Our History

The history of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend comprises countless stories of good people doing wonderful things to improve the lives of other people. These things have been done in the name of Jesus and with a great love of humanity.

The Catholic segment of the population in northern Indiana grew dramatically in the 1850s, leading to the creation of the Diocese of Fort Wayne by papal decree in 1857. Many of these Catholics were German and Irish immigrants looking for land to farm or jobs in growing population centers.

During the early years of the diocese, there were no organized charitable efforts within the Catholic community beyond those provided by the Church. People in need often relied upon the goodwill of friends and family. Moreover, an outbreak of cholera and the tragedy of the Civil War greatly tested the Catholic community’s ability to provide help to individuals, families, widows, and orphans during the early part of the 1860s.

Although the creation of Catholic Charities was still decades away, precursors of its work appeared in the Diocese of Fort Wayne during the last quarter of the 19th century with the founding of Sacred Heart Home for the aged in 1876, the establishment of a St. Vincent de Paul Society in 1879, and the founding of St. Vincent Villa, an orphanage, in 1886.

In the years after World War I, the diocese faced a new set of challenges as it ministered to a “modern” society. Parishes, through the work of the St. Vincent de Paul societies, responded to these growing needs, but an even greater effort was necessary.

Recognizing this increased need, Bishop Herman Alerding established Associated Catholic Charities in 1922. With a mission to provide organized, concerted charitable efforts, the new agency opened its offices in the Standard Building in Fort Wayne.

In 1924, Associated Catholic Charities became one of 19 original members of the Community Chest, which is now known as the United Way of Allen County. In 1925, Associated Catholic Charities adopted a constitution and bylaws, appointed laymen from each parish to its board of directors, and became affiliated with the National Conference of Catholic Charities, now Catholic Charities USA. By 1927, Associated Catholic Charities had become a state-licensed child-placing agency.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II brought a greater call for services. Associated Catholic Charities made sure needy children had milk, schoolbooks, and supplies during the Depression. The agency’s war effort included assisting the families of veterans, aiding displaced people, and participating in a communitywide child-care center to help working mothers.

In 1947, Associated Catholic Charities opened an office in South Bend, now the center for the agency’s Western Region, to better serve that area’s large Catholic population.

The years following World War II saw many changes at Associated Catholic Charities. Responding to the needs for counseling and support services for families, the agency recruited a staff of professional social workers.

In 1957, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend Inc., was created through a re-organization. In the ensuing decades, the agency has augmented and refined its offerings and now directly assists nearly 16,000 people each year.

The people at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend are proud of their history and even prouder of their work today as they meet the challenges of an increasingly complex, “modern” society.



The Diocese of Fort Wayne is established by papal decree.


Bishop John Henry Luers opens St. Joseph Boys School in Rensselaer.


St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne is the first of many hospitals and orphanages established by the Poor Handmaids and others.


Sacred Heart Home, the first of many facilities for the aged in the diocese, is established in Avilla.


The St. Vincent de Paul Society establishes itself within the diocese.


St. Vincent Villa, an orphanage for boys and girls, opens in Fort Wayne.


Bishop Herman Alerding establishes Associated Catholic Charities in the Standard Building in Fort Wayne.


Associated Catholic Charities is one of 19 original members of the Community Chest, now known as the United Way of Allen County.


Associated Catholic Charities becomes affiliated with the National Conference of Catholic Charities, now Catholic Charities USA.


The Indiana State Department of Public Welfare licenses Associated Catholic Charities as a child-placing agency.


Associated Catholic Charities strives to help people suffering through the Great Depression.


Father Edward Sweigart becomes director of Associated Catholic Charities.


Associated Catholic Charities responds to the war effort with special services that include assistance for families of veterans and displaced people and a communitywide child-care center to meet the needs of working mothers.


Associated Catholic Charities opens an office in South Bend.


Associated Catholic Charities recruits professional social workers to meet the need for counseling and support services during the postwar years.


Arrangements are made with the Canadian government to place Canadian children in adoptive homes.

A homemaking service is established to provide assistance to the elderly.


The South Bend office establishes a volunteer group, the Ladies of Charity.


Reorganization creates Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend Inc. Catholic Social Services in Fort Wayne and in South Bend are two agencies of the Catholic Charities corporation.

Monsignor John Reed is appointed diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

The Marians, a group of dedicated women providing financial and volunteer support, is established in Fort Wayne.


Catholic Social Services of Fort Wayne and the Catholic Charities offices move to the former St. Paul School at 919 Fairfield. This would be Catholic Charities’ home for the next 30 years.


In cooperation with the National Conference of Catholic Charities, the agency provides homes, education, and support services for young refugees after communism is established in Cuba. These young people are placed at St. Vincent’s Villa before a group home is established on Wayne Street in Fort Wayne.

One of the Cuban refugees is eventually ordained a priest in the diocese.


Plans are developed for Saint Anne Home, a nursing facility for the elderly.

Mrs. Geneva Davidson leaves a bequest of $500,000 to build a home for the aged.


The Catholic Charities Child Development Program is instituted.

Two summer Head Start programs are established at St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s churches in Fort Wayne.


The first resident is admitted to Saint Anne Home.

The Ten-O-Four Home for unwed mothers is established.


Programs and services in the South Bend area are consolidated into one building at 120 South Taylor Street.


Monsignor Reed dies unexpectedly. His contributions to the development of Catholic Charities, both in this diocese and in his work with the National Conference of Catholic Charities, have a lasting impact on the entire organization.

A congregate program for older adults is established at Providence Convent on Cathedral Square.


Children’s Cottage, a state-licensed, Montessori-certified, all-day child-care program, opens.

Catholic Charities becomes a sponsor for RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program).

A pro-life program is implemented to administer testing and provide care for pregnant women.


A component of Harvest House, the Forever Learning Institute, is established.


Catholic Charities establishes its Refugee Resettlement Program as part of a national effort after the fall of South Vietnam.


Catholic Charities opens two congregate living facilities, Villa of the Woods in Fort Wayne and Vincent House in Elkhart.


Head Start, which had been operating in several locations, moves to the former St. Hyacinth School in Fort Wayne.


The Summer Enrichment Program, designed to assist children with disabilities, is established.


A Catholic Social Services office opens in Elkhart.


The Home Visitor Program is established to provide support for the homebound elderly and disabled.


The South Bend office is awarded its first school-counseling contract with St. Anthony de Padua School.


The Catholic Charities board of directors is restructured, instituting representation from throughout the diocese.


Catholic Charities provides two caseworkers at the St. Joseph’s Health Clinic on Chapin Street in South Bend.


After a restructuring, all of the agency’s services and programs are operated from one administrative structure. There are five major service divisions: Pregnancy and Adoption, Child Care Services, Community Services, Counseling Programs, and Services for Older Adults.

The school counseling program is expanded to five parish schools in South Bend.


The Rainbows Program is established, providing support services to children experiencing loss through death or divorce in the family.


Catholic Charities establishes its Hispanic Outreach Program.

The agency implements open-adoption principles.


Catholic Charities is chosen as a site for the resettlement of refugees from Bosnia.


The agency expands its adoption program, with particular emphasis on serving children with special needs. Services to adult adoptees seeking information about their birth parents are also offered.

Project Rachel, an outreach program for those who have been involved in abortion, is established.

Parenting classes are offered at the Center for the Homeless and at the Chapin Street Clinic run by St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend.


Circle of Mercy Day Care Center in South Bend, established in 1916 and the oldest licensed child-care facility in the state, becomes a program of Catholic Charities. The agency also assumes administrative responsibility for Hannah’s House, a maternity home located in Mishawaka.


The social services office in South Bend moves to 425 North Michigan Avenue. The vacated space is renovated and serves as the expanded facility for Circle of Mercy Day Care Center.

The Elkhart office moves to 201 South Second Street.

Birthing the Vision, a mentoring program for pregnant and parenting young women is established.

The diocese gives Catholic Charities the former St. Hyacinth Parish, and a major fundraising campaign begins to renovate the former parish facility and connect it with Children’s Cottage.


Catholic Charities begins the Salt & Light program for the diocese.

Catholic Charities assumes responsibility for the Foster Parent Training Program for Allen County and six surrounding counties.


Groundbreaking takes place for the renovation and expansion of Children’s Cottage.

Catholic Charities is awarded the contract for the foster parent liaison position for the Allen County Office of Family & Children’s Services (now known as the Allen County Department of Child Services).

The agency is initially approved for accreditation through the COA (Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children).

Children’s Cottage is selected as a delegate agency for Head Start.


Catholic Charities, in collaboration with the East Wayne Street Center and Lutheran Social Services, begins the Faith-Based Initiative Program.

In a collaborative effort, the agency and Lutheran Social Services start ECHO (Education Creates Hope and Opportunity), a program for teen parents at area high schools.

Renovations to the former St. Hyacinth Parish are completed, and St. Hyacinth Community Center opens, along with the Monsignor Lester Multi-Purpose Room.


Groundbreaking takes place for the expansion and renovation of Villa of the Woods. The project is completed in 15 months.

Catholic Charities starts an immigration program to address the needs of refugees and immigrants.

The agency begins the Match Grant Program, a supplemental funding program, under Refugee Services.


The U.S. Department of Justice, Board of Immigration Appeals, approves the Fort Wayne office as a recognized site for immigration services.

The South Bend office moves to 1817 Miami Street.


Catholic Charities acquires the Senior AIDES program, a Title V training program aimed at assisting those over 55 with employment training and securing unsubsidized employment.

The Emergency Food Pantry in South Bend opens.

The West Region begins emergency financial assistance to the poor through its Brief and Emergency Services program.


RSVP of St. Joseph County and Busy Hands move into the South Bend office.


RSVP of Elkhart County opens. RSVP of DeKalb County opens the Community Center of Caring Food Pantry in Auburn.


Catholic Charities’ Immigration Program in South Bend is approved as a recognized site by the U.S. Department. of Justice, Board of Immigration Appeals.


Circle of Mercy closes.

St. Joseph County RSVP moves to Taylor Street in South Bend.


Catholic Charities resettles 1,469 refugees, primarily from Burma.

Catholic Charities Emergency Food Pantry opens in South Bend.

Senior AIDES begin GED courses.


Senior AIDES begin extensive training courses in budgeting, finances, and employment preparation.

English-as-a-second-language and citizenship classes are initiated in South Bend.

The RSVPs of St. Joseph County and Elkhart County combine to become one project.

The state of Indiana freezes the Residential Care Assistance Program that helps lower-income elderly pay for room and board in a licensed residential-care facility.


Catholic Charities partners with the city of Fort Wayne in the National Civic League’s 60th annual All-America City awards competition. It’s a winning combination, as Fort Wayne is named an All-America City for the third time and inducted into the All-America City Hall of Fame.

Villa of the Woods unlicenses seven beds with the Indiana State Board of Health to help provide lower-income elderly people with a safe, affordable place to reside.

Children’s Cottage closes.


The Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives selects Catholic Charities to receive the Indiana Hardest-Hit Fund Initiative Volunteer Service Program awards for Regions 2 and 3 (a total of 15 counties). This program is part of the Building the Bridge to Recovery foreclosure-prevention program.

On June 30, contracts with the Indiana Department of Child Services to provide Foster, Adoptive, and kinship training (FAKT), home studies, and foster parent support services end following a decision by the DCS to begin providing these services in house. This decision was financially based.


Catholic Charities takes over the Homework Help program, formerly known as the Neighborhood Action Center. Homework Help volunteers assist refugee children with homework in an effort to ease their transition to schools and the community. Adult English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programming is also offered two days per week.


Catholic Charities’ Immigration Department extends its services by offering the fee-based Translation Services Program. Translated languages include Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English. Clients can have a variety of documents translated for immigration and personal use. Additionally, if a client needs to have a document interpreted, this is an available fee-based service as well.