By now you may recognize Catholic Charities North Dakota from our videos during Catholic Charities Sunday the last weekend in September. Many remember us under our former names of Catholic Family Service and the Catholic Welfare Bureau. You may also know us through family or friends who have experienced the joys of adoption, found hope through counseling, received flood aid, or have intellectual disabilities and we are their guardian. Yet many still wonder what we do, and why.
“Guided by our values, Catholic Charities North Dakota serves people in need and advocates for the common good of all.” This mission is based on the social teachings of the Church such as the dignity of each person. More than 90 years ago the Catholic Welfare Bureau was started in Fargo in 1923 by Msgr. Vincent Ryan during the time of Bishop James O’Reilly and then Bishop (later Cardinal) Aloysius Muench to serve the needs of vulnerable populations in North Dakota such as the poor, dependent children, and unwed mothers.
The Church’s social teachings can be traced back through the Prophets of the Old Testament such as Isaiah and Ezekiel, and are rooted in the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus in Matthew 5-7. This is a great passage to reflect on, with the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. While Lent reminded us of the importance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, almsgiving is meant to be not just financial (yes, we and other charities rely on your generous support!) but to take place on a very personal level. The Sermon on the Mount deeply challenges each of us to be more charitable to others and loving in our own lives.
Since early in Catholic Charities North Dakota’s history we helped place children for adoption and we remain best known for our two adoption programs, Pregnancy, Parenting and Adoption Services (PPAS) and the Adults Adoption Special Kids (AASK) program. In addition to parenting and infant adoptions, we help find forever families for children in the North Dakota foster care system who have had trauma and are not able to be reunited with their families or other close family or friends for an identified adoption.
In the 1950’s, under the leadership of Msgr. Anthony Peschel the hiring of professionally educated social workers was promoted and in 1974 Roger Schwinghammer, MSW was hired as the first lay director of the agency.
Along with PPAS and AASK, current programs at Catholic Charities North Dakota include counseling services, guardianships for adults with intellectual disabilities, and natural disaster relief. Our clinical therapists counsel individuals, couples and families on relationship issues, stress, anger management, and anxiety or depression. Clients may receive a few or many sessions, as needed. Professional staff who serve as court-appointed guardians for adults with intellectual disabilities ensure an appropriate place to live, proper medical attention, and the necessary support services to meet their needs.
As there are still many North Dakotans in need we continue our charitable work today. Pope Benedict XVI discussed the three-fold responsibility of the Church to (1) proclaim the word of God, (2) celebrate the sacraments, and (3) exercise the ministry of charity in Deus Caritas Est (25). After the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, let us remember that the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are at the heart of our Christian duty both in our personal lives and as a community. Jesus challenges us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Are we truly living out our charity in the world, being living signs of love for all to see? Or have we lost our flavor, good only as salt for the road? Are we a light to others, or has our light faded or been hidden? May the Year of Mercy be only the beginning so that we may always grow in charity and love for one another!