On April 24, 1917, a Special Act of the New York State Legislature incorporated Catholic charities all across our state. In Rochester, Catholic Family Center (CFC) was founded "to assist immigrants, find employment for men released from prison, serve unmarried mothers and their infants, and provide material goods for the poor."

Since 1917 years we have continued this work, and have added and evolved our programs to meet the changing needs of hundreds of thousands in our community, non-Catholics and Catholics alike.

In 1972, a TV program exposes conditions at Willowbrook State School, a New York State institution for persons with developmental disabilities. Willowbrook Consent Decree is signed, making a State commitment to a program of community placement of persons with developmental disabilities. Bishop Matthew Clark of the Diocese of Rochester soon thereafter commissioned a task force to determine the unmet needs of persons with disabilities within the Diocese. Catholic Charities Community Services is commissioned to become a provider of residential services for persons with developmental disabilities.

Without ceasing, our programs have evolved to provide more emphasis on addressing the barriers that prevent people from moving to self-sufficiency in today's environment. In 2016, CFC was selected to lead an adult mentoring program in several city neighborhoods in partnership with other public and non-profit agencies. The ultimate goal of adult mentoring is to help people living in poverty overcome the barriers that have been preventing them from securing and retaining living-wage employment.

Today, our programs have become more collaborative and focused on systemic change to help our clients attain enduring independence and community. Looking forward, our collective agency is positioned to take a lead role in responding to some of our most critical community issues and to role model the power of collective impact as we partner with like-minded agencies.

Together, we believe that we can break the cycle of generational poverty in our community, enabling people to not just stabilize, but begin to thrive. Together, we can walk with all who need us the most.

Learn about the deep history of service of Catholic Family Center.

40 year anniversary story of Catholic Charities Family and Community Services

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Our History

A look back at 100 years of serving the community, and a look forward to CFC's continued impact in the coming decades. Catholic Family Center makes big changes for people, from crisis stabilization to enabling self-sufficiency and thriving families.


Bishop Thomas Hickey

First Board President of Rochester Catholic Charities Association, 1912.


Kathleen d’Olier

Executive Director of Catholic Charity Guild (now CFC). A nurse in WWI and Director of the American Junior Red Cross, Ms. d'Olier's passion was to serve and improve the welfare of single or widowed mothers and their children.

1917 - 1952

Charles & Genesee Settlement Houses

Resettling Italian Immigrants and German Refugees

What was the purpose of a settlement house? CFC had staff who went out into the neighborhood and visited with families, organized after-school activities for the children, offered a pre-school program in the mornings and afternoons, particularly for children whose parents worked. CFC offered a summer day camp, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troups, after-school activities, conducted “English for foreigners” classes and a well-baby clinic. Basically, the purpose was to do anything the neighborhood needs to thrive, by working in collaboration with the best of the community resources.


St. Joseph's Villa

Opened by the Sisters of St. Joseph to care for and guide orphaned children, "We will take care of you."


Mary Hannick

Director Genesee Settlement House, 1947-1971. CFC dedicated a new residential drug treatment home in Newark, NY, Hannick Hall, for women and children, 1993

Mary Hannick began working at the Charles Settlement House in 1935. When the Executive Director, Elsie Strebber, left to get married (at the time, married women could not work for Catholic Charities), Mary was given her job. As Director in 1947, Ms. Hannick received an annual salary of $1,200.


Our Name

The Family and Children's Department of Catholic Charities was renamed Catholic Family Center.

In 1950, reflecting a national move toward family–oriented services, we changed our name to Catholic Family Center. More and more, our services demonstrated a primary goal of preservation and strengthening of the family, and with emphasis on prevention. During the ensuing decades, our mission expanded through programs focused on strengthening families, and the expansion of immigrant services.


DePaul Child Guidance Clinic

Under the direction of Dr. Albert Sullivan, DePaul Child Guidance Clinic for Catholic School Children opened its doors.


Hungarian Immigrants, Cuban refugees, Southeast Asian refugees

From serving Hungarian refugees fleeing the 1956 uprising, to Cuban refugees in the 1960s escaping the reign of Fidel Castro, to the creation of the Southeast Asian Refugee Program in 1975, CFC has continuously adapted our refugee services to meet the needs of our world, our country and our community.

1950s - 1970s

Catholic Charities

St. Joseph's Villa, Charles Settlement House, Genesee Settlement House & DePaul Clinic incorporate separately from Catholic Charities, to become independent agencies.

1976 - 1979

Liberty Manor

First substance abuse residential program for women and their young children in upstate NY


Carolyn Portanova

CEO, 1989-2011, Athena award winner for her enormous contributions to the larger community (2005).

Serving as CEO for 22 years, Ms. Portanova led the growth of the agency from $6 million in 1989 to its current position as the largest multi-service organization in Monroe County. Ms. Portanova served as Director of Catholic Family Center’s Restart Substance Abuse Department from 1983 to 1989, where she developed a nationally recognized residential substance abuse treatment model for women and their children.

During her time with CFC, Ms. Portanova was widely recognized and awarded for her outstanding contributions to the field of substance abuse treatment, her work with interfaith community action and her innovation in the delivery of human services. Her positive impact in our community and throughout the state is recognized even today.


Jack Balinsky

Becomes Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester.

Jack began his professional career working at an inner city settlement house, The Huntington Family Center, in Syracuse. Subsequently, he served as the Mayor’s Youth Coordinator, until beginning work on September 1, 1971 with Catholic Charities in Syracuse. For the past forty years, Jack has continued his association with Catholic Charities in New York State. For his contributions to Catholic Charities across the county and state, Jack was recognized in September 2010, when he was presented a Catholic Charities USA Centennial Medal.

1992 - present

Healthy Sisters' Soup & Bean Works is founded.

"From Dependence to Independence," Healthy Sisters' Soup & Bean Works provides a nurturing work environment for women in recovery by providing the opportunity to develop self-confidence and learn the job skills needed to successfully reenter the workforce.


A New Office

CFC relocates to 87 N. Clinton Ave.

During our Centennial Year, Catholic Family Center will open a new office, housing some of our Restart Substance Use programs and our Executive Offices, at 79 North Clinton. CFC is grateful to be a part of the economic development of downtown Rochester.


CFC Grows

Acquisition of Family Services of Rochester, strengthening community-based mental health, drug treatment and elder services.


Our Current CEO

Marlene Bessette, CEO, 2014 - present, named Non-Profit Executive of the Year during the 2015 Greater Rochester Awards in large part due to her personal leadership in our community to attack poverty.

Prior to joining CFC, Ms. Bessette worked for Xerox Corporation for 28 years in a variety of senior management roles. Marlene joined CFC in January of 2013 following a volunteer experience where direct exposure to the challenges of poverty in Rochester convinced her to work in the 'for-purpose' rather than 'for-profit' world.


Mentors for Success

Mentors for Success, (RMAPI) 2015 - future. The power of collective impact. Together, we can transform our city.

During this pilot, 2 different coaching offerings will be provided: Bridges to Success and Family Independence Initiative. The ultimate goal of adult mentoring is to help people living in poverty overcome the barriers that have been preventing them from securing and retaining living-wage employment.


Who are we?

A quick overview of Family and Community Services

Employees & Volunteers
Walking with all who need us