by Bill McCarthy 

On March 15, 2013, Catholic Charities celebrated St. Vincent’s Villa’s Heritage Day. The history of Catholic charitable organizations in the United States and the history of Catholic Charities of Baltimore really begin with the history of St. Vincent’s.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore was established in 1789. Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States and Baltimore, declared that one-third of all parish revenues should go to “the relief of the poor.” This mandate marks the beginning of Catholic charitable organizations in the United States.

By the 1800s, Catholic charitable services in Baltimore were largely focused on caring for orphaned immigrant children.  Over the next century, religious orders like the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy established numerous homes for these children as Baltimore became the point of entry for more 19th century immigrants than any other U.S. city outside of New York.

In 1923, the Archdiocese incorporated all of the children’s orphanages under a new Bureau of Catholic Charities, and the care for disadvantaged people became the specialized mission of Catholic Charities that continues today.  Over the next century, as the need for orphanages diminished, the need for treating neglected and abused children and those with emotional disabilities became greater. Our services for vulnerable children evolved to meet this need.  And we established new services as other needs became evident.

On Heritage Day, we celebrate our long history of improving the lives of Marylanders in need, and especially our work with children. March 15 is the feast day of Saint Louise de Marillac, a 17th century French aristocrat who became a nun.  St. Louise worked in service to the poor with St. Vincent de Paul and founded the Daughters of Charity.  St. Vincent’s Villa has a tradition on Heritage Day of giving out yellow roses with the thorns still attached. This tradition is based on a story about St. Louise. Working with emotionally disturbed children can be challenging. To encourage her sisters at the Daughters of Charity, St. Louise wrote, “Let us serve with hearts filled with the pure love of God, which enables us always to love the roses amidst the thorns.”

So, many years ago, knowing that our staff members might have very difficult tasks before them, we decided to use St. Louise’s phrase for motivation.  The roses we distribute on Heritage Day acknowledge two very important traditions that have been a part of this work ever since the time of St. Louise — the caretaker’s ability to see the inherent beauty of each child and the caretaker’s ability to remain resilient in the face of the complexities of working with children who are still waiting to blossom.

Please join us in honoring the work of our Catholic Charities staff, past and present, who “see the roses amidst the thorns.”