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History of Catholic Charities Maine

A Historical Introduction

Each day, 700 workers of Catholic Charities Maine interrupt their own journeys and come to the aid of the poor and vulnerable throughout the state of Maine. They see the faces of those suffering from mental illness, hurt and frightened children and families, those fallen victim to loneliness and isolation, those battling addictions, anxious refugees and many others who have been stripped and beaten by circumstance. All too often, our society passes on the opposite side of those who are suffering. As a result, many have slipped through the cracks and have been forgotten or ignored. Our workers lift them up and care for them.

Maine has vast regional differences in prosperity and has historically ranked lower than the national average in terms of income and earnings. Poverty among working adults has been increasing. At the start of the third millennium, over 16% of Maine’s children under eighteen were living in poverty, and many lack health insurance. We have our sign-laden homeless begging for help. More invisible, however, are those who, try though they may, cannot make it on their own. There are others whose circumstance or disability leads them to ask for help, some help they often seek only out of desperation. These are the marginalized, the poor, and the vulnerable who bless the workers of Catholic Charities Maine.

At the heart of Catholic Charities Maine is its mission statement. Our true riches are grounded in the social teachings of Jesus Christ as they unfold in the lives of our committed staff and our clients who bestow on us the gift of their presence. For, as Pope John II has noted, “…there are none so poor that they have nothing to give and none so rich that they have nothing to receive.” In the Church’s social teaching we find a constant dedication to the poor and the disadvantaged. This ceaselessly invites the faith community to a commitment to overcome every form of exploitation and oppression. It is here that our treasure lies, empowering our mission and values to guide us in all we do. As the evangelist Luke states, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Lk 12:34)

The mission of Catholic Charities Maine is a mission as old as the Church itself. It is a mission that all are called to share. This mission is exemplified by people such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Martin de Porres. In our own time there are also examples such as St. Frances X. Cabrini, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and St. Katharine Drexel as well as the lives of Dorothy Day, St. Theresa of Calcutta, and Sr. Thea Bowman. All of them challenge us to deeper identification with and commitment to people living in poverty. In the Diocese of Portland, Catholic Charities Maine is only the most recent name applied to the Catholic Church’s works of mercy and social action. (The name 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 several 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 during the time and 30-year veteran of Catholic Charities Maine stated the following, “Though much has changed since the earliest days of Diocesan sponsored childcare, 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, 2500 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. Today, Support and Recovery Services provides case management, assertive community treatment, outreach, and several other services to adults with prolonged mental illness who reside 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 St. Michael’s Center provides case management services for children and their families and serves youth who are involved with or at risk of becoming involved in the legal and correctional systems.

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 over 50,000 meals were served each year, along with 8000 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 offered the facility to St. Louis Child Development Center rent-free since 1993.

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 melded 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 amid 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 2 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 as casework assistant. By the end of November, over 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 now 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 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 has never left. After holding several 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 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 master’s 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. During 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.

2007 - present

“I look at [Catholic Charities] as one big family, cohesively united together. The emphasis is on family. If you’re talking priorities, after God, family has to come next, not the work, because our work will be taken care of if we take care of the other two priorities.”  — Stephen Letourneau, CEO Catholic Charities Maine

In February of 2007, Stephen P. Letourneau (Steve) became the Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Maine. The fourth of six sons who grew up in Fairfield, Maine, Steve credits his parents, Jules and Gaile Letourneau, with instilling in him the values that still guide him today. Although he had not planned on a career in social work, Steve’s first job working in a group home in Aroostook County changed not only the direction of his life, but also the depth of his faith. An encounter with Catholic Charities Maine’s Dixie Shaw led to his joining the agency in 1997 as a director of therapeutic foster care. Over the next ten years, he worked in many capacities and different Catholic Charities Maine programs before his promotion to CEO in 2007.

Driven by the mission and guided by the Agency’s core values of Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Hospitality, Excellence, and Stewardship, Steve began his tenure leading the agency by focusing on solutions that kept the emphasis on the most vulnerable populations in Maine and providing services to those who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

Rooted in Faith and Fiscal Responsibility

Steve’s strong work ethic and financial skills - both inherited from his father – have combined with his years of social work experience to have had a profound influence on the agency. His desire to assist people in desperate need led to the development of two new programs: Parish Social Ministry and Relief & Hope Emergency Services. Steve saw both programs as a safety net where people could turn when they felt they had nowhere to turn for temporary help to get through a bout of hard luck. Those in need can call for help and get a sympathetic ear and a bus pass, a grocery store gift card, or a connection to more community services for help. It is Steve’s hope that someday Parish Social Ministry, which focuses on building community and connections, will be the program the agency is best known for — not surprising for a leader who believes in the power of faith and family.

Through his two decades as CEO, Steve has steered the agency through numerous challenges, including recessions, federal cutbacks, high inflation — even a global pandemic. Throughout it all, his vision for the future and his ability to remain positive have continued to inspire everyone around him.

Services & Partnerships in Growth Mode

In 2007, a major building and moving project created a new home for the St. Louis Child Development Center. The beautiful new space (and the Center’s home to this day), on Pool Street in Biddeford, was designed and built specifically for children’s care and education and allowed for a doubling in enrollment and long-standing excellence in childcare.

In 2008, our senior services expanded when the agency was awarded a statewide contract for Independent Support Services, expanding this program’s reach across all sixteen counties. The Seek Elderly Alone, Renew Courage & Hope (SEARCH) program grew when it added the Greater Bath Elder Outreach Network (GBEON) into its fold, bringing volunteer companion services to the Mid-Coast region of the state.

Significant flooding hit Aroostook County in April and May 2008, and our team in the region, led by Hunger and Relief’s Dixie Shaw, earned a Red Cross award for their disaster response.

In 2009, WAGM-TV and Aroostook Savings & Loan, two generous, community-minded business partners in Aroostook County, came together with our Hunger & Relief program for Feed the County. With farm days, concerts, TV telethons, raffles, car-racing, and so much more, this “power trio” has been an enduring fundraising force in the County ever since.

During the recession of 2010, when significantly more Maine people needed support - often for the first time - the agency was also facing cuts in revenue from Medicaid and other contracts. Despite cutbacks, over the next few years, the agency’s services increased by more than 30 percent. The agency added orthodontic care at the Jessie Albert Dental Center in Bath, making it one of only a few places in Maine where low-income families could get orthodontic care. Parish Social Ministry expanded to include programs designed to engage young children and welcome New Mainers.

When a lack of adequate funding forced the 2012 closure of the Christopher Home, a residential facility for troubled boys, Steve Letourneau looked beyond the loss. He was able to re-focus efforts on the agency’s existing network of in-home support programs to help the populations once served by residential treatment. This solution allowed our agency to serve an even greater number of families.

A new program of Hunger and Relief Services took root in 2013 with the Farm for ME initiative. This pilot farm-to-table project in Aroostook County worked with local farms to grow and glean fresh vegetables for the more than 25 local pantries supplied by our food bank in the county. By 2014, despite a late planting and a rainy spring, the first Farm for ME harvest delivered nearly 9,000 pounds of fresh or frozen organic produce – approximately two pounds of vegetables per person in the county. This innovative pilot caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and showed that Maine can lead the nation in producing local, organically grown food to fight food insecurity.

Our Threads of Hope thrift stores also grew in 2013, when Catholic Charities Maine added locations in Monticello and Sanford, Maine.

In 2015, the SEARCH program celebrated its 40th year of serving isolated older neighbors with hundreds of volunteer companions, drivers, and helpers. This outreach effort has steadily increased since its start, and now serves people in Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Somerset, Kennebec, and Penobscot counties.

“When we see a need, we dig in and find out the best way to fill the need, no matter where it takes us,” said Wendy Russell, director of SEARCH, describing the program’s growth.

In 2016, the agency celebrated its 50th anniversary, an occasion that included a look back on the work of Neil Michaud, founding CEO of Catholic Charities Maine.

As substance use disorders increased in the state, the agency prioritized creating innovative programs to address this social problem, including partnering with the Milestone Foundation’s detoxification program and working with Portland’s Overdose Task Force to increase Catholic Charities Maine’s ability to serve people struggling with substance use.

Leading the Way to Welcome the Stranger

As Maine’s longest-serving refugee resettlement program, Catholic Charities Maine’s Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS) has welcomed thousands of people fleeing war, poverty, and persecution. In addition to helping new arrivals to find housing and employment, provide language tutoring, and case management. In times of crisis, RIS has played a key role in leading a coordinated community responses to global crises, such as the influx of Somali refugees in 2001 and Afghanistan evacuees in 2021.

In 2017, when the state government shifted away from providing refugee services, Catholic Charities Maine’s Office of Maine Refugee Services (OMRS) was established, becoming the official agency designated by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to administer Maine’s refugee resettlement services across the state. OMRS provides grants management, policy guidance, and program development to promote self-sufficiency and community integration among newcomer populations.

Expanding Care to Seniors

According to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau’s report, 20.6 percent of Maine’s population was aged 65 or older, the highest share of any state in the country. This one statistic proves the great need for our SEARCH program, which Catholic Charities Maine expanded in 2019 to reach Kennebec and Somerset Counties, matching more volunteers with older Mainers for friendly visits, companionship, and rides.

Pandemic Enters the Picture

In 2020, the effects of COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, reached every corner of the world and changed daily life in Maine. For vulnerable, at-risk populations, COVID made bad conditions worse. Prices rose; jobs were cut; basic goods became scarce, and safety nets collapsed. Catholic Charities staff proved to be very adaptable – providing virtual mental health counseling, delivering crucial protective masks, cleaning products, and food to isolated clients in need, and being vigilant with COVID-19 protocols at our Child Development Centers, St. Francis Residential Recovery Center, and other essential on-site services that stayed open throughout.

The agency’s southern Maine Behavioral Health Network programs and services were consolidated into a new downtown Portland location at 420 Cumberland Avenue in 2020, bringing a full continuum of behavioral health and substance use disorder services under one roof.

Catholic Charities Maine was able to serve more than 59,000 people that year, an increase of 15 percent over 2019. Many of our clients told us we were the only agency that continued providing services when other agencies stopped. Also in 2020, amid rising racial tensions across the U.S. and around the world, the agency also focused on racial justice, especially in its workforce.

“We are committed to leveraging our RICHES and lead with equality-informed and anti-racist practices at every level of our organization to build a stronger agency. Powered by our mission, we are committed to contributing to a more just and equitable world,” said Steve Letourneau.

The pandemic continued to impact our work in 2021, and clients needed our services more than ever; staff and volunteer shortages meant our team members each gave 110 percent. Our Food Banks served more pantries, our Independent Support Services homemakers traveled further and served more seniors in need, and our Refugee and Immigration Services welcome hundreds of Afghans who fled the humanitarian crises that arose out of the U.S. withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.

According to Julie Allaire, Chief Program Officer, “Our phones began ringing with offers of help and support for Afghans as soon as images of the Kabul airport reached the news stations. I am grateful to work in a place that welcomes and helps those in need.”

Our Founding Leader Passes

On January 25, 2022, Neil Michaud, the founding director of what is now Catholic Charities Maine, passed away peacefully. Neil was a humble and deeply spiritual man who grew up in Aroostook County witnessing how tough times like the Depression affected rural Maine people. He developed a deep faith and a commitment to preserve the dignity of those in need, which was his motivation for establishing our agency. He spent 22 years developing dozens of programs to help the state’s most vulnerable people, leaving a lasting legacy.

Maine, like the nation, saw more Maine people become vulnerable to the dangers of substance use disorders in 2022. The state experienced a record number of drug overdoses, with 716 reported deaths, according to the state’s Attorney General’s office. Our Behavioral Health Network responded with more opioid care options, increased access to life-saving Naloxone, and introducing telehealth access to treatment.

At the same time, our Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS) expanded North. In Fall 2022, the agency opened a new RIS resettlement site in Brewer, where more than 40 federally designated refugees were welcomed to the greater Bangor area in the first year.

“We’ve heard tremendous excitement and community support for the arrival of refugees in Bangor. People let us know they wanted to see refugees also being resettled in local cities such as Orono, Old Town, and Brewer to take advantage of job opportunities, and they just want new neighbors in the region,” said Charles Mugabe, RIS assistant Program Manager.

Aiding the Asylum Seeker Population

In late spring, 2022, Catholic Charities Maine’s CEO Stephen Letourneau was approached by the city of Portland and representatives of state governor’s office, who recognized the organization’s decades of experience resettling refugees, and asked if the agency could help with the influx of asylum seekers coming to Maine. At the time, there were more 1,500 asylum seekers being housed in a dozen hotels in the greater Portland area, with more expected to arrive for months to follow.

Many would have considered the enormity of the task, the polarizing nature of immigration in the country and in the state, and the potential drain on agency resources and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help.” Steve Letourneau did not. When faced with helping a critical area of need in our community and state, he feels deeply obligated to evaluate, confer with his leadership team and the Board, and prepare a sound plan of action.

By early fall, Catholic Charities Maine embarked on a first-in-the-nation pilot program to support asylum seekers families’ successful integration in Southern Maine. The Asylum Seeker Transitional Housing Program (ASTHP) created a new model utilizing state-provided housing with onsite case management services provided by Catholic Charities, in coordination with a wide range of community partners to connect residents to public schools, public transportation, legal resources, healthcare, English language learning, financial skills, job fairs, and benefits.

As of December 31, 2023, the first ASTHP pilot program had served 130 families, representing more than 509 individuals, and yielded significant results in bringing the asylum seeker population closer to employment, homes and assimilation into local communities.

Making More Space for Recovery in Auburn

In June 2023, we committed more support and resources to our residential treatment program for adult men struggling with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Thanks to the hard work of Jeff Tiner, chief program officer of CCM’s Clinical Services, and Tom Farrington, Behavioral Health Network’s regional director overseeing St. Francis Recovery Center, who jumped into action to increase St. Francis’ capacity by 75 percent.

Thrifts Stores Thrive

April 2023 marked the 10-year anniversary of the Threads of Hope thrift store in Sanford, where proceeds support all agency programs statewide, and where the values have helped the local communities through tough times.

In the late summer of 2023, Dixie Shaw, director of Hunger & Relief Services had an opportunity to consolidate the Presque Isle Threads of Hope thrift store and the Hope Chest Boutique into a 20,000-square-foot retail space in the Aroostook Centre Mall. The mall was undergoing an ambitious renovation to include an indoor trampoline gym, craft centers, and other retail spaces. By the day after Thanksgiving, 2023, CCM had opened the doors. “Raising money through our thrift store sales is critical to our bottom line and our ability to feed folks throughout Aroostook County,” Shaw said.

Late 2023 brought human-caused and natural disaster to Maine. On October 25, Lewiston was the site of a mass shooting that killed 18 people at two popular local spots, a bowling alley and a restaurant where a cornhole tournament was taking place. In mid-December, record flooding and high tides caused massive damage to most areas of the state, leaving washed out roads and bridges, flooded buildings, and lost landmarks. In both cases, Parish Social Ministry (PSM) was able to bring some comfort and hope, thanks to emergency grants awarded from Catholic Charities USA, which helped PSM pitch in to establish a Lewiston Resiliency Center and replace food pantry kitchen equipment that was damaged in flooding.

In the years ahead, the Agency will continue to pursue mission-related opportunities for existing service areas, identify target areas, and track emerging social needs, including, but not limited to:

  • providing behavioral and mental health services for adults and children;
  • sustaining strong services in substance use disorder treatment and recovery;
  • strengthening and growing services for Maine’s aging population;
  • welcoming and supporting New Mainers in integrating into local communities;
  • creating program models for emergency assistance services, and
  • addressing hunger/food security issues.