Catholic Family Service was founded in 1957 with five staff members. Today, more than 100 employees deliver affordable counselling and a wide range of community programs aimed at building strong families.
Catholic Family Service has faithfully upheld Fr. Pat O’Byrne’s legacy of professional and compassionate service to vulnerable Calgarians for 60 years. Fr. Pat was one of the first trained social workers in Calgary. In 1957, he founded Catholic Family Service, employing five staff members to provide pre-marital and individual counselling, adoption services and financial assistance to all faiths and cultures. Fr. Pat had a hand in establishing several interdenominational social agencies in those years, including the Calgary Drop-in Centre.
Within a few years, satellite offices were established in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. These offices closed in the late 1960s, as we evolved to meet changing priorities. Joining the United Way (then called Community Chest) in the 1960s led to a greater focus on community-wide needs. Today, Catholic Family Service employs 100 professionals who deliver affordable counselling and a wide range of community programs aimed at building strong families.
A succession of dedicated CEOs — only five in 60 years — has ensured that Fr. Pat’s legacy lives on. Frank Bach was CEO from 1964 to 1968. During his tenure, we became recognized for the professionalism of our staff and our willingness to work cooperatively with other agencies in the community. Under Jack Kirley’s leadership from 1968 to 1984, we formed a partnership with the Calgary Board of Education to provide services to “unwed mothers.” This successful collaboration continues today at the Louise Dean Centre, where we provide counselling, life skills training, on-site child care and financial support to pregnant and parenting teenagers while they complete their high school education.
Greg Campbell was appointed CEO in 1984, serving for the next 27 years. Greg worked with staff to develop programs that connect families within their communities. Under Greg’s leadership, innovative programs were launched such as Crew (formerly Athletes Mentoring), matching youth aged 10 – 14 with student-athlete mentors, and Never Too Late, an academic and social support program for adult learners as they prepare to write their high school equivalency exams. Motherhood Matters (formerly named Volunteers Teaching Important Parent Skills (V-TIPS) and Teen Parent Friend) continues today, as does the Family & Schools Together Program (F&ST), an international school-based family skills program that we brought to Calgary 21 years ago. Under Greg Campbell, volunteers were welcomed as valued partners into the organization (now 400 strong!) We also launched our fundraising arm, the Unlocking Potential (UP) Foundation, during that time. Greg handed the reins to Patricia Jones in 2011. Patricia has championed greater involvement of all fathers, regardless of age, in our services, including the research-based Fathers Moving Forward program which supports the fathers of babies born to young mothers attending Louise Dean Centre. Collaborative approaches continue today through our innovative finance model for students at Louise Dean Centre (a partnership with Terra Centre, Edmonton and the Alberta Government) and our partnership with Carya offering Functional Family Therapy to the community.
Catholic Family Service has never strayed from its original goal to strengthen families through marriage preparation. In partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, we offer a Marriage Preparation Weekend to couples planning the sacrament of marriage. Grounded in Catholic values, this weekend is open to couples of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.
Among the many funders, partners and donors — far too many to list here — supporting Fr. Pat’s vision over the years, one in particular stands out in our 60th anniversary year. Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 55, Catholic Teachers Charities invites teachers in the Calgary Catholic School District to allocate a donation from each pay cheque for distribution among local charities. Since Catholic Family Service started benefiting from these donations in 2000, we have received more than one million dollars from Catholic teachers. Thank you so much for this amazing support!
A lot may change in six decades, but some things never change. As we celebrate, we are eternally grateful for the vision and leadership of Fr. Pat O’Byrne, our staff and volunteers, and the thousands of Calgarians who have stood beside us to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live the life they want.