The Catholic Impact
On a cold winter’s night in 1839 in a French village, Jeanne Jugan encountered an elderly, blind and infirm woman who was alone and in need of help. She carried the woman home, up the steps to her small apartment and placed her in her own bed.
The congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their ministry to the elderly poor was born out of that single act of love and human hospitality. Today, they minister in 31 countries, including at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, which was founded in 1871 and continues the loving service of their foundress. Saint Jeanne Jugan’s feast day today reminds us of how we, too, are called to meet Jesus in the face of the poor.
The story of our archdiocesan efforts to love and serve others as Jesus did unfolds in the narrative of a recent publication, Catholic Impact 2014.
Long before the Archdiocese of Washington was formed in 1939, many clergy, religious and lay people in our area were devoting their lives to serving those in need. This rich legacy of compassionate outreach is continued in the many social service ministries and programs the archdiocese operates today, bringing Christ’s love to hundreds of thousands in need on our doorsteps.
In 1860, as the country marched toward the Civil War, three Daughters of Charity – a religious order of women dedicated to serving the poor – came from Emmitsburg to the nation’s capital to establish what is now known as Saint Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families. That outreach, begun with a charter authorized by an act of Congress and signed by President Lincoln, continues today as Saint Ann’s provides loving care to mothers and children in crisis.
During the Great Depression, Catholic Charities in Washington – which had been formed in 1922 – was an essential provider of social welfare to those facing poverty, unemployment and lack of hope. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is today the largest non-governmental provider of social services in this area, serving more than 116,000 people in need per year through more than 65 programs at 48 locations.
Victory Housing was originally organized in 1979 by parishioners from three District of Columbia parishes, and was founded by an archdiocesan priest, Monsignor Ralph Kuehner, who was concerned about the lack of affordable housing for the elderly and the poor. Now Victory Housing of the Archdiocese of Washington – with the help of partnerships with government agencies and local businesses – operates 30 affordable housing communities throughout Washington and the surrounding Maryland counties.
Over the decades, our local Church’s concern for the poor and those in need led to the establishment of a vast social service network, one that respects the sacredness and dignity of each human person, walks with them and strives to provide a lasting solution to their needs.
The members of our Archdiocesan Synod made several recommendations to advance and assist the charitable outreach of our parishes, archdiocesan agencies and other Catholic organizations. Through faith-filled ministry to the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the unemployed, and others, God’s spirit of love and hope is shared, and we all help to shine the light of the Lord on those in need. We offer not only material aid, the Synod members recognized, but also spiritual and emotional assistance, and love which has the power to comfort and renew the spirit of those we serve.
Concern for those who are poor, weak, wounded, alienated and marginalized – including the unborn and the elderly who are at great risk in our society – is what the Lord expects of his good and faithful people. We are one family, one community before God, with an obligation to care for one another and work for the common good. We are all called to this mission, to make a Catholic impact by a gift of ourselves in service to others, and like Saint Jeanne Jugan, we realize that in loving and serving the poor, we are carrying out the work of Jesus and manifesting his kingdom in our world today.