a responsive and collaborative ministry in the Archdiocese.” Over time, Catholic Charities evolved to add programs for the elderly, immigrants, refugees, victims of domestic violence, those suffering from AIDS, and military veterans. 

The organization has expanded outside of Harris County by adding offices in Texas City, Galveston and most recently into Fort Bend County with the Mamie George Community Center to make Catholic Charities a leader for social services within the Archdiocese as a whole. 

Deacon Joe Rubio, who led Catholic Charities’ Advocacy efforts for more than a decade, and also served as interim co-executive director throughout 2012 along with Michael J. Pieri, said, “Catholic Charities can count many accomplishments in its ministry of Christian charity and social justice in the last 70 years. It has built a firm foundation to serve as a provider, convener and advocate for the poor and vulnerable well into the future.”

Continuing to collaborate with parishes and community groups, including the United Way, Catholic Charities will assist as many people as possible. Anna Babin, president of the United Way of Greater Houston, who also served as Catholic Charities president for more than a decade that ranged during the 60th anniversary in 2003, said, “The future for the community is good and bright because Catholic Charities exists.”

That future is also entrusted to the many volunteers and donors throughout the years who have nurtured Catholic Charities and its programs. Among those is the Earthman family, members who have served on the board and other services.

“There are many families through the years who have supported Catholic Charities. I am proud to be a member of one who has supported the organization through three generations,” Blanche Earthman Morello said. “First of all, my parents J.B. and Blanche Earthman, then my brothers Robert and Donald Earthman, who have served on the board, myself and now my daughter, Laura Robertson, is on the board.”

With a trust in God and a dedication to the teachings of Christ, Catholic Charities continues the vision started by Monsignor Roach and the growing diocese 70 years ago.

Colbert said, “Above all, Catholic Charities must reflect the face of Christ. It is much more than another social service agency. It is a ministry of love.”