Catholic Social Service office opened 50 years ago in Great Bend

By Tim Wenzl
Southwest Kansas Catholic

Editor’s Note: Catholic Social Service hosted a Chamber of Commerce Coffee on March 5 in Great Bend to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of its office in that community. Coverage of the occasion will appear in the March 22 issue.
Catholic Social Service recognizes March 15, 1965 as its official founding date. It was on that day that the agency opened its doors at an office at 10th and Washington in Great Bend.
Father Walter Weiss was the founding executive director. He received his master’s degree in social work at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His master’s dissertation was an investigation of the need for a Catholic Social Service agency in the Dodge City diocese.
The office for Catholic Social Service was located in Great Bend due to the fact that in 1965, one third of the Catholic population in the Diocese of Dodge City was within a 25-mile area around that city.
The Most Rev. Marion F. Forst, bishop of Dodge City at the time Catholic Social Service was founded, announced the opening of the agency in a circular letter to his priests dated Feb. 27, 1965:
“An expanded Catholic Charities venture by the Diocese of Dodge City will officially get underway on March 15, 1965. On that date the office will be opened.
“How this will work out only God knows. Seemingly the various County Welfare Offices have sought and welcome the diocese’s going into this work. But give us a prayer that the work that’s done is real charity, and truly reflects the Church’s responsibility to ‘love our neighbors.’
“As we launch this Social Service venture, may I add this personal note of thanks to the priests who in the past have carried on the diocese’s charity program. Mostly it was a service to unwed mothers and adoptive parents. Yet Father Gilbert Herrman and Father Eugene van Sloun did a magnificent job in serving anyone at any time or place as best they were able.”
Initially, the Board of Directors was composed of 23 members from the areas of Great Bend, St. John, Larned, Albert, Hoisington, Ellinwood, La Crosse, and Ness City.
The first board included: Bob Rychlec, Frank Schartz, Joseph Mermis, Jr, Clair Cavanaugh, M.D., Larry Keenan, Frances Esfeld, Dave O’Neill, Zenon Lopez, Alfonso Bricoe, Sister M. Constance, Sister M. Ancilla, Father Richard Konda, Msgr. George Husmann, all of Great Bend; Father Bernard Groome and Polly Taylor, St. John; W.R. Brenner, M.D., and Ron Scott, Larned; R.J. Pivonka, Albert; Cody Ochs, Hoisington; Ed Robl and Keith Rickert, Ellinwood; Paul Shramek, Ness City; and Ben Enslinger, La Crosse.
The agency offered service in the areas of “marriage and family counseling, homemaker services, adoptions and aid to unwed mothers.” When the office opened, it was the only agency west of Wichita offering marriage and family counseling on a professional basis.
The agency now has offices located in each of the three deaneries in the diocese. Articles on the services developed and nurtured over the last 50 years have been featured in the diocesan newspaper since November of 2014 and will continue this year.
Throughout its history, Catholic Social Service has worked in the areas of adoption, child care, housing, troubled youth, alcoholism, parenting education, refugee services, children and spousal abuse and prevention, emergency assistance, pregnancy counseling, aging, foster and respite care for children with disabilities, search and reunion services for adult adoptees, birth parents and their families and family counseling.
The mission of Catholic Social Service has been to reach out to those most in need. The agency advocates social justice with the philosophy that people should have equal access to resources, services, and opportunities that are essential for the accomplishment of life-tasks.