Catholic Charities celebrates centennial of service

President Barack Obama meets with leadership from Catholic

The U.S. economy is in its worst shape in more than half a
century. A double-digit unemployment rate is causing misery for
families. Many states, counties and citi
The U.S. economy is in its worst shape in more than half a century. A double-digit unemployment rate is causing misery for families. Many states, counties and cities are facing bankruptcy. Thousands of homes are entering foreclosure.

While the Federal government has taken many steps to alleviate these problems, many non-profit organizations are offering an important array of services to help people in need.

One of the country’s largest non-profit social services agencies that fills these needs marked its centennial last month.

From Sept. 25 through 28, Catholic Charities USA celebrated 100 years of assistance and advocacy. Across the country, more than 1,700 agencies and institutions with more than 240,000 volunteers, staff and board members combine efforts to provide hope for more than 9 million people each year.

This tradition began with the founding of an orphanage, a home for “women of ill repute,” and a health care facility by an order known as the Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans in 1727.

By 1900, more than 800 Roman Catholic charitable bodies existed in the United States. By the end of the decade, they came together under the umbrella organization known as Catholic Charities USA.

People may be surprised to learn that Catholic Charities serves people of all faiths. They may be even more surprised to learn that most of its agencies do not even keep statistics on the religious affiliation of their clients.

This reflects the respect for human dignity, religious liberty and ecumenical sensitivity promoted by Vatican II: “Action of aid, relief and assistance should be conducted in a spirit of service and free giving for the benefit of all persons without the ulterior motive of eventual proselytism” (religious conversion).

The Catholic church has been outspoken about the need for economic and political change.

Its leaders teach that “it is not enough to feed more and more hungry families; we must raise the public question about why so much hunger persists in this wealthy nation and how this condition might be changed by individual, community, business and government action.”

The local affiliate of this nation-wide organization is Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

For more than 50 years, it has provided a range of services, including job skills training and placement, older adult services, metal health and substance abuse counseling, housing assistance, financial education, immigration support and refugee placement. Last year, it served more than 37,000 people.

Greg Kepferle, CEO of the local affiliate, was in Washington, D.C. for the celebration as part of the delegation meeting at the While House with President Obama.

He talked with the president about the needs of families in Santa Clara County and the “creative anti-poverty work” of his group. He told a story from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” an iconic novel set during the Great Depression: Ma Joad tells Pa, “It’s not ‘can we’; it’s will we.” Then Kepferle added, “Mr. President, together, yes, we can and yes we will cut poverty.”

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