Catholic Charities History 640 480px
Who We Are

Our History

In 1947, Catholic Charities primary focus was serving children and unmarried mothers, providing foster care, adoption, and financial assistance.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, traces its roots to the post-World War II era when what is now this diocese was still part of the Diocese of Richmond.

It began as Catholic Charities of Northern Virginia, founded on Feb. 11, 1947 under the authority of Richmond Bishop Peter Leo Ireton. In those days Catholic Charities primary focus was serving children and unmarried mothers, providing foster care, adoption and financial assistance. One professional case worker and one clerical assistant ran the Children’s Services program on a $25,723 budget.

As the population of northern Virginia increased so did the request for services. Catholic Charities established a branch office in the old St. Mary's Lyceum, in Alexandria, housing a children's service worker, a secretary and a clothing room staffed by volunteers. In 1959 the agency was incorporated as Catholic Charities of Northern Virginia. The agency opened another branch office in Fairfax in 1970.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington

In 1974, the Diocese of Arlington was established out of the 21 counties and seven cities in the northern-most part of the Diocese of Richmond. Catholic Charities of Northern Virginia became Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Inc. The agency opened an office in Winchester offering children's services, family counseling and emergency assistance to the western part of the diocese.

By the 1980 Catholic Charities had grown to include the following programs: Children's Services, Family Services, St. Martin de Porres Senior Center, Christ House Shelter, Emergency Assistance, Immigration and Refugee Services, Prison Ministry, Child Development, Neighborhood Development and the Winchester District Office. Parish Social Ministry, Services to the Disabled and AGAPE Hispanic Social Services were added as programs.

The agency expanded again in 1990, opening the Fredericksburg District Office to serve the southern part of the diocese with both Children's Services and Family Services. In 1994 it subsumed Hogar Hispano to provide immigration support, emergency assistance, English language training and other services to immigrants.

Catholic Charities’ men’s homeless shelter at Christ House was renovated in 2007. The same year, Charities’ new Western Regional Office was established in Leesburg. Two years later Catholic Charities opened the St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Housing for homeless families and the diocesan Migration and Refugee Services became part of the agency.

A Commitment to Growth

In 2010 Catholic Charities made a commitment to expand throughout the 21 counties, to strengthen our relationship with parishes and pastors and to increase resources to enable us to help more people. It opened the Mother of Mercy Free Health Clinic in Manassas – in the site of a former abortion facility – to help those who are unable to attain insurance receive medical care. In 2019, the clinic will begin offering prenatal care to patients.

The food program that started in the basement of Christ House has grown into a food distribution network that supplies nearly 100 pantries in the Diocese from a warehouse in Manassas. It is called the St. Lucy Food Project

In 2011, Catholic Charities clarified its four core values of (1) Catholic integration, and (2) attaining more resources to (3) serve those most in need whether or not they are Catholic, by providing (4) transformative services.

Catholic Charities continues to grow in order to serve more people. In addition, Catholic Charities now sponsors the annual Retreat for People Facing Serious Illness, offering spiritual renewal and counseling over a weekend retreat at the diocesan San Damiano Spiritual Life Center.

The agency opened the Welcome Home Re-Entry Program in 2017 as part of its already established Prison Ministry to serve men and women returning to communities after incarceration. Catholic Charities also operates the Mobile Response Center, a van that it drives out to the Diocese’s rural counties to provide needed household and family supplies to those otherwise unable to attain them.

Catholic Charities Today

Today, Catholic Charities has more than 20 programs throughout the diocese. The annual budget is more than 12.5 million. Its professional staff is dedicated to our clients and finds the spiritual and temporal support of our many friends and benefactors to be an inspiration. We look forward to continuing our service to the poor and needy in northern Virginia.

Catholic Charities directors since its founding:

  • Rev. Thomas Scannell, director
  • Rev. Thomas Hesnan
  • Msgr. Thomas Cassidy
  • Rev. James Sweeney
  • Aaron Palmer
  • Rev. Frank Hendrick
  • Rev. Gerard Creedon
  • Rev. John T. O’Hara
  • Rev. Charles C. McCoart
  • Stephen Luteran
  • Art Bennett, President and CEO, 2010 - present