The National Catholic School of Social Service has a rich history of responding to social problems in America through the education and training of social workers. The school was established in 1918 under the sponsorship of the National Catholic Welfare Conference to train women and clergy for diocesan social service programs. Even before then, its founders taught scientific charity (forerunner to social work) for 26 years under the National Council of Catholic Women. With the sudden outbreak of World War I, the Catholic Church in America found itself in the position of leading relief services. The National Catholic War Council was the Church’s response to its sacred obligation to care for a suffering nation. On April 18, 1917, the Board of Trustees of The Catholic University of America, led by Cardinal Gibbons, issued a letter of proclamation to President Woodrow Wilson, pledging the Church’s service to the nation. Cardinal Gibbons then tasked Father John J. Burke, who had extensive experience preparing clergy for wartime ministry, with convening a conference at The Catholic University of America in order to form a Catholic response to the nation’s social issues. So it was that the National Catholic Welfare Conference was established.
In order to train staff from dioceses across the United States to respond to domestic social problems, the National Catholic Welfare Conference established a committee to design and implement a training school for Catholic war workers. On October 18, 1918, Frs. William J. Kirby and John M. Cooper, both of whom were faculty at The Catholic University of America, submitted a plan for implementation, which was immediately approved. On November 25, 1918, the National Service School of Women, operated by the National Catholic War Council, admitted its first cohort of students. Shortly thereafter, the school was renamed the National Catholic School of Social Service; in 1923, NCSSS was accredited by the American Association of Schools of Social Work The Catholic University of America accepted NCSSS as an affiliated graduate program.
From its humble beginnings, the school has grown to become a leader in social work higher education in the United States. The identity of NCSSS has been and remains brilliantly reflective of the Catholic Church’s expression of charity and justice. In the classroom, through scholarship, and by service to the community and world, faculty of the school concretely actualize the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching: life and human dignity; call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and, care for God’s creation. Arguably, The Catholic University of America would not be as holistically Catholic if it were not for the charity and justice work done at NCSSS within the framework of Catholic Social Teaching.