A Story of Humble Beginnings

A full decade has passed since Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT) marked our 100th anniversary in 2013. On the occasion of our 100th anniversary, we updated the CCAT history that had been drafted for our 75th anniversary in 1988 and were not surprised to find that much had changed or expanded, because Catholic Charities has always been able not only to respond to needs, but also to anticipate where and when our most vulnerable community members will need help. It’s why we not only work with our 20 member agencies but also advocate for them as well.

In the 10 years that have passed since our centenary, much has changed again in the life of our community, from the presentation of significant challenges such as the upheaval created by the COVID pandemic and the increasing awareness of a mental health crisis to more welcome developments such as the arrival of a new Executive Director with the experience and vision to continue to guide CCAT with confidence, always mindful of our mandate to serve society’s most vulnerable.

Challenges and change have been constants in the life of Catholic Charities since we first opened our doors. Yet as we mark our 110th anniversary on September 27, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, our goal remains the same: to facilitate the provision of social services, leadership and advocacy for its member agencies and the people they serve, all rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, which focuses on the poor and marginalized, and urges all of us to build a just society and safeguard human dignity. We are proud to say that Catholic Charities and our member agencies don’t just respond to immediate issues but take stock of where we are as a society and constantly work to better the lives of all, but especially those on the margins.

To mark Catholic Charities Week, which runs from September 25 through September 29, we are taking you back to our history, a story that has humble beginnings but is marked not only with a dogged resilience but also with great success. Did you know, for example, that Catholic Charities played a role in the legislation that led to the creation of OHIP?

Many of the lessons learned over the first hundred years have helped immeasurably in the past decade. A careful eye to efficiencies, collaboration, and sharing resources, for example, allowed our member agencies to weather the worst of the COVID pandemic.

And while the world slowed down during COVID, needs did not. One of the projects we helped to fund was Journey Home Hospice, a new palliative care facility for homeless people in downtown Toronto, the first of its kind.

In the fall of 2022, long-standing Executive Director Michael Fullan announced his retirement from Catholic Charities after a career spanning 29 years, with his first day on the job having fallen, appropriately enough, on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. An exhaustive search took place for his replacement, and Catholic Charities was delighted to offer Dr. Agnes Thomas the role of Executive Director. Dr. Thomas assumed the role earlier this year.

 “My strong suit is to be a servant, helping others to succeed,” she says of herself. “ I think of leadership as creating impact and influence, bringing people together in a spirit of synergy and collaboration and helping them to reach their potential. If your people are good, your community will be great. I am appreciative that we are not working for people but with people.”

When we marked our 100th anniversary 10 years ago, we created a tagline line reading, “100 years of caring.” While much has changed in the intervening decade, our commitment to serving – an advocating for – society’s most vulnerable, remains unchanged.

Here is a link to the story of our first hundred years. 100th-Anniversary-of-Catholic-Charities.pdf It is a story of history and hope, of faith and fruitfulness. It is also a story that stretches far beyond our modest offices in downtown Toronto to the far reaches of our populous archdiocese. It’s not our story but the story of our church and our community.

This week, we are celebrating the foundations of goodness and hope that have led us for over 100 years and moving forward with planting the seeds of Hope in the face of adversity and hopelessness.


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