Guest Insights | Catholic Charities turns 50: A Look Back – Local Catholics Were Key to the Agency’s Founding

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By VERONICA AMBUUL, Colorado Catholic Herald Editor

In 1968, Father Don Dunn was given the assignment of assembling a board of directors for a new branch of Catholic Charities in Colorado Springs, and he approached local organizations that were already working to help the disadvantaged in the community.

One of those groups was the Latin American Educational Foundation, of which Celestino Archuleta — who usually goes by the nickname “Tino” — was a member. As a native of La Garita in Saguache County, Archuleta was familiar with the struggles faced by the many Hispanics that were moving to Colorado Springs from the San Luis Valley and other rural areas during the 1950s and 60s.

“At that time, agricultural corporations were taking over a lot of the small farms, and there was a major move from rural communities to Colorado Springs, for jobs at Fort Carson, for example,” Archuleta said. “I was in the military during the Korean War, so when I came back (to the San Luis Valley), I had the G.I. Bill and got a college education. However, there were few or no professional jobs in the valley other than teaching.”

Archuleta, his wife Marcella, and their baby daughter moved to Colorado Springs in 1960, where he had taken a job as a research scientist with Kaman Sciences. But the transition was far from easy.

“When we first moved to Colorado Springs, we couldn’t find a place to rent. Every time we found one, we would go there to look at it, and (the landlord) immediately saw that we were Hispanic and would say, ‘It’s been rented.’”

The family eventually built a home in Pleasant Valley, a brand new community on the city’s west side. When Archuleta met Father Dunn, he appreciated the young priest’s desire to help the Hispanic community, so when Father Dunn asked him to head up a committee to research migrant adjustment from rural life as part of this new Catholic social organization, he enthusiastically accepted.

“I think he (Father Dunn) was really dedicated to doing something for Hispanics,” Archuleta said. “I remember having a lot of discussions with him as to what could be done.”

Archuleta served for two years on the first board of directors of what was then called Colorado Springs Catholic Social Services. Roughly 35 years later, he and Marcella were named honorary chairpersons of the capital campaign to build a new Marian House Soup Kitchen.

Another member of the first board of directors was Joe Reich, who had been born and raised in Colorado Springs and graduated from Corpus Christi School. Newly married to his wife, Ann, he was working in commercial real estate. His father had been a key player in the local business community. Reich was already familiar with several of the other newly-appointed board members of Colorado Springs Catholic Social Services. He was also good friends with one of the priests named to the board — Msgr. Anthony Elzi, longtime pastor of Corpus Christi Parish. He gladly agreed to serve a two-year term.

“I was totally impressed with Father Dunn. He struck me as being a real leader and a real doer,” Reich said. “There was a sense that we had something to offer.”

It seems like becoming involved in Catholic Charities was a family affair.  Ann Reich not only served on the board of directors in the late 1990s to early 2000s, spending a year as president of the board but has also volunteered consistently at the Marian House Soup Kitchen and spent many years on the St. Patrick’s Day Gala committee.

Father Dunn — who is now a retired monsignor living in Denver — reflected back on the founding of Colorado Springs Catholic Social Services and said, “It was a modest beginning, but there was real interest on the part of the lay people (to get involved),” which, he said, made his job much easier.

That first year, programs focused on child welfare services, budget counseling, and counseling for subsidized homes.  A ministry to the Hispanic community was added in 1970, along with homemaker and senior services.

(Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series on the 50th anniversary of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.) 

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