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Catholic Community Services Celebrates 75 Years Helping Refugees, Homeless, Hungry

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — With all of its challenges, 2020 has brought an important anniversary to an organization dedicated to helping those less fortunate — Catholic Community Services is celebrating 75 years.

Monsignor Terrance Fitzgerald, Emeritus Vicar General of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said it comes from faith.

“Being a Christian requires a certain commitment to caring for the stranger, the homeless, the hungry,” he said.

KSL visited with Monsignor Fitzgerald who has been director and advisor to Catholic Charities and then CCS for 50 years.

The Monsignor said it began in 1945 when Bishop Duane Hunt, Utah’s fifth Catholic bishop, saw people struggling after World War II and created Catholic Charities.

“Bishop Hunt was a remarkable visionary in every way,” said Fitzgerald. “He really expanded the presence of the Catholic Church throughout the state.”

One of the key decisions Bishop Hunt made was to build bridges with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He would meet privately with the President of the Church, both of them knowing that if their congregations knew they were meeting, there might be some suspicion or concern,” said the Monsignor. “What a different age it is today!”

It’s different because that shared vision has brought the partnership to today — Brad Drake, CCS director is a Latter-day Saint.

This partnership and a network of other organizations joined forces to help people who are struggling.

“Being Executive Director of Catholic Community Services of Utah is truly one of the greatest blessings of my life. I am honored and privileged to be part of such a noble cause,” said Drake. “I give thanks every day to my Heavenly Father, the Board of Trustees of CCS, and the leadership of the Diocese of SLC Utah, for their trust and faith in me in leading this organization as we provide hope and give strength to the downtrodden in our midst.”  

Catholic Community Services has helped in so many ways — from outreach to the homeless starting in 1955, to the Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen in 1967, to the welcoming of refugees beginning in 1974.

The first to arrive were the Vietnamese boat people. Salt Lake was one of the cities chosen by the Federal Government and the Catholic Conference of Bishops.

“One of the reasons Salt Lake was established, I’m told, is the number of former Latter-day Saint missionaries who spoke various languages that would be a tremendous resource in helping resettle these refugees,” said Fitzgerald.

Ponder this remarkable statistic — 30,000 refugees have resettled in Utah since the 1970s.

The Amiri family arrived in March from Afghanistan where Mahmood, the father, was a translator for the U. S. Army. A cousin helped him find a job and an apartment. Masouva, his wife, is learning English and their four children attend school.

CCS provides a caseworker to oversee their needs.

“Furniture like table, chairs, beds, and other equipment for the kitchen,” said Mahmood. “So, they provide for us and they welcome us here in the apartment,.”

CCS has a warehouse where refugees can find supplies like shampoo and toothpaste. 

The Recan family from Iraq has lived in Utah for three and a half years. CCS introduced them to other families who became friends and helped Falah find a job.

“This is a new country — you don’t know the people, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know how to get a job, so you have to have an initial guide when you get here,” said Falah Recan. “So, I think it is very important to have organizations like CCS.”

Monsignor Fitzgerald rejoiced in their success.

“The joys have been to see immigrants and refugees settled into their communities, welcomed,” he said. “People find jobs and their kids are educated. What a blessing!”

75 years is a noteworthy anniversary, he said, but it is only as impressive as the success of those CCS has helped.

At age 84, Monsignor Fitzgerald has not stopped. He retired but is at the Diocese offices every day.

“It’s always been a part of my own heart that I somehow had a responsibility to give. I have received so much.”

The Monsignor said there is still so much more to do.

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