Providing help and creating hope in Maine
Catholic Charities Home > About > History

History of Catholic Charities Maine

The mission of Catholic Charities Maine is one as old as the Church itself. In the Diocese of Portland, Catholic Charities Maine is the most recent name applied to the Catholic Church’s works of mercy and social action and was changed from Diocesan Human Relations Services in 1992. The Agency’s history demonstrates how the local church adapts to changing times and conditions, and highlights the many devoted individuals who carry out the work of compassion in season and out of season.

Love Made Real — Early Years in the Diocese of Portland

Maine has a Catholic history rooted deeply in the colonial period. In 1604, sixteen years before the Pilgrims arrived, the first missionaries settled in what is now Maine to minister to the spiritual and material needs of the Native Americans and the French traders. The Diocese of Portland was established on July 29, 1853 by his Holiness Pope Pius IX and included the states of Maine and New Hampshire. In 1855, the Diocese received its first Bishop, Most Reverend David William Bacon. In 1884, New Hampshire was separated from the Diocese of Portland.

To counter the injustices of the 19th Century and earlier, the American Bishops in the late 19th century issued a plea to religious orders to establish schools and social service agencies throughout the country. The establishment of the religious orders in Maine and other parts of the country created a system of health care, education, and social services that has continued today. As a result, innumerable needy people, dependent children, prisoners, elders, the oppressed and sick, as well as people with disabilities have been helped through the years.

In Maine, a partial list of the religious orders that have and/or continue to provide social services in Maine includes the following: Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity of Ste. Hyacinthe, Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Dominicans, Holy Cross Priests and Brothers, Felician Sisters, Marists, Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Sisters of Charity of Halifax, Sisters of St. Joseph, Little Franciscan Sisters of Mary, Good Shepherd Sisters, Franciscan Priests and Brothers, and Capuchin Priests and Brothers. Each of these orders has its own unique charism and gifts to offer to the local as well as the Church universal.

The influenza epidemic of 1917-1918 had tremendous effect on the people of Maine, as did the prevalence of tuberculosis and pneumonia. In fact, The Sisters of Mercy built Queen’s Hospital, later called Mercy Hospital in Portland, in response to these epidemics. The situation was so severe that stories still circulate about how children who had been left orphans would occasionally be lined up at the St. Dominic’s Church altar rail in Portland, and parishioners would “adopt” them into their families.

During World War I, the economy boomed, but families suffered as parents went off to war or worked in the wartime industries. The problem of poverty, however, increased enormously after the 1929 stock market crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression. The poverty suffered during the Great Depression led inevitably to an increase in family dissolutions. Women and children were abandoned at a staggering rate. In addition, the poverty experienced by the priests and religious who served them and who depended on contributions for support meant that the network created to help the poor became weaker as their numbers increased.

The onset of World War II produced many of the same problems and needs. There was much suffering experienced by all. Immigrants arrived in Maine to build the Liberty Ships that were credited with being instrumental in winning the war against Germany. A World War II veteran and Portland native recently stated it this way, “They cranked out the Liberty ships faster than Hitler’s U-Boats could sink them.” All this wartime activity produced wealth, and it was during this time that Catholics entered the ranks of the middle class.

The November 6, 1955 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram featured the centenary year edition of the Diocese of Portland. The paper states, “In addition to its churches and schools, the Diocese supports many hospitals and charitable organizations. The planning function of Catholic Charities includes exercising leadership within and beyond the Catholic community in surveying needs, measuring resources, and establishing services. Diocesan charitable institutions include orphanages, homes for girls and boys of broken families, summer camps, a haven for unwed mothers and homes for the aged. Need is the only basis for admission.” Madigan Hospital, Houlton; St. Joseph’s Home for Aged Women, Portland; Notre Dame Hospital, Biddeford; Lady of the Lake Camp, New Gloucester; Healy Asylum, Lewiston, orphanage for boys; Marcotte Home and St. Joseph’s Orphanage for Girls in Lewiston; St. Andre’s Home, Biddeford — these are some of the facilities run by various religious orders that served the poor and vulnerable in the State at that time.

Later, the Diocese sponsored and built housing facilities for low-income elderly, as well as a number of other summer camps for youth.

Treated with Mercy

While the Diocese has been blessed with the dedicated, compassionate service of many religious orders over the years, special gratitude is expressed to the Sisters of Mercy. Their dedication to the children, the sick and the elderly has been extensive. While there are many institutions throughout the state that have embraced the mission of the Church and Catholic Charities Maine, four of them stand out in terms of their history and their continued association with Catholic Charities Maine.

The Sisters of Mercy helped found and staff St. Elizabeth’s Home, Portland, in 1873. Bishop James Healy purchased St. Elizabeth’s in 1887. It was then renamed St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Orphan Asylum. In 1968, it became know as St. Elizabeth’s Child Development Center. Dan Murphy, Program Director of St. Elizabeth’s Child Development Center and 30-year veteran of Catholic Charities Maine states the following, “Though much has changed since the earliest days of Diocesan sponsored child care, the love that fueled the birth of these services continues to sustain them today. The privilege of performing the works of the social gospel in the service of Maine’s children and families is shared by the staff at St. Elizabeth’s.”

Holy Innocents Home (the Creche) got its start in 1907 as a division of St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage, providing care for orphaned infants. From 1907 — 1934 it served 636 boys and 576 girls. By 1965, 2,500 children had been sheltered. In 1968 the program developed into three components: homemaker — teacher services, home care services for families with chronically ill parents, and family life education.

Today, a portion of that program has developed into what is called Catholic Charities Maine Home and Family Services. It has expanded its services to include home management skills and household tasks, assistance with in-home care for elderly clients, disabled individuals, and families needing support with parenting skills.

Catholic Charities Maine Support and Recovery Services developed from the Holy Innocents program and became Support and Recovery Services, providing case management, assertive community treatment, outreach and a number of other services to adults with prolonged mental illness residing in southern Maine.

St. Michael’s Center was originally formed and incorporated on March 14, 1912 as Eastern Maine Orphan’s Home. The facility became commonly known as St. Michael’s Home and was administered by the Sisters of Mercy. St Michael’s Home moved from Hammond Street to its present location, the former Bangor TB Sanitarium, in 1958. In August 1972, the Sisters of Mercy withdrew from service at St. Michael’s. At that time the name was officially changed from Eastern Maine Orphans Home to St. Michael’s Center, but continued to provide alternative care services for children. Today, Catholic Charities Maine's St. Michael’s Center is a home to Children's Behavioral Home Health Services and provides for children and their families.

Bishop Louis S. Walsh, in 1920, purchased the former Wayland House in West Scarborough. It opened on June 21, 1921 as the St. Louis Home and School for Boys. The student body increased in the 1930’s, often nearing as many as 65. It is claimed that more than 50,000 meals were served there each year, along with 8,000 loaves of bread, 500 bushels of potatoes, and 2 tons of meat. For 15 years, the Sisters of Mercy administered the Boys’ Home. In 1935, at the request of Bishop Joseph McCarthy, St Louis Home and School was sold by the Diocese to the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) of Lewiston.

They converted it to a residence for both boys and girls. In 1971, the Sisters shifted their services to childcare, and shortly after, the facility became a part of Catholic Charities Maine. For several years it was housed in a former convent on Birch Street in Biddeford. The City of Biddeford later renovated Emery School and has offered the facility to St. Louis Child Development Center rent-free in1993.

The Bridge to a Statewide Agency

In 1950, with assistance from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Lewiston-Auburn Catholic Bureau of Social Services was established. Fr. Jean Paul Cossette, OP, earned a Doctorate in Social Work from Catholic University and became its first Director. His vision was to have the Bureau coordinate all Church related health and social service programs in the Lewiston area. Fr. Cossette’s vision was never realized, though the model of his agency through the 50’s and 60’s had profound effect on the later development of a statewide agency. Neil D. Michaud, Fr. Cossette’s associate, became the next director of the Lewiston-Auburn Catholic Bureau of Social Services.

Clearly, there was a need for such a service in the Lewiston-Auburn area, but securing funding was a real challenge. The agency turned to the local Community Chest (United Way), parish bazaars, collections, and other sources of funding. The Lewiston-Auburn Catholic Bureau of Social Services later merged with what is currently known as Tri-County Mental Health Agency.

Shortly after World War II, the four parishes in Bangor and Brewer organized what later became known as the Bangor-Brewer Catholic Bureau of Social Services. It, too, sought and received funding from the local Community Chest, and its focus was on needy families. Due to shortage of funds, however, it eventually merged with the Bangor area mental health system in the late 1950’s.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Catholic social service agencies in the state mended together a network that brought some relief to growing numbers of the poor. But more was needed.

Moved with Compassion at the Sight

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Vatican II, Church in the Modern World, 1965). In the 1960’s, the Church was attempting to find a meaningful place in the midst of much turmoil and change including the Second Vatican Council, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

Msgr. Vincent Tatarczuk, a strong, early supporter of Catholic social services, served as chancellor of the Diocese under Bishop Feeney (1955-1969) and Bishop Gerety (1969-1974). He believes that it was Neil Michaud’s vision and Bishop Peter Gerety’s determination that helped unify Catholic social services in the state. Under the direction of Bishop Feeney, then Auxiliary Bishop Gerety toured the state for three or four months. He became acquainted with the priests and people of the diocese. He listened to them, and Bishop Gerety determined that there was a dearth of services available to those who were vulnerable and marginalized. Since he had seen a dire need for social services in the state, he wanted the Church to take a more active role in meeting the needs of the people. Msgr. Tatarczuk set out to assist the Bishops in making this a reality. In July 1966, Neil Michaud, a Maine native who had been pursuing studies at the Florence Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University, received a letter that stated the following: “I hereby appoint you as Director of the newly established Bureau of Human Relations which you are to develop…” - Daniel J. Feeney, D.D., Bishop of Portland.

As a result, Neil returned to Portland, and set out to work.

Leaders that Made a Difference

Neil D. Michaud was a child brought up in a family of poverty in Aroostook County. His own experiences watching his family “wrenched and torn apart by tuberculosis and even institutionalized,” taught him “the Lord does hear the cry of the poor.” He took that experience and used it to become a strident voice for the needs of the poor in Maine.

In 1966, Neil Michaud opened the office of the Diocesan Bureau of Human Relations Services (DBHRS, incorporated in 1967) in Guild Hall, adjacent to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. He began with two staff – Katherine Cronin, an early graduate of the Catholic University School of Social Work and former director of Social Services at Mercy Hospital, and Harold Smith, casework assistant. By the end of November, more than 50 families had come through the doors for professional services.

According to Msgr. Tatarczuk, the Catholic Charities Appeal, which had its beginning in the 1930’s, had mainly been a southern Maine event. It benefited only a few local institutions. Both Bishop Feeney and Neil Michaud supported the need to extend this assistance to include a statewide marriage and family counseling program for the diocese. But Neil had even bigger plans for the Agency.

By November 1966, Neil had his plans for a statewide agency fully worked out on paper. He had completed an assessment of needs in the state. At that time, Bishop Feeney became ill, and Bishop Peter Gerety became Administrator of the Diocese. Development continued, and Bishop Gerety helped establish an Advisory Board for the young Agency. Neil set up five districts of DBHRS (re-named to Diocesan Human Relations Services – DHRS Inc. in 1975) to implement and administer the services.

In the early 1960’s the Greater Portland United Community Service conducted a very significant study. It was an assessment of strategies and weaknesses of public and private social service agencies. The final report, called the Citizens’ Survey, had an impact on the way Catholic social services were being administered. The Survey called for an updating of the Catholic Community’s human service agencies. The Church needed to upgrade and institute changes to keep up with changing human needs. Responding to these recommendations became a part of Neil’s overall strategy.

In 1966, the initial budget was $50,000. Within the first five years, the Agency had moved from the $50,000 budget provided through the Diocese to a figure reaching $2.5 million. Some of the support still came from the diocese, but also from a wide range of other funding sources, as well including partnerships with government agencies. Neil’s vision for the Agency unfolded under the guidance and support of four bishops – Daniel J. Feeney, Peter L. Gerety, Edward C. O’Leary and Joseph J. Gerry, OSB.

Many who had the opportunity to know and work with him have called Neil a “prophet”. When he accepted Bishop Feeney’s invitation and became the founding director of the Diocesan Human Relations Services, Inc. (later changed to Catholic Charities Maine), he undertook an enormous challenge to coordinate the diocesan approach to addressing social justice issues in the State of Maine. When he retired from that position 23 years later, leaders both lay and clerical from throughout the state turned out to laud his achievements. Three Bishops attended his retirement, as well as former governor and state representative, Joseph E. Brennan, who thanked him for all he had done to make life better for thousands of Maine citizens. Neil’s legacy to the agency was his ability to form partnerships with government agencies and communities in order to provide services to the local population in the most effective manner. He was not afraid to research the needs of the community and seek sources of revenue to fund the appropriate response. In addition to services, Neil was also a leader in advocacy and convening, and felt that you needed these components to address the roots of poverty and injustice. When he left, he described his journey and work with the needy this way, “We were collectively establishing a piece of God’s Kingdom in this most northeastern part of the country.” After seeing the Agency through tremendous growth and helping thousands of people in the state of Maine, Neil Michaud retired in 1989 after 23 years of service.

Steve Bogus began as Associate Director in 1987 then as Executive Director until 1993, taking the Agency through a turbulent time of discernment and change.

Take Care of Them

In September 1993, Bishop Joseph Gerry, O.S.B. appointed Gloria A. Dugan as Interim Director of the Agency. She had been with the Agency since 1971 and had held several positions, including Director of Human Resources. In July 1994, Bishop Joseph appointed Gloria Executive Director of Catholic Charities Maine.

Gloria A. Dugan came to Maine from a small town in Vermont. “My parents taught us that it was how we lived our lives that was important, and what we gave to other people was of lasting value.”

After completing college, her first job was in social work as a case aide for a foster care and adoption agency. Though she never had children of her own, her first love has always been working with kids. After some strong mentoring and guidance in her first job, Gloria went back to school to obtain her master's degree. In 1971, she took a position with Catholic Charities Maine, and never left. After holding a number of positions in the agency, Gloria was appointed to the position of Executive Director in 1994. She was the first woman and non-Catholic to hold that position. At a time when the agency was growing rapidly, she brought a tremendous gift for administration and financial accountability to the agency. She is a quiet, but strong force within the state. Ever humble, she has worked continuously to develop strong leadership skills in her staff and the administration that manages the more than 40 programs and services that Catholic Charities Maine currently operates. In 2000, Bishop Gerry recognized her 30 years of extraordinary service to the state by presenting her with an award issued by Pope John Paul II, the Benemerenti Medal. This medal, first bestowed in 1791, is awarded by popes as a mark of recognition for persons in service to the Church.

Gloria brought a strong sense of mission-centeredness, authentic leadership, and love and concern for clients and staff. Under Gloria’s leadership, the Agency experienced a 70 percent growth in its budget, as well as increased financial stability. At the time of her appointment as Interim Director, the budget was approximately $13.5 million, and the agency had a quarter of a million dollar deficit. In 2000, the budget had grown to $19.3 million, and the agency posted a surplus. In 2001, after over 30 years of faithful service Gloria began taking steps toward retirement by stepping down from the position of Executive Director and continuing on with special projects for the agency. In 2003 Gloria A. Dugan retired from Catholic Charities Maine.

From November of 2001 to January 2007, John M. Kerry, of Saco, Maine, served as Chief Executive Officer for Catholic Charities Maine. Kerry holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University School of Design and Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the course of John’s first months at Catholic Charities Maine he brought strong leadership and a renewed vision to Catholic Charities Maine during an uncertain time in the wake of September 11th. As our nation’s collective conscience was going through unprecedented changes, John encouraged a return to Catholic roots and for our agency to be a “shining light upon a hill” to those most vulnerable.

In February of 2007, Stephen Letourneau became the Chief Executive Officer for Catholic Charities Maine. Steve is an accomplished individual who serves as the chief administrator of the agency. In his leadership role, Steve is responsible for the overall administration of the agency as it relates to its Mission and that of Catholic Charities USA.