Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud is a nonprofit, human service agency headquartered in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Over 600 employees, 250 Foster Grandparents, and 2,300 volunteers provide 40 programs of human service across 16 Central Minnesota counties. Catholic Charities touches over 70,000 people each year and is committed to building communities, promoting family life, and enhancing human dignity by offering its services to meet the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual need of individuals and families.
All are welcome at Catholic Charities’ door. The organization operates from a foundation based upon Catholic social teaching and a belief in justice and dignity for all human beings made in God’s image. Those individuals and families served by this faith based organization are not required to believe as it does to receive services, however, Catholic Charities IS OBLIGED to respond where there is the need.
“You see, all people have a right to have their basic needs met, regardless of their ability to pay, race or religion, age or gender,” explains Executive Director Steven P. Bresnahan. “We provide help and create hope for ALL FAITHS, ALL PEOPLE.”
“The services and ministries of Catholic Charities have only come about because of community support and the dedication of parishes in the Diocese,” notes Bresnahan.
This dedication to service is rooted in the Catholic faith of the earliest German and French Catholic settlers. In 1875, nuns from the Order of St. Benedict cared for orphans in St. Joseph. By 1895, Bishop Otto Zardetti, St. Cloud’s first Bishop, had moved all orphans to the care of the Franciscan Sisters at St. Otto’s in Little Falls. His successor, Bishop Joseph F. Busch, transferred care of the orphans to the St. Cloud Children’s Home in 1924 and organized a Women’s Guild to do educational, charitable, and social work in St. Cloud.
This social ministry was being called “Catholic Charities” by 1922 and was under the direct supervision of the Bishop and clergy. Msgr. Edward Mahowald was its first Director, followed by Fr. Austin Kinsella in 1931 and Fr. Jerome Bielejeski in 1953.
Because of changing needs, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) corporation in 1955. The St. Cloud Children’s Home was considered one of its programs. Others included: Adoption, Unmarried Mothers Service, Marriage Relations Council, and Counseling.
When Fr. Bielejeski died in 1958, Fr. Henry Lutgen became the new Director, followed by Fr. Val Klimek, director from 1962 to 1965.
Catholic Charities was shaped over 22 years by Fr. Richard J. Leisen, Director from 1965 until 1987. Fr. Leisen set up a Board of Directors in 1968 at the request of Bishop Peter Bartholome. This significant step gave the 23 lay members of the Board executive authority to make policy with the Chancellor of the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Executive Director.
During his tenure, Catholic Charities grew to include: Caritas Family Services and Women’s Guild, St. Cloud Children’s Home, Nutrition Program and Foster Grandparent Program in 1965, Key Row Community in 1968 (the first low-income housing in the state to be managed by a private nonprofit with subsidies from the Federal Government), Services for the Mentally Handicapped at St. Elizabeth’s Home (1979), and La Paz Community housing for the disabled in 1982.
A specialized program for Refugee Resettlement was set up in 1975 to assist Vietnamese war refugees. This program does not operate today.
Fr. Leisen was also very instrumental in the development of the United Way of Central Minnesota, originally the United Fund of St. Cloud, in 1967. Today the United Way is a major supporter of Catholic Charities programming.
Recognition of the high quality of Catholic Charities’ services came under the directorship of Fr. Timothy Wenzel (1987 to 1994) when the agency became accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services to Families and Children, Inc. and re-accredited in 1994, 1997, and 2002. Also during this time, Intensive Treatment Units in Fergus Falls and St. Cloud were opened to serve troubled youth in a secure setting, Domus Transitional Housing in St. Cloud began operation (1986), and the Hope Community Support Program (1989) for adults with mental illness was begun.
Catholic Charities took a decisive step in July of 1994 and named its first lay Executive Director, Steven P. Bresnahan, who applied his management expertise toward focusing, streamlining, and improving the quality of the agency’s operation. Bresnahan inherited a management structure that included three Associate Executive Directors, but by 1997 these positions were eliminated and replaced with a self-directed leadership team of Directors that reported directly to Bresnahan. This Leadership Council plus a team of supervisory staff operated as forums for communicating information, sharing ideas, and creating an organizational culture to emphasize openness, communication, and dialog. In 2006 a Chief Operating Officer position was created, and Director of Human Resources Renae Sternke was named to the task. Today the Leadership Council of five program Directors (Caritas Family Services, Housing Services, Residential and Day Services, Senior Services, Office of Social Concerns) and four support services Directors (Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Property Management) assist the organization as it expands its services to meet the growing needs of Central Minnesota’s citizens.
The first years of Bresnahan’s tenure saw additional program expansion. Transitional housing for veterans opened at two St. Cloud locations in 1995 and 1997 in conjunction with the St. Cloud HRA and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. The Youth Learning Center (YLC), a collaboration with St. Cloud School District #742 designed to serve at-risk youth in grades 7 – 9, opened on the grounds of the St. Cloud Children’s Home in July of 1996. Sharing offices with the YLC, the Center for Life Transitions opened that next March, offering services to children suffering the effects of grief/loss and separation/divorce. An Office of Social Concerns was also created in 1997 to help handle social and rural life issues. In 1997 the position of La Cruz Community Liaison was established to serve minority residents of the La Cruz Apartments in St. Cloud with support, information, and referral resources; advocacy assistance; and outreach coordination with other local organizations. That same year the St. Cloud Children’s Home opened its 30-day Assessment Program in response to requests from various county social services agencies.
In June of 1999 the St. Cloud Children’s Home celebrated its 75th Anniversary, and the organization readied itself for the dawn of a new century.
“The creation of a future that nourishes our hopes and dreams continues to challenge those of us who follow the word and example of a humble man who walked the earth two millennia ago,” noted Executive Director Steve Bresnahan in the spring of 2000 as he focused Catholic Charities response to the issues of war, hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness.
The organization undertook new efforts to deliver superior, innovative social services to a constituency that was becoming more technology savvy, diverse, and economically challenged. A web site was launched in 2000, www.ccstcloud.org, and redesigned in 2007. The agency organized a Diversity Steering Committee to address the needs of staff and clients of all faiths, creeds, colors, ethnicity, and genders, and produced a series of Diversity Training Modules for staff development. Targeted efforts were employed to secure additional federal, state, insurance, and donor funding for programming. Finally, a new logo and positioning statement – Providing Help. Creating Hope. Serving all faiths – was adopted in an attempt to communicate to the public the agency’s mission for the coming era.
Catholic Charities had been licensed by the State of Minnesota as a child-placing agency in 1925. Thousands of children, mothers, fathers, and adoptive families were served over the years by the domestic infant adoption program. In 2002 Catholic Charities set up a relationship with Holt International Children’s Services, a nonprofit Christian-based organization with headquarters in Eugene, Oregon, to assist clients with international adoptions. Catholic Charities now facilitates adoptions of children from China, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines, Romania, Thailand, and Vietnam as part of this successful arrangement.
Catholic Charities discontinued its various lease arrangements throughout St. Cloud to consolidate its programs on three distinct campuses. Of great significance was the acquisition in 2000 and opening in June, 2001, of a building on Roosevelt Road in St. Cloud to house Emergency Services: Food, Clothing, Financial, which allowed the food shelf to serve individuals in a spacious, grocery store setting. The West Campus became the new location for the Hope Community Support Program (serving adults with mental illness), Housing Management, and Senior Services. The former Larson, Allen, Weishair & Co. LLP building became the North Campus in October of 2003. All administrative offices were consolidated and relocated along with the Caritas Mental Health Clinic amid nearby medical facilities in north St. Cloud. The Caritas Mental Health Clinic had been licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services as a Rule 29 mental health clinic in 2002. Residential Services continued to reside at the South Campus on the St. Cloud Children’s Home property with the SILS/Waivered offices moving to the Busch Center building on the campus in 2003.
Catholic Charities entered into additional housing management contracts in an effort to make available affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families, individuals and near-homeless veterans. The agency assumed management of St. Cloud’s La Cruz Community in 1996, Bel-Plex Apartments in Belgrade in February of 2000, Maple Apartments in Richmond in September of 2001, Rose Mill Apartments in 2002 and Parkview Apartments in Isanti in January of 2004. In cooperation with the Veterans Administration and the St. Cloud HRA, Catholic Charities assumed management of the newly-constructed, 60-unit Al Loehr Veterans and Community Studio Apartments in St. Cloud in April of 2006.
Several residential homes are located in three communities to meet the needs of adults with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and physical disabilities.
In 1981 Mother Teresa Home was built in Cold Spring to provide a home for 14 developmentally disabled adults. By 1996 those residents had been spread out among five homes: Bethany Home, St. Anne’s Home, St. Luke’s Home in Cold Spring and St. Francis Home in Waite Park.
St. Elizabeth’s Home in St. Cloud opened in 1979 as a home for developmentally disabled adults. In 1987 it became a residence for 18 adults with mental illness who receive board and lodging in a supportive environment.
In March of 2002 St. Michael’s Adult Foster Home for persons with mental illness was opened in southeast St. Cloud. St. Margaret’s Adult Foster Home opened next door in 2005.
In 2006 Catholic Charities completed construction on the four-unit CAHI (Community Alternative for Handicapped Individuals) residence in Paynesville for adults with physical disabilities in response to a community request.
In 2005 the community of Fergus Falls responded to the impending closure of the State of Minnesota’s Regional Treatment Center where Catholic Charities’ Intensive Treatment Unit was located by providing 3.9 acres of land and tax-exempt bond financing for the construction of a residential facility for troubled youth. The state-of-the-art 16,000 sq. ft. building opened in the fall of 2006. The new ITU, located on Maryland Avenue and CSH #88, replaced a leased facility at the Regional Treatment Center, which the State closed in April of 2006.
Much of Catholic Charities activity comes under the description of “business as usual,” that is, the human services agency conducts itself in an organized, thoughtful, and responsible manner in response to the typical ebb and flow of need versus available funding. However, the first years of the 21st century offered an assortment of man-made and natural disasters that had an impact on this local agency.
The terrorist attack of 9-11 (2001), natural disasters that included the Indonesian earthquake/tsunami (December 25, 2004) and hurricanes Katrina (August 29, 2005) and Rita (September 24, 2005), and nearby school shootings at ROCORI High School in Cold Spring (September 24, 2003) and at the Red Lake Indian Reservation (March 21, 2005) prompted collaborations in fund raising with Catholic Charities USA (of which Executive Director Bresnahan maintained a position as Director of Trustees as well as a place on the organization’s national Disaster Response Committee), staff donations of their time and talents as volunteer relief workers in Texas and Louisiana and professional response teams who used their expertise as crisis counselors at ROCORI and Red Lake to promote healing.
Catholic Charities is the largest nonprofit provider of human services in Central Minnesota. Seventy-six percent of its funding comes via federal, state, and county government agencies as grant money or fees-for-service. The remainder comes from individuals, businesses, corporations, and other nonprofit foundation supporters. Catholic Charities manages a $21 million budget with almost 89 cents of every dollar spent toward client services in five program areas.
“Our mission is to serve the Diocese of St. Cloud,” said Bresnahan. “Now, that’s a challenge since close to half a million people live throughout the sixteen counties from Sherburne County all the way up to Breckenridge, from Lake Mille Lacs out to Brown’s Valley and Lake Travis.”
However, Catholic Charities will continue to respond to the needs of individuals and families who live and work across its service area…and beyond. Plans for the future include a response to the issues of aging, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and immigration, all of which have an impact on the Central Minnesota communities served by the agency.
“There is still much to do,” said Bresnahan. “However, to quote Bishop Joseph F. Busch ‘Much can be accomplished by people who are anxious to practice their religion as well as to profess it.’”