It was 1944, and with the world ravaged by war, the Diocese of Pueblo formally began its commitment to strengthen and empower families and individuals throughout Southern Colorado.
Seventy five years ago, what was launched as Catholic Social Service Inc. with a single social worker will today celebrate 75 years of bettering the lives of thousands of individuals and families as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pueblo.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., Catholic Charities will mark its diamond anniversary at the Weisbrod Aircraft Museum in Pueblo’s Airport Industrial Park.
The celebration’s theme, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is, according to Catholic Charities director of advancement Shanna Farmer, “indicative of the good Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pueblo has done for humanity. Without this agency, so many would not have the benefit of a wonderful life.”
The nonprofit agency was founded on the principle of Christian charity, as noted in Christ’s decree “to love one another as I have loved you.”
According to an article dated March 2, 1944, Father Raymond Newell, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Walsenburg, was appointed as director of the fledgling social service agency by Pueblo Bishop Joseph Willging. Catholic Charities’ original offices were set up in the Arcade Building in the Mesa Junction.
Initially, one social worker staffed the local office, “and at least one more will be employed within a few months,” according to the article.
And there seemed to be plenty of work for both.
“Among the problems that confront the modern charity organization are the impact of war on families, selective service, the employment of mothers in industry, juvenile delinquency, recreational needs, and spiritual as well as temporal aid to those requiring it,” the article notes. “And the need for a Catholic Charities in Southern Colorado has been felt for many years.”
In that first year of operation, Catholic Charities spent more than $120,000 to provide services.
In the early years, the agency focused primarily on the placement of children for adoption, with limited family counseling and services. Following the end of World War II, assistance to returning veterans became a priority.
“The difficulties experienced by veterans include inability to adjust to home situations, marital problems, family problems resulting from unemployment, and those incurred because of service disabilities,” according to a news report.
Through the years, the services evolved to reflect growing needs: marriage and personal adjustment counseling, assistance for unmarried parents, involvement in community sponsored programs and money management.
In the 1960s, CF&I workers were known to sign their paychecks over to Catholic Charities.
“Catholic Charities would pay all their bills and give them a stipend,” noted Jayne Mazur, one of the agency’s notable executive directors. “So the families didn’t have to worry if their bills were being paid. And that was the beginning of our representative payee program, which continues to this day.”
In 1964, Father Marvin Kapushion was named executive director of the agency. He later went on to oversee the family counseling center before retiring in 2000.
“He made a tremendous impact on this community,” Mazur said of Kapushion. “And Shirley Knaflec, who worked with him and has the record for the longest employee of Catholic Charities, was a rock for this organization.”
Bishops Charles Buswell and Arthur Tafoya also are credited with helping expand the scope of the agency.
“From our beginning, we’ve worked tirelessly to help stabilize and strengthen thousands of parents, children and individuals by providing them assistance and tools to become self-reliant,” added Kim Drew, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities.
“Our services have always addressed the unique needs of the times.”
Today, with a staff of 100 working under executive director Joe Mahoney, Catholic Charities offers 24 programs and services designed to lift up and empower all segments of society, from infants to adults, regardless of religious faith, race or creed. Grant funds, complemented by generous contributions from both private and corporate donors, continue to be the agency’s lifeblood.
“While we have many programs, our main focus is on early childhood well-being and education through the ‘Two Generation’ approach,” Drew said. “Our vision is that every home is a nurturing environment that supports the full potential of the child so that every child is ready for school on day one.”
“If you want to help the kids,” Mahoney added, “you’ve got to help the parents.”
Other services are geared toward those with barriers to employment, those seeking to become legal immigrants and families needing assistance with rent and utilities.
“I am so proud we are celebrating our 75th anniversary,” Mahoney said. “I think we make this community a richer, more diverse, more vibrant and simply, a more beautiful community.”
[Originally published in The Pueblo Chieftain by Jon Pompia, April 5, 2019.]