The History of Catholic Social Services

Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia maintains a long and local history, dating back to 1797. In this long history, service programs have been available to any individual and family in need of assistance.

Catholic laity from the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Women’s League created the St. John’s Orphan Asylum for Boys and the St. Joseph’s Asylum for Girls during the Yellow Fever epidemic. Both asylums housed ill children, nursing them back to health while mitigating spread of Yellow Fever.

In Catholic Social Service’s history providing Catholic community services and acting as family service centers, many divisions and offices were created along the way. 

Throughout the 1800s, changes occurred that laid foundation for the Catholic Social Services that exists today. 

  • 1807 – Society of St. Joseph for Poor Orphan Children was incorporated.
  • 1814 – Sisters of Charity, led by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, assumed administration of St. Joseph’s Asylum for Girls.
  • 1855 – St. Vincent’s Home, Tacony launched with help of Bishop St. John Neumann and supported by funds from the Drexel family. It was first staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
  • 1865 – Catholic Home for Destitute Children was legally incorporated, with separate facilities for boys and girls, under the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia.
  • 1888 – The Holy Ghost Fathers founded St. Joseph’s House for Homeless Industrious and was staffed by Immaculate Heart Sisters (now located in Bensalem and named St. Francis & St. Vincent Homes for Children).
  • 1889 – St. Francis Industrial School launched by the De LaSalle Christian Brothers in Eddington for adolescent boys graduating from St. John’s Orphan Asylum (now St. Francis & St. Vincent Homes for Children).
  • 1895 – Philadelphia Protectory for Boys was founded in Audubon, Montgomery County and was staffed by the De LaSalle Christian Brothers (now known as St. Gabriel’s Hall).

In the 1900s, new divisions and offices continued to pop up in the region. 

  • 1912 – Catholic Charities Office was created in Philadelphia.
  • 1916 – St. Edmond’s Home for Children launched in W. Phila. to care for children crippled by polio (moved to Rosemont, PA in 1956).
  • 1919 – Catholic Children’s Bureau of Philadelphia was incorporated, became CSS Foster Care Services.
  • 1920 – Trinitarian Sisters staffed “The Home Finding Department” which became CSS Adoption Services.
  • 1948 – St. Mary Hall launched in Elverson, PA by Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence to care for women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (moved to Springfield in 1984, now called Divine Providence Village).
  • 1950 – First county offices launched to bring counseling and emergency services closer to point of contact with clients. 
  • 1954 – Casa del Carmen opened to serve the growing Latino population of North Philadelphia.
  • 1955 – An agency charter was amended to form Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
  • 1958 – Catholic Charities Appeal launched an annual Archdiocese of Philadelphia campaign to financially support social services.
  • 1960 – Don Guanella School opened in Springfield, Delaware County by the Servants of Charity to serve young men and boys with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • 1963 – St. John’s Hospice opened to provide short-term shelter and hot meals service to homeless men.

In 1964, The Catholic Children’s Bureau was renamed Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This gives way to the name holding the umbrella over so many community programs, family services, food and housing services, immigration services and more that we know today. 

CSS’s history continued to unfold. 

  • 1967 – Star Harbor Senior Community Center opened to provide meals and socialization for older adults; three other centers opened in different neighborhoods of Philadelphia in the 1970s.
  • 1968 – St. Gabriel’s System formed in response to juvenile justice reforms aimed at community programs.
  • 1970’s – Youth residential care facilities move from campus facilities to community homes.
  • 1972 – St. Gabriel’s System launched first day treatment program at De LaSalle in Towne.
  • 1973 – Nutritional Development Services launched to facilitate school lunch and after-school nutrition programs.
  • 1974 – De LaSalle Vocational opened in Bensalem, Bucks County to offer youth trade skills decided by the courts.
  • 1974 – Parish Social Ministry coordinated parish volunteer activity with professional social services of CSS.
  • 1976 – Cardinal Krol Center opened at Don Guanella Village complex, to serve adult men with intellectual disabilities.
  • 1976 – Mercy Hospice opened as shelter for homeless women, most suffering from mental health issues.
  • 1976 – Refugee Services launched to respond to influx of Southeast Asian newcomers. 
  • 1980’s – Community Living Arrangements (CLSs) launched for high-functioning persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • 1985-1988 – Women of Hope, Vine and Lombard was founded to serve homeless women with mental health needs.
  • 1987 – Secretariat for Catholic Human Services launched to unify administration of Catholic Social Services, Catholic Health Care Services, and Nutritional Development Services.
  • 1990’s – Services to Children in their Own Homes (SCH) launched to facilitate family preservation.
  • 1991 – DelStar Program launched by St. Gabe’s System to treat juvenile sex offenders.
  • 1995, 1998 – Good Shepherd Program and McAuley House launched to serve medically fragile men and women.
  • 1998 – St. Vincent’s Services for Women and Children opened group homes for adolescent mothers and their babies.
  • 1998 – Casa del Carmen opened low-cost day care, now a Star-4 quality preschool program called Casa Academy.
  • 1998 – Brother Rousseau Academy launched for younger first-time juvenile offenders. Mitchell Program was established in Audubon as short-term residential and educational program with agricultural focus.
  • 1999 – Casa Carmen Aponte opened to provide affordable senior housing in Norris Square area of Philadelphia.
  • 2003 – St. Vincent’s, Tacony shifted focus to care for dependent teen girls, with Mother-Baby and Maternity programs.
  • 2003 – Visitation Homes launched to provide transitional housing for formerly homeless women and children.
  • 2003 – St. Monica Eldercare Program launched to provide in-home supportive care to seniors in South Philadelphia.
  • 2003 – Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center launched in Kensington to meet social, educational and recreational needs of underserved neighborhoods (now administered by local parish, known as Community Center at Visitation).
  • 2006 – Ten Beacon afterschool programs launched, now called Out of School Time Programs in multiple locations to provide free or low-cost academic and cultural enrichment to children in challenged neighborhoods.
  • 2008 – St. John Neumann Place opened to provide affordable senior housing in former South Philadelphia high school.
  • 2013 – Catholic Community Services was designated a “Community Umbrella Organization” to provide in-home child welfare and prevention services for Northeast Philadelphia region.
  • 2013 – In-Home Support Program opened in South Philadelphia in partnership with Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
  • 2014 – Operating Base Cecilia opened with partner Veterans Multi-Service Center to support homeless veterans.
  • 2014 – 2016 – Parish Eldercare Programs opened in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester Counties and NE Phila.
  • 2015 – Don Guanella Village campus closed, with IDD resident men moving to a dozen community group homes, and Day Programs for persons with intellectual disabilities moved to former Our Lady of Fatima parish school in Secane.
  • 2015 – Nativity BVM Place opened in former Catholic grade school offering affordable senior housing in Port Richmond.
  • 2015 – CHCS launched St. Mary Medical Center Collaborative to provide in-home supports after hospital discharge.
  • 2016 – Cardinal Krol Mini-campus was built in Springfield with 3 cottages to serve IDD men with complex medical needs.
  • 2016 – Refugee Resettlement Program re-established to facilitate housing and supportive services to refugee families.
  • 2016 – Catholic Housing & Community Services launched to reflect new strategic direction for services to seniors.
  • 2016 – St. Francis Villa was built to provide affordable senior housing in Kensington section of North Philadelphia.
  • 2017 – St. John Neumann Place II was built to provide affordable senior housing and wellness center in South Philadelphia.
  • 2018 – Transitional Foster Care Program launched to care for unaccompanied children entering the U.S.
  • 2018 – Dignity of Work Program launched to aid victims of human trafficking.
  • 2021 – Afghan Placement and Assistance Program was launched to assist Afghan Evacuees. 
  • 2021 – The Cenacle at the Padre Pio Prayer Center opened in partnership with Pro-life Union of Greater Philadelphia to serve pregnant Moms and their families.

At Catholic Social Services, lives changed, families grew stronger and healthier, and communities developed stronger for over 200 years. 


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