Our history

It all started with just one man. From humble beginnings in Germany 1897, Lorenz Werthmann founded the first Caritas. The organisation, named after a Latin word meaning love and compassion, grew to become one of the largest aid and development agencies in the world. In the 20th Century, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, laid the foundations for an international network. In 1954, Caritas Internationalis was officially recognised.

In 2014 we turn 50! Join us in celebrating our fifty year journey of love and compassion.

50 years of love and compassion

In 1956, Caritas responded to the Hungarian uprising and membership quickly spread throughout Europe, North and Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania.

In June 1964, Caritas began in Australia as the Catholic Overseas Relief Committee (CORC). It came at a time when nations under colonial control were struggling for independence, and people’s awareness of global humanitarian issues were expanding, along with increased technology and access to international communications.

The initial focus of CORC was to distribute funds the Catholic Church had received for overseas relief from the United Nation’s ‘Freedom from Hunger’ campaign. However three months previous, the first Lenten appeals for overseas relief were held in the Archdioceses of Adelaide and Sydney, and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.

As the agency comes under the auspices of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC), in 1965 the organisers of these appeals encouraged the ACBC to initiate a national Lenten appeal. This very soon became known as Project Compassion and, in 1966, CORC became known as the Australian Catholic Relief (ACR).

Roy Boylan with the first Project Compassion box 1966

During this time the pace of global social change was increasing and the Catholic Church adjusted to a greater focus on development and social justice following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and Papal encyclical ‘Populorum Progressio’. Archbishop Oscar Romero, a leading figure of this new spirit, and man behind the thought, “Aspire not to have more, but to be more,” was assassinated in 1980.

Inspired by the profound words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “Aspire not to have more, but to be more,” the Caritas Australia Be More Challenge encourages you to BE MORE and be a part of an active online community.

ACR continued to expand across Australia, and as the agency developed, it began to see that responding to emergency situations was only a small part of the response to poverty. It began to focus more on human development and programs which built community self-reliance. In doing this, it gave its partners the space and encouragement to make their own decisions, giving support and developing an international exchange of ideas, rather than dictating terms.

Within Australia, ACR saw that it had a responsibility to support development in marginalised communities. However decision-makers soon realised that donating money was only a small percentage of any positive change. To make bigger and more positive changes, they had to increase Australians’ awareness and knowledge of the problems occurring in the developing world.

Significant resources were put into programs within the Catholic school system, parishes and the general community. These drew attention to global poverty, inequality, injustice and the Christian responsibility to take action in response to these issues.

In October 1995, after consulting key supporters, the ACR National Committee recommended a name change. The ACBC Bishops agreed and on 1 July 1996, the agency became known as Caritas Australia. The agency incorporated in October 2020.

A non-government, not-for-profit organisation working in over 27 countries around the world, Caritas Australia is part of Caritas Internationalis which comprises a network of 165 Catholic relief aid, development and social service organisations in over 200 countries and territories.

Five Fast Facts

  • Lorenz Worthmann began Caritas in 1897, Germany.
  • Founded in Australia in 1964 as the Catholic Overseas Relief Committee.
  • In 1996, the name changed to Caritas, which means love and compassion in Latin.
  • The initial focus was to respond to disasters with funding. The emphasis is now on long-term development and self-sustainability in vulnerable communities.
  • Caritas Australia helps the poorest of the poor in over 27 countries around the world and is part of an international network comprising over 200 countries and territories.