The Great Depression had a throttle hold on the nation and Phoenix was still part of the Tucson Diocese. Such was the backdrop for the founding of Catholic Charities Community Services in Arizona in 1933. Paul Mulligan, president and CEO of the agency, said a group of Catholic women were concerned about the growing ranks of errant young people.
“Phoenix kind of had an issue of wayward youth wandering around and getting into trouble,” Mulligan said. “Catholic Charities in Arizona was born out of that.”
Catholic Charities Community Services 85th Anniversary
The first person hired by the agency was a child-welfare worker. Today, Catholic Charities has about 450 employees working in Phoenix and Northern Arizona. When the Diocese of Phoenix was established in 1969, the agency split to serve the needs of the two dioceses. The Diocese of Tucson’s Catholic Charities agency is also celebrating 85 years.
As a faith-based organization with a grounding in Catholic social teaching, Catholic Charities has a unique mode of operation: “We’re God’s agency,” Mulligan says. “We don’t do it for the money. We’re doing this for the mission.”
That mission includes services like adoption, counseling, sheltering domestic violence victims, affordable housing, refugee resettlement and foster care, to name a few. Working for Catholic Charities is more than just a job — it’s a calling.
“We recognize and embrace the dignity, sanctity and value of every human being. That’s why we do what we do,” Mulligan said.
Maureen Antwan can attest to that. A native of Iraq, Maureen, her husband Luay and their 4-year-old son Kris were forced to flee their home in 2004. An escalating war had cast the country into turmoil and led to fierce persecution of Christians. They left Iraq practically penniless but with the promise of a better life alongside cousins in Arizona who would vouch for them.
When the family arrived in Phoenix in 2008, Catholic Charities was there to cushion the landing. “If they didn’t help us, it would have been very hard,” Maureen said. “We had to start over from the very beginning.”
Catholic Charities paid the rent on an apartment for the family for six months. “They gave us things like beds and a couch,” Maureen said. Food and toiletries were a big help, too.
Luay labored in a convenience store for years to support the family. Catholic Charities had work for Maureen, too. Twelve hours a week, she stitched decorative items and uniforms using the agency’s sewing machines. Catholic Charities sold her handiwork and paid for her service.
Today, Luay owns his own convenience store. “Every day, I pray and I thank God,” Maureen said. “I love America. I like my life here.”
Andre Gill, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, also gives thanks for the life-saving assistance he received from the agency.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be speaking with you,” Gill said. “I was really contemplating ending my life and then I made contact with MANA House.”
MANA House, short for Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force, is a veterans’ assistance program that provides transitional housing for veterans experiencing homelessness. In Gill’s case, he’d been scraping by on the streets for two years. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a drinking problem were wreaking havoc in his life.
“It got me going in a positive direction — they got me back to what I was supposed to be doing,” Gill said. “They kept me focused on the goals that I was trying to attain.” While living at MANA House, he became a certified personal trainer and received counseling.
These days, Gill is a college student studying business management. He’s on track to complete his bachelor’s degree in 18 months and plans to start a master’s program soon after. He was recently offered a position at a financial institution.
Mulligan said the services offered by Catholic Charities throughout its history fulfill the command Christ gave to love God and love one’s neighbor. That holds especially true for those clients who find themselves in crisis.
“Somebody whose life is falling apart, their kids have been taken from them, they’re hooked on drugs — whatever is going on, we are in the middle of the mess with them and they trust us. That’s huge,” Mulligan said. “They don’t feel they’re getting judged. They know we’re there to help them, to be with them and just love on them.”
Looking toward the future, Mulligan sees healthy growth. “We’re going to get stronger and stronger with housing,” he said. A year from now, Catholic Charities will open a $3-million, 57-bed facility in Bullhead City to serve veterans, families and the general homeless population. “We’re really making an impact and I think there are a lot of great things to come on the horizon,” Mulligan said.