A Beginning Rooted in Faith
The First Decade
The story of Catholic Charities begins with the first words of the Gospel of St. John.
“The Word was made flesh and lived among us.”
Each day, month, generation and century is marked by the reality of those words. All who serve the needs of our sisters and brothers, who are the most needy among us, are the hands and feet and heart of Catholic Charities, the face of Jesus. The following summary of events cannot tell the full story of Catholic Charities over the past 100 years. It is a work in progress. We invite readers to share their stories and photos with the Four County Catholic.
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Norwich traces its birth to 1921 in New London, the port city of Eastern Connecticut. It had experienced in the late 1800s into the 1900s the arrival of hundreds of immigrants from Europe, fleeing from famine and revolutions. As the home of the Navy’s submarine base and Coast Guard Academy, New London was and is a cosmopolitan city.
The people of Connecticut were suffering the effects of World War I and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that left many poor and orphaned. The “grip,” as it was called, was first reported in New London in September 1918. Within a week it spread up the Thames River Valley and throughout the state and by 1919 it suddenly disappeared, mutating into less severe illnesses. Eastern Connecticut suffered the loss of 600 people, mostly working men, ages 25 to 40. In its wake, it left children without one or both parents, many without incomes, life’s necessities. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with other parish charities, provided everything they could.
The parishioners of New London’s St. Mary Star of the Sea Church on Huntington Avenue, as well as many others in Eastern Connecticut and throughout the state, opened their doors, hearts and wallets to help their sisters and brothers in need. Special was a group of Catholic women, mothers, single career women, teachers, nurses and homemakers. Their pastor, Father Timothy M. Crowley, encouraged them in their social activities and various ministries to the community. They gathered regularly for social activities and raised money for parish and civic needs, including soup kitchens, homes for orphans, assistance to widows, elderly people and the unemployed, families, and medical help. They called themselves The Crowley Club in honor of Fr. Crowley, who supported their efforts. At the same time, the Council of Catholic Women was being established throughout the country, motivated by the adoption in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
In 1920, Hartford’s Bishop John J. Nilan, whose jurisdiction encompassed all of Connecticut, established the Hartford Diocesan Bureau of Social Services. Its purpose was to coordinate and give direction to the social action efforts of all charities in Connecticut. Ten years previously, The National Council of Catholic Charities (NCCC) had been established in 1910 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The dignity of the human person was central to the Church’s mission, and preferential options for the poor became a watch word. A main goal was to educate social workers so that people in need could be given the best help possible. Father Matthew J. Judge, Hartford Diocesan Bureau’s Director, recognized the need to combine outreach services of Catholic charities with public non-sectarian agencies.
In May, Father Matthew J. Judge, director of the newly established Hartford Diocesan Bureau of Social Service, came to St. Mary’s at the invitation of Father Crowley to meet with Catholic women in the New London parish, and to explain the purpose of the Bureau. St. Mary’s, with its very active branch of the Connecticut Council of Catholic Women and its sister organization, the Crowley Club, was the perfect place to start a Branch in southeastern Connecticut.
Mrs. Winifred Foran McGuire, President of the New London Branch of Connecticut’s Council of Catholic Women and a member of The Crowley Club, presided over the meeting and introduced Father Judge. His explanation and request for a New London District of Social Service was enthusiastically received.
At a June gathering of men and women in St. Mary’s Church, representatives of the Council of Catholic Women and the Council of Catholic Men agreed to support the mission of the Diocesan Bureau of Social Service. Mr. Thomas Foran, President of St. Mary’s Council of Catholic Men (the father of Winifred McGuire), was elected President of the New London District,
and Miss Jane Clark as District Secretary. The New London District of the Hartford Diocesan Bureau of Social Service was established, which is known today as Catholic Charities. (Sources: New London Catholic Charities Historical Highlights, Mrs. Grover V. Larsen, Jr., 1986. The Catholic Charities Review, January 1922, p. 363.)
Father Crowley immediately made available to the Bureau three rooms at 42 Jay St., known as the Catholic Center. (Today Covenant Shelter occupies that building.) In its first year, the New London District provided care to thirty-five children and five families. The New London Branch of the Connecticut Council of Catholic Women had raised $1,470.68 to fund Catholic Charities. Members of the Crowley Club paid $1 annually to the Council of Catholic Women. (The Crowley Club was incorporated in the State of Connecticut from 1927-1991.) Over the years, a portion of the Council of Catholic Women’s yearly membership drive has been given to Catholic Charities, a total estimated at least $2 million. The Norwich Diocesan Council of Catholic Women continues to support Catholic Charities with its many activities, including its annual Layette Drive for infant clothing and articles.
(At this 100th Anniversary, all founding members of the Crowley Club and Council of Catholic Women have risen to membership in the Communion of Saints.)
Mrs. Winifred F. McGuire
Winifred Foran McGuire was a member of the Crowley Club and Past President of the Connecticut Council of Catholic Women. She helped organize and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Diocesan Bureau of Social Service (Catholic Charities). She lived in New London most of her life, attending St. Mary’s School. She and her husband, Atty. Frank L. McGuire, were parents of five children and ten grandchildren. (Atty. Francis C. McGuire of New London, her grandson, contributed valuable historical information and a photograph of his grandmother for this writing. The photo was taken in New London, about 1940, of Mrs. McGuire with her grandchildren, Susan, Elizabeth, and Frank (Atty. McGuire’s father). Atty. McGuire is a Trustee of the Sullivan Fund, a prominent contributor to Catholic Charities.)
By Jacqueline Keller
Retired Diocesan Director of Communications and Board Member of Norwich Diocesan Catholic Charities.