Our History

Catholic Charities shares its origins and history with Little Children’s Aid, both rooted in the San Francisco disaster of the earthquake and fire of April 1906. This disaster devastated much of the city and left thousands homeless and hundreds of children abandoned. Here are some significant dates in our agency’s history:

1855: St. Vincent’s School for Boys opens to house, clothe, feed, educate and care for the orphans of California’s Gold Rush.

1906: Earthquake and fire devastate San Francisco, leaving thousands homeless and hungry.

In 1907: Archbishop Patrick William Riordan organized a group of church women to help in the wake of the disaster to plan how best to marshal resources for the care of those children left orphaned and homeless. They developed the Catholic Humane Bureau and Works to meet the breadth of needs presented by these children.

By 1909, a more formalized organization, Catholic Humane and Settlement Society, evolved, led by the same group of women. The organization’s work remained focused on care for, protection and maintenance of foundling, dependent or neglected children and did this by securing families who could provide foster care. Of the over 500 children received from the Juvenile Court and from the community, approximately 300 were boarded out in private families, where clothing, food, and medical treatment were provided and the others were placed in orphanages.   Over one hundred women community leaders comprised the service volunteers and fundraisers for this work.

1919: The Catholic Humane and Settlement Society (to differentiate from the Humane Society) changed its name to Little Children’s Aid.

1920: Due to a worldwide influenza epidemic, the number of children in direct care of the agency increased to 1,200.

1929: The work evolved toward a professional social service agency, Catholic Charities, which extended its outreach to poverty-stricken families affected by the stock market crash and the Great Depression. Little Children’s Aid’s “little board” of younger members, referred to as the Auxiliary of Little Children’s Aid, continued volunteer service and fundraising now in support of Catholic Charities.

1933: Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) starts in San Francisco.

1940-1950: Catholic Charities merges with Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Following World War II, Catholic Charities expands its focus to older at-risk children and their families.

1950-1969: Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) becomes its own entity.  Catholic Charities further expands its services to meet a greater number of financially and emotionally distressed families and youth in the region.

1970-1985: Programs adapt to community needs, including treatment of substance abuse and involvement with housing and the homeless, immigrants, refugees and the elderly.

1985: Catholic Charities is the first responder to the AIDS epidemic, meeting the needs of those affected.

2003: Catholic Charities reunifies with Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) to create Catholic Charities CYO (CCCYO).

2014: CCCYO returns to the name Catholic Charities, serving more than 35,000 children, families, and individuals each year in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

*Photograph courtesy of Presentation Archives, Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco.  Sister Mary Mechtilde McCarthy, PBVM stands with students amidst the rubble of Presentation Convent School, San Francisco, 1906.

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