Guest Insights | 50 Years – A Look Back: Agency played a key role in Vietnamese resettlement

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By Veronica Ambuul, Colorado Catholic Herald Editor

Jerry KnaufOne of the first executive directors of Catholic Community Services in Colorado Springs was Jerry Knauf, who led the agency for three years in the mid-1970s. Knauf had put down roots in the Colorado Springs community, and he and his wife had adopted their oldest child through Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver, so he was a natural fit for the role.

“My dad worked for the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Emporia, Kansas,” Knauf said. “When the Modern Woodmen of America Property was donated (to the order), the sisters asked my father to come to Colorado Springs and operate the heating system. My family moved to Colorado Springs in 1953, when I was in first grade.”

In the early 1970s, Knauf worked with Father Tom Woerth — a Denver priest who was serving at Holy Trinity Parish — facilitating retreats and other youth-ministry programs.  When Father Dunn asked him to take over as executive director of Catholic Community Services, budget counseling for low-income residents was the main program run by the agency, but Father Dunn wanted Catholic Community Services to expand the scope of its social outreach.

“That was a time of a lot of social change. Father Dunn wanted us to reach out to minority communities,” Knauf said. “Most of the Hispanic outreach we did (up to that point) was through budget counseling. We hired a nun named Sister Clarita Trujillo, who got involved in a lot of Hispanic issues and worked to bring their concerns to the attention of the Catholic Church.”

Under Knauf’s leadership, Colorado Springs Catholic Community Services also began a program to help low-income elderly residents in the community.

“I got some federal dollars and started a program called the Homemaker Service,” he said. “We would go into the homes of the elderly to provide cleaning and other services.” Catholic Community Services ran the program until 1979 when it was spun off into a separate agency called Home and Health Care Services.

As a subsidiary of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado Springs Catholic Community Services was largely guided by the priorities of its parent organization, Knauf said.

“Twice a month, I would make the trip up there and go to meetings,” he said. “We had no autonomous decision-making until Colorado Springs became a diocese.”

For that reason, in 1975, Catholic Community Services shifted its focus due to the Vietnam War. The Archdiocese of Denver was one of many religious organizations participating in a nationwide Vietnamese resettlement program. Catholic Community Services hired two women who spoke Vietnamese to help refugees from the war-torn country make new homes in Colorado Springs.

“The Catholic Church, along with Lutheran Services and others, were bringing Vietnamese and resettling them in the U.S.,” Knauf said. “The Vietnamese families congregated together, were fiercely independent, and handled a lot of things themselves. However, we handled the logistics of helping them settle in Colorado Springs. That took a lot of effort.”

Knauf left Catholic Community Services after three years as executive director, but he said that he still has fond memories of his time with the agency and his friendship with Father (now Msgr.) Dunn.

“He’s a wonderful man — I just love the guy,” he said.

Msgr. Dunn was integral in the formation of a Catholic Charities office in Colorado Springs.  He also served as the President of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, now called Catholic Charities USA, from 1977-79 and was the Interim Director of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado twice.

The original Article can be found in the Catholic Herald.

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