Formerly known as Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville, has a rich history that spans decades. Though the scope of its programs and services has undergone dramatic changes to keep pace with the changing needs of the communities served, Catholic Charities has always focused on its mission of service to all of God’s people in need with a preferential option to serve the poor. With the faithful service of its staff and volunteers, Catholic Charities will continue to help God’s people of every race, culture, and religion who live in our community with dignity and respect.

The 60s

On July 17, 1962, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc., as the organization was known until late 2020, was organized at the request of William L. Adrian, Bishop of the Diocese of Nashville, which at that time included the entire state of Tennessee. Msgr. Leo Siener was named the first executive director and his staff included one secretary and, by the end of 1962, four caseworkers. The office was located in the Chancery at 421 Charlotte Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, and was established with a $100 donation and a $1,000 loan from the Diocese. Between August, 1962 and July, 1966, foster homes were established for 43 Cuban children.

In 1964, the Nashville office of Catholic Charities made their first adoptive placement. In 1966, 98 expectant birthparents applied for assistance, and 39 were counseled. In 1966, 65 families received emergency aid.

In 1966, 49 families and 24 individuals received counseling from the social work staff. In 1966, 63 unhoused persons, mostly single males, were assisted by our staff.

In 1966, a day care kindergarten program (Head Start) for children of low income working mothers was established at the Assumption School in North Nashville. Catholic Charities was the first voluntary agency in Metropolitan Nashville to receive an Office of Economic Opportunity grant.

The 70s

The Diocese of Memphis was formed in 1971. After the split, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc. included all the counties east of the Tennessee River. Bishop Joseph A. Durick appointed Rev. Louis J. Junod as the second executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc. in 1970.

During the 1970s, assistance was provided to approximately 45,000 persons in programs ranging from family counseling, emergency assistance, geriatrics, adoptions and pregnancy counseling, refugee services, child care, and social ministries.

In August of 1975, the Refugee Resettlement Program, funded by the United States Catholic Conference, began and resettled approximately 3,000 refugees from 1978 to the early 80s. In response to the turmoil in Southeast Asia, refugees were mostly from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

In 1977, Bishop James D. Niedergeses appointed Sister Andrea Vaughan, D.C. as the third executive director of Catholic Charities and first female to hold this position within the Diocese.

The 80s

In the fall of 1980, the Diocese of Nashville, in conjunction with monies granted by HUD, completed Villa Maria Manor, a 214-unit apartment complex for low income older adults or handicapped citizens. In August of 1990 Catholic Charities became the managing agent for this complex.

In 1983 Charities joined with Assumption and St. Vincent de Paul parishes to open an office in the North Nashville area. The program provides direct service to the population of North Nashville which includes many older adults and single parents living below the poverty level. In the beginning, this office was staffed with volunteers and one sister from the Daughters of Charity.

In 1984 Charities opened the Adult Day Care program for frail older adults. At that time this was the only one of its kind in the Middle Tennessee area. 

In October of 1986 Bishop James D. Niedergeses appointed William P. Sinclair as the fourth director of Catholic Charities. Mr. Sinclair was the first lay person to serve in this position.

In September of 1988 the Diocese of Knoxville was formed leaving Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc. to serve the 36 counties of Middle Tennessee.

In 1986 the CHAP (Creating Hope by Assisting Parents) program was established to provide crisis intervention to families whose children are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. This program duplicated the successful program (Columbus Home Abuse Prevention) designed by the Knoxville Charities staff. The major funding for this program is provided by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Tennessee OCJP.

The staff of Charities grew to 75 during the 1980s. Charities provided a social worker for Middle Tennessee Parish Outreach. Counseling was provided in parochial schools. Catholic Charities and six other agencies formed a coalition and received funding from United Way to begin a Living at Home program designed to enable older adults to remain in their homes and maintain their independence. Refugee Resettlement received grants from the Tennessee Department of Human Services for support services to refugees over an extended period of time and for a job development program. Pregnancy & Adoption services continued to place children maintaining an approved waiting list of 45 to 50 homes seeking an adoptive placement. Hundreds of young women received pregnancy counseling. Adoption was one of the options offered while most elected to parent their child.

The 90s

In 1990, Catholic Charities was approached by the Department of Human Services requesting that we open an office in the Clarksville area to make permanent plans for children in their custody by providing intense casework services to the families of these children. The families being served have a history of child abuse and or neglect. Immaculate Conception Church provides office space for this program.

In 1990, at the request of Bishop Niedergeses, an AIDS Spiritual Companion program was begun by Catholic Charities using trained volunteers to provide support and spiritual companionship to persons who had tested HIV positive and their families.

In 1990, a transportation program was added to the North Nashville Outreach program with the donation and funding of a 15 passenger van from St. Thomas Hospital. This service provided transportation for older adult and low income families in that area who have no other means of transportation.

In 1991, the Tennessee Department of Human Services contracted with Catholic Charities to provide M.A.P.P. (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) training to individuals and families who had applied through the Department of Human Services to adopt or foster special needs children.

The following year, we were granted funds from Baby Doe to begin the CHAP PLUS program. These funds were mandated by congress for children with special needs and their families to provide home-based counseling and parenting training for those families who may be at risk for abuse and have a frail child or child with a handicapping condition.

In the five-year period from 1962 through 1967, Catholic Charities served a total of 3,500 persons statewide. In 1991, Catholic Charities provided 21,000 hours of professional services. Volunteers contributed over 10,000 hours. 10,000 people were served in Middle Tennessee. 

The 2000s

In 2000, our pregnancy counseling and adoption department, collaborated with Family and Children’s Services, Oasis Center, and the Vanderbilt Law clinic to start the Relative Caregiver program. CC provided material assistance to relatives caring for the children of other family members.

During the year 2000, 23 Sudanese Young Adults (commonly referred to as “Lost Boys”) arrived in Nashville and were resettled through Catholic Charities.

2002 marked the 40th anniversary of Catholic Charities, which had begun with two part-time employees and a budget of $41,000. By then the agency had 110 full time staff members and was awarded the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Award for religious institutions from the local chapter of the National Council on Christians and Jews.

In 2003 Catholic Charities assumed the management of Loaves and Fishes, a hunger relief programs started in 1983 by Fr. Charlie Strobel at Holy Name Church. Later in 2003 Catholic Charities launched its first web site.

In 2004, Catholic Charities operated Families First, North Nashville Outreach, Short-Term Emergency Assistance and Bridges to Care. It began the Refugee Youth Program with a desire to help 12 young refugees adapt to the U.S. school system offering tutoring, test preparation, and social activities.

In early 2005, the North Nashville Outreach Program relocated to 2209 Buchanan Street. The Adoption Support and Preservation (ASAP) program was launched in 2005 to provide counseling and support to families adopting children who were formerly in state custody.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf coast in 2005, Catholic Charities provided services to more than 1,700 evacuees who were relocated to the Middle Tennessee area. Later in the fall of 2007, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) contracted with Catholic Charities to provide case management services for evacuee families in Davidson County still needing permanent housing arrangements.

In 2006 Caring Choices initiated the Healthy Marriage, Healthy Family program to assist adoptive parents of special needs children in developing better communication skills and in reducing the stress of caring for their family. This program was launched under a contract with Harmony Adoptions, Inc. in East Tennessee.

After 11 years as a direct contractor to the State of Tennessee, the Families First program at Catholic Charities became a subcontractor of Maximus and transitioned to a new program format, Tennessee Works. Launched in 2007, the Tennessee Works program requires that clients be actively engaged in a minimum of 30 hours of activity each week that leads to employment. The program offers training and job opportunities to clients at local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

In 2007 Caring Choices and Social Services consolidated their offices in Clarksville by moving into a building offered by Immaculate Conception church.

The Catholic Charities Campaign to Reduce Poverty was implemented locally in 2007 as part of a national campaign through Catholic Charities USA to reduce poverty in half by the year 2020. Through this campaign Catholic Charities focused on advocacy to change the political, social, and economic conditions that cause poverty. Catholic Charities became one of 14 community partner organizations that participated in the Nashville Poverty Reduction Symposium in September 2008. Nearly 500 people attended representing businesses, government, foundations, non-profits, faith-based groups, and individuals. After the symposium seven action groups were formed and charged with the creation of Nashville’s Poverty Reduction Initiative.

In March 2008, Catholic Charities was selected by the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to manage and disburse federal funding for refugee services throughout Tennessee. Catholic Charities became the administrator of this program after the Tennessee Department of Human Services decided to cease its participation in the statewide refugee program. A new department was established, the Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR) to fulfill Catholic Charities’ responsibilities as the designated interim replacement for the State of Tennessee in providing refugee services.

In the fall of 2008 the two offices of Hispanic Family Services were consolidated into a larger space at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in South Nashville. The program is now called South Nashville Family Resource Center and moved in 2020 to Conexión Americas’ Casa Azafrán.

In March 2010 Catholic Charities, in partnership with Catholic Charities USA, hosted one of 10 regional Poverty Summits across the nation, at the Curb Event Center of Belmont University. The main focus of the summit was how to reduce poverty in the U.S.  Catholic Charities Adoption Support and Preservation program received an award from Catholic Charities USA for their outstanding work in reducing poverty among children.

In May 2010 the city of Nashville experienced a 100-year flood, affecting the core downtown business district, as well as thousands in neighborhoods who were displaced for months. Catholic Charities became the lead agency in long-term recovery for affected residents. Funded through United Way’s Restore the Dream initiative, case workers worked with flood survivors, in concert with diocesan parishes and community groups.

Bill Sinclair retired from Catholic Charities in 2016, after 25 years as director and 31 years of continuous service to the agency. He oversaw the consolidation and move of most Catholic Charities offices to the Catholic Pastoral Center in 2015, also home to offices for the Diocese of Nashville. Bill was succeeded by Pam Russo in late 2016 and oversaw Catholic Charities through February of 2019. Judy K. Orr joined Catholic Charities as executive director in May 2019.