The annual collection for Catholic Charities of Oregon has its roots in the Second World War.
Begun just months after Pearl Harbor, the initial campaign took as its 1942 theme, “Charity Begins at Home.”
At the onset of World War II, one of the projects funded by the new Catholic Charities collection was a servicemen’s club sponsored by local Catholics. Located at Southwest Third and Washington in downtown Portland, it offered storage space, telephones, a reading room, radio and pool table.
The collection also benefitted ministries like the Blessed Martin Day nursery, which cared for children of mothers who worked in the wartime shipyards. Also benefiting were St. Agnes Baby Home, Christie Home for Girls, St. Rose Industrial School for girls and Jeanne D’Arc Residential Hall, a downtown apartment house for single working women.
“Every day new problems are presented by emergencies, and the increased cost of care,” said Father J. M. Schmitz, director of Catholic Charities at the time.
At the parishes, priests would explain the need from the pulpit. Parishioners would receive envelopes at Mass one Sunday and bring them back, filled with donations, the following week.
“In a quiet, efficient way Catholics throughout Oregon received their Charities Sunday appeal pledge envelopes,” the Sentinel reported in March 1942.
Catholic Charities board members contributed $1,260 to start the drive.
The Catholic Sentinel editor, Father Charles Smith, urged donors on.
“If the giving of aid, financial or otherwise, is to bless the one who gives as well as the one who receives, it should measure up to what is called Christian charity,” Father Smith wrote. “That is to say, it should be motivated by the love of God and the love of fellowmen, as were the gracious and kindly deeds of the Divine Saviour.”
For decades, Catholic officials had noted that civic funds in Portland like the Community Chest gave less to Catholic aid enterprises than to other organizations. The answer from the city often was that because the church had nuns doing the labor, it did not need as much money to pay workers.
“If aid were given to charitable agencies on a basis of so much per person, regardless of the agency receiving the aid, our Catholic institutions would not be faced with the peculiar type of problems that make a direct appeal to Catholics imperative,” Father Smith editorialized in 1942. But he conceded that it is not ideal to have the state take care of the underprivileged totally. The church, by its very nature must do so because, he said, “religion without good works, without the dispensing of real charity, is dead.”
That first campaign brought in $9,062 — about $146,882 in today’s dollars.
In 1943, when the total was about the same, the Catholic Sentinel listed the parishes that brought in the most: $1,200 from St. Mary Cathedral, $833 from The Madeleine in Northeast Portland, $414 from St. Mary in Mount Angel, $409 from Immaculate Heart in North Portland and $358 from All Saints in Northeast Portland. In 1946, the total rose to almost $11,000.
The country hit a recession in the late 1950s, and Archbishop Edward Howard made an urgent appeal to Catholics to help Catholic Charities projects, which were being starved of funding.
“So critical has become the plight of some agencies that they are being forced to refuse their service to people seeking help,” the archbishop wrote in a 1957 Sentinel column. “When the current is against us, we swim the harder.”
In 1961, Archbishop Howard noted that new kinds of need were being identified in Oregon. Beside orphans and the sick, he wrote, the church must reach children from broken homes, families suffering emotional ills “and young people destitute of spiritual guidance, family unity and love.”
The collection’s goal for 1966 was $60,000, or $474,000 in 2019 dollars. “Contributors in the [non-Catholic] community frequently ask the question of just how much concern members of the sponsoring church have for these projects. The Catholic Charities Appeal is our answer,” Father Morton Park, Catholic Charities head, told the Sentinel that year.
By 1970, donors gave almost $62,000. In 1976, lay parishioners began giving talks in parishes on behalf of the collection and contributions increased to almost $100,000. Ministries being supported included St. Mary’s Home for Boys, Villa Gerard for unwed mothers in Eugene and a marriage and family workshop hosted by the University of Portland.
“Christ was outspoken in condemning man’s injustice toward his fellow man, no matter who was the oppressor, who the oppressed,” Archbishop Cornelius Power wrote in 1976. “A Christian also must speak out for the poor, he also must condemn injustice.”
In 1982, Oregon Catholics gave a record $105,000 to the Catholic Charities Appeal, with parishes in areas hit by timber industry drops increasing their gifts the most.
Grants from the collection went to projects that involved parishes in social ministry. In 1984, for example, the Ashland Community Health Center got $2,000 to set up a branch at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford to provide health care to low-income people.
By 1989, the goal of the appeal was $200,000 and it would fund health care, legal services, counseling and emergency assistance for the poor, and parish social ministry.
The 2019 appeal will focus on the most visible poverty in Oregon — homelessness. Catholic Charities has provided services related to housing and homelessness since 2006. Rising rents and stagnant wages have caused a crisis in housing, especially in Oregon’s cities. This year’s offering is set for May 4-5. Recent collections have amounted to $250,000 to $300,000. Deacon Rick Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities Oregon, hopes the total can rise to about $500,000 to meet needs.
“I pray that all Catholics will be moved to contribute to this year’s appeal,” Deacon Birkel said. “Your support assures that the many services and programs that can only be, and must be maintained at the archdiocesan level, are continued; programs to build financial skills and combat poverty, provide the dignity of shelter, combat trafficking and abuse and walk alongside global migrants who have lost everything to name a few. We need your help.”