History

The Way We Were & Who We Are Today

When the Diocese of Detroit and community leaders established Catholic Social Services in May 1959, the mission was to extend a helping hand to struggling families regardless of their faith, race or economic background. We salute the legacy and foresight of these remarkable individuals who understood the value of their undertaking. Embracing the tenets of Catholic social teaching, the new agency dedicated itself to changing the lives of our neighbors in the most vulnerable circumstances. That is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

Certainly, Washtenaw County was a much different place in 1959. The Big Three automakers were the only players in town—what was good for GM truly was good for the country. A gallon of gas cost 25 cents. Barbie Dolls and Motown launched that year while families gathered around their black and white TVs watching the antics of Beaver Cleaver. Americans feared the threat of nuclear war made all the more ominous by Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution.

As you would expect, the mindset of the 1950’s also influenced how CSSW approached the issues of the day. The discourse surrounding out-of-wedlock pregnancies was uttered, if at all, in hushed, disapproving tones; no one would have encouraged an unmarried mom to parent or openly communicate with her child’s adoptive family. Divorce was blamed for nearly all family dysfunction. Domestic abuse was years away from public scrutiny and growing older typically meant growing feeble. The Agency’s founding philosophy of family preservation affirmed these deeply held beliefs, which by contemporary standards may seem quaint, naïve or even dogmatic.

Today’s vision—to help people live safe, meaningful and independent lives, in a more just community—is much broader, reflecting the increasing diversity of our contemporary culture. In addition to offering more than two dozen programs designed for myriad life challenges, we also collaborate on initiatives with our colleagues in the non-profit and government sectors.

Without a doubt, CSSW has come a long way. Though subtle, our role as an agency has evolved from helping clients achieve social parity to promoting personal empowerment. That being said, we would never be where we are today if it wasn’t for the commitment of our founders from the Diocese, local parishes and the community at large. They put into action the teachings of the Catholic Church to support those most in need.

With gratitude and a good dose of humility, let us honor those board members, staff and volunteers who came before us as CSSW looks forward to starting its second 50 years. Clearly, there is much work yet to be done, needs new and timeless, that are still unmet. It is a tall order, but one we enthusiastically embrace. Because changing lives—then, now and forever—is what we do.