By Lois Rogers | Features Editor
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Trenton, which has come to the aid of six million people in its first 100 years, will begin commemorating that accomplishment with an anniversary Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m.
Celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. and open to all, the Mass is the official starting point for a round of festivities that will highlight the agency which, through Depression and disaster, has been a trusted resource to those in need in Central New Jersey.
The agency traces its roots to 1913 when the diocese expanded its array of social services by formally establishing one office – then called the St. Michael’s Aid Society – for all charitable agencies. This first incarnation of Catholic Charities, Trenton, is said to have been one of only five such agencies in the entire country at the time.
Services in those early years clearly reflected the societal needs of the day with a strong focus on assisting the poor, sheltering orphans, facilitating adoptions, providing healthcare services to the elderly and disabled, and managing children’s day care.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, homes for young women experiencing unplanned pregnancies were established as were homes for newborns and young children given for adoption.
In the Trenton Diocese, where records show unemployment soared to 30 percent during the Depression, many resources were allocated to aiding affected households according to Catholic Charities documents.
The post-war years saw offices centralized in Trenton and counseling programs established there and in Red Bank and Burlington City. Innovative, family-centered counseling and residential treatment and domestic violence programs were launched in the 1970s through the early 1990s.
The first decade of the new century saw an expansion of behavioral healthcare programs and basic needs services. In addition, specialized counseling for children was initiated, disaster response services were introduced and immigration services established.
Marlene Lao-Collins, Catholic Charities’ executive director, said the observances of the centennial year will shine a spot light on all these aspects of the history of the agency.
“This centennial is significant because it is an acknowledgement of Catholic Charities’ vital role in the social services network in central New Jersey throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st century,” she said.
Calling Catholic Charities in the Trenton Diocese a pioneer in the field of social concerns, she added: “From our earliest days, the agency has combined a professional social work approach with values deeply rooted in the Gospel mandate to treat every individual with dignity in order to assist people in achieving their full potential.”
Both she and Daughter of Charity Sister Joanne Dress, the diocese’s executive director of Catholic Social Services, hope those served by Catholic Charities and those who have supported the agency as well as the general public will turn out for the Mass and the other events over the course of the year.
Lao-Collins also urges folks to perform acts of kindness for others throughout the year as “a way to promote the 100-year-long mission to alleviate human suffering.”
Sister Joanne, who, in her diocesan role supervises Catholic Charities as well Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Mount Carmel Guild and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, expressed hope that “all will come and celebrate the beginning of Catholic Charities’ anniversary year at the Mass with Bishop O’Connell, and will continue to celebrate the work of Catholic Charities throughout the year.”
“Catholic Charities has really served people in need and on the margins, consistently offering help with shelter, counseling, advocacy and compassionate support in times of trouble,” Sister Joanne said. “They really strive to meet the changing needs of the times.”
Pointing to Catholic Charities’ ongoing disaster response services established in the wake of 9/11 and being offered now to victims of Superstorm Sandy, Sister Joanne said the Mass and reception to follow in the cathedral offers the opportunity not only to recognize the contributions the agency has made and continues to make but to meet the staff, board members and workers of Catholic Charities as well.
It’s a wonderful opportunity, she said, “to recognize them for working to their strengths.”[[In-content Ad]]