Education Archivist Maria Mazzenga and Associate Archivist John Shepherd , both of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, were quoted in a Sept. 10 Catholic News Service article about Monsignor John O'Grady, the former chief executive of Catholic Charities USA. The organization is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month. Monsignor O'Grady also was the dean of CUA's National Catholic School of Social Service. See the article below.

From: Catholic News Service Date: Sept. 10, 2010 Author: Dennis Sadowski WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In Catholic Charities USA's 100-year history, there have been nine chief executives, each with his own style of leadership and each with a specific vision of how faith-based ministry and service should be carried out.

But there's one chief executive who is acknowledged by historians and social service leaders alike for raising the national network's profile in government and in charitable circles during some of the most tumultuous times of America's history.

Msgr. John O'Grady is widely revered as the man who understood what a nationwide network of Catholic charitable organizations could do to improve the lives of people on the margins. He is credited for his innovative approach to shaping what was known originally as the National Conference of Catholic Charities through imaginative management, the introduction of a strong advocacy component in the public policy arena, improved coordination across agency lines to minimize the duplication of services and a strong emphasis on staff training.

Msgr. O'Grady's tenure as executive secretary spanned more than four decades, ending in 1961. Taking the helm in 1920 as the world still was emerging from World War I and immigrants from strife-ridden Europe were flocking to the United States, Msgr. O'Grady positioned the agency as a major voice force for social reform.

"He was Catholic Charities for all intents and purposes in the mid-20th century," said John Shepherd, associate archivist at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives housed at The Catholic University of America.

Msgr. O'Grady's emphasis on legislative advocacy continues to influence current staff, including Candy Hill, the agency's senior vice president for public policy and government affairs.

"You look at Msgr. O'Grady, at the history that we have, that's been the beauty of being able to stay in the middle and be able to work on behalf of the people who need our services," Hill said.

Name a concern and Msgr. O'Grady probably addressed it at some point during his 41 years as executive secretary: immigration reform in the 1920s, the Social Security Act of 1935, public housing legislation following World War II and civil rights laws in the 1950s. He also guided the development of professional training for social service workers as dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service beginning in 1934. In response to the ravages of World War II, he was instrumental in organizing the international network of Catholic charitable agencies known today as Caritas Internationalis.

The foundation for Msgr. O'Grady's efforts can be traced to a Christian brother from New York by the name of Barnabas McDonald, who was recognized internationally for his work with orphans, abandoned children and juveniles in trouble with the law.

In 1909, Brother Barnabas suggested to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, rector of The Catholic University of America, that a coordinated effort among Catholic charities working with poor people might be beneficial, explained Maria Mazzenga, education archivist at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. In the first decade of the 20th century, ideas for new programs and collaboration across the country in their delivery also were being formulated by Msgr. William J. Kerby, director of Catholic University's sociology department.

Mazzenga, who has studied Catholic Charities' history in preparation for the agency's centennial, described Msgr. Kerby as a creative thinker who wrote extensively about how the church and society could better serve the poor, especially the mostly Catholic newcomers arriving from Europe in search of a better life.

The men decided to organize the first meeting of Catholic charitable agencies at the university Sept. 25-28, 1910. The meeting attracted several hundred people, who agreed to form the National Conference of Catholic Charities.

The organization became Catholic Charities USA in 1986 and will celebrate its 100th anniversary convention Sept. 25-28 in Washington. About 1,000 Catholic Charities employees and leaders are expected to attend.

Msgr. Kerby was appointed the new group's first executive director. He was followed by Msgr. O'Grady 10 years later.

Each subsequent chief executive -- Msgr. Raymond Gallagher, Msgr. Lawrence Corcoran, Father Thomas J. Harvey, Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, Father J. Bryan Hehir, Thomas DeStefano and Father Larry Snyder -- has tackled new concerns and worked to implement new programs to meet growing needs.

Over the years, the organization has evolved to become one of the largest faith-based social welfare networks in the United States with 1,700 agencies and affiliates and about 337,000 staff, volunteers and board members who serve 9 million people annually.

Although Catholic Charities formally is marking its centennial, the history of Catholic charitable work can be traced to 1727 when Ursuline sisters from France arrived in colonial America. The sisters settled in what is now the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the neighborhood that was among the most devastated by flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They sought to care for orphaned children and widows.

Even then, said Father Snyder, Catholic Charities USA's current president, the ministries worked to move beyond simple charity to becoming a voice for people in need.

"It's not simply enough to respond to human need," he explained. "We have to ask why and then we have to advocate for people who have no voice to speak for themselves so we can look at systems and we can say, 'Is this really benefitting people in need or do we need to make some changes?'"

The work of Catholic Charities remains, even if the focus of the ministries is no longer largely Catholic immigrants. The basis for working to assist today's social service consumers -- Catholic Charities' preferred way of identifying the people being served -- remains rooted in the Gospel.

"The first thing we have to do is to assure that our agencies are in fact living out Catholic identity," Father Snyder explained. "If we're going to witness this, we have to be convinced of this. That says we do our work in a different way."

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Editor's Note: More information about Catholic Charities USA's 100th anniversary convention can be found at

2010 (c) Catholic News Service  Reprinted with permission of CNS