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Archives Diocesan director reflects on changes in Catholic Charities over 100 years

June 21, 2017

As part of her interview with the North Country Catholic, Sister Donna Franklin reflected on the changes and growth of Catholic Charities throughout its history:

One hundred years ago, Catholic Charities did wonderful work with adoptions, with children who needed to be cared for; they did a lot of giving away layette sets.

In the 1970’s Catholic Charities directors throughout the nation, with considerable input from the Charities directors of New York State, developed what was called the Cadre Report which identified the two feet of Christian service: direct aid and advocacy.

So, at that time, Catholic Charities throughout the nation enhanced their mission statements to include advocacy for systemic change, not just taking care of people who were living with economic and emotional challenges but also looking at the systems and policies that maintained people in poverty.

The work of Catholic Charities is based on the Gospel and the Gospel, interpreted in the modern world is, in many ways, based on Catholic social teaching. From the time of Pope Leo with Rerum Novarum in 1891, this usually meant addressing the social issues of the day. Rerum Novarum was developed during the industrial revolution and focused on the rights of workers, the dignity of work and the dignity and sanctity of the human person.

And then, in this day and age, the work of Catholic Charities continues to address those rights but also  includes what we see with Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict talked about the constitutive elements of the church – word, worship and service. Pope Francis – in Laudete Si –talks about climate change, and the issue of the environment. One of the things we know is that deteriorating environment will impact the poor first of all. They will suffer the most.

So the church teaches about the current issues and how we should respond. That church teaching, that body of social teaching, guides the work of Catholic Charities. That means that Catholic Social Teaching is an integral part of all the missions of Catholic Charities.

Everything we do is based on the sanctity and dignity of the human person; every program is based on the sanctity and dignity of human person. When someone comes into our office they should feel as though they have worth and, when they leave, their dignity should be intact. They should be made to feel that they are significant. Sometimes poverty is talked about in terms of statistics, in abstract concepts. It’s not. Poverty has a name and a face and a story of an individual or a family.

There are many people who live in the shadows, live on the margins of our society.  Often it’s a surprise because it’s not the people who we think or the stereotypes that we think about. Many of the people living on the margins today are the invisible poor, the working poor, retirees, veterans, military families. You see people no one would suspect are poor but are struggling to survive. We see families where one or two adults are working two or three jobs just to trying to make ends meet and are still struggling, retirees who thought that the money they had for retirement was going to work but it’s not enough. So you have this whole group of bashful poor, the proud poor, people who aren’t used to asking, coming forward and asking for help.

We have seen a dramatic increase in that population, whose needs don’t fit into traditional services, who are working but make just a little bit more to qualify for services and even with that little bit more they are still struggling.

The most frustrating part of the work of today is seeing the growing needs of the people and the always diminishing resources, particularly when you have a government that seems unable to hear or understand the needs of its people.

Catholic Charities is challenged to secure the necessary resources that are needed to help people in development. For example, prevention programs have been cut so a person has to be evicted or be homeless before they qualify for help rather than working to prevent homelessness. Many programs are reactive instead of proactive.

That’s the most frustrating part of my work because I believe that service providers should teach people to be proactive, to help them plan, to provide educational opportunities.

With big concepts – like welfare reform – not enough thought is given to the consequences, often safety nets are lost and that’s what Catholic Charities has been able to do – provide safety nets.

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