Sister Maureen Joyce and Sister Mary Ann LoGiudice (r.) in Sister Maureen’s office at the Joyce Center (formerly Maternity Center)
Sister Maureen Joyce and Sister Mary Ann LoGiudice (r.) in Sister Maureen’s office at the Joyce Center (formerly Maternity Center)
Social activist and 20th-century author Dorothy Canfield Fisher once said: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

That statement, while first spoken almost 100 years ago, still carries weight to this day. Being a mother is more than just a title, it is the embodiment of care, safety and love. For Catholic Charities’ Community Maternity Services, being “mother” to their clients is at the heart of the agency’s mission. The program and its staff have been like parents to the hundreds of young women and parents they have helped since its founding in 1971.

Now, CMS is celebrating a remarkable milestone: its 50th anniversary since the opening of its first program. From its inception, the Catholic Charities’ agency has strived to provide pregnant teens, young mothers and families with shelter, education, mental-health assistance and overall care as they learn the many facets of motherhood.

“It’s such a great agency, it’s why I never left,” said Jackie Buff-Rogers, executive director for Community Maternity Services. “I’ve been here since 1990, so 31 years. I loved it so much, I never left.”

An organization under Catholic Charities, CMS started off as the Sister Maureen Joyce Center, founded by the late Sister Maureen A. Joyce, RSM. The center served as a single residential program providing services to pregnant adolescents. 

Fifty years later and the agency has expanded beyond its single home and offers a number of services, including community-based outreach services, group residence and family care for children, prevention services, support for families at risk, and adoption, foster care and respite services.
Buff-Rogers noted that CMS is always looking for how to best meet the needs of young teens and young mothers in the area, even if it means adapting its work.

“One of the things I reflect back on is the agency’s ability to adapt to the changing needs of the community,” she said. “I think it’s dating back to Sister Maureen, who was very visionary and carried that vision through the years. I had the great pleasure of knowing Sister Maureen, and she was a remarkable person. She was constantly trying to turn out programs to serve very vulnerable populations.”

At the time of CMS’s founding, teen pregnancy rates in upstate New York were on the rise, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. On top of that, the U.S. was just coming down from some of its highest rates of teen pregnancy on record, with 166 births per 1,000 teen girls 18 to 19 years old in 1960.

“It all dates back to the early days and that set the stage for our development as an agency,” Buff-Rogers said. “(Sister Maureen) recognized the need was significant in the community.”

As rates dropped and needs changed, the center began looking beyond sheltering pregnant adolescents and started a community outreach program, providing at-home care and support for mothers. The community-based outreach program provides home-based support services to pregnant teens and young mothers. Clients receive parenting education and guidance from a caseworker who can provide goal planning, education support, transportation, childbirth education, infant care, child development and life skills.

“I don’t think people realize a lot of the support these young moms need,” said Susan Hughes, program director for Warren/Washington counties.
Washington County has one the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. Coupled with a lack of public transportation for teens to get to doctors’ appointments, and the need can feel overwhelming for caseworkers. Still, Hughes says that the staff at CMS remain dedicated to their work.

“It’s not just a job, it’s a mission,” Hughes said. “Not all of our clients, but a majority do live in poverty … Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you deserve less. We were taught to help your neighbor, and that’s just what CMS is.”

In 1987, CMS took a noble and unprecedented step with the opening of the Farano Center for Children, founded by Sister Maureen and the late Father Michael A. Farano, who died this March.

The Center was born from the “border baby” crisis that grappled New York City in the 1980s. Dozens of babies in downstate hospitals were abandoned after birth by their parents, many of whom struggled with drug addiction and couldn’t properly parent their child. Hospitals struggled to connect babies with the proper social services, and in the meantime, nurses and doctors raised the babies inside the hospitals, many of whom were born with HIV or AIDS as a result of the ongoing AIDS epidemic.

The Farano Center was the first licensed home in New York State designed to care for foster babies and children diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

“That was pretty visionary, because at that time there was so much fear around HIV and AIDS,” Buff-Rogers said. “There was so much stigma attached to it, and they threw caution to the wind and opened up this small group home.”

In a 1987 article published in The Evangelist, Sister Maureen discussed the opening of the Farano Center, noting that she wasn’t worried about contracting AIDS but was concerned about the impact of her staff caring for children with a terminal disease.

“People attracted to working with babies are nurturing people who see a future for them. They become attached to them and their deaths will be difficult to accept,” she said.

Today, the Farano Center serves foster children with mental health, behavioral or emotional needs who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect: “It’s a different vision but we’re still serving the youth in the community,” added Buff-Rogers.

Sister Maureen passed the torch of executive director to Sister Mary Ann LoGiudice, RSM, a good friend and colleague who worked closely with CMS from the start. Both women, and the impacts of their time at CMS, are remembered to this day.

“Sister Maureen and Sister Mary Ann, despite the fact that they were both nuns and weren’t mothers biologically, they were like mothers to many kids over the years,” Buff-Rogers said. “We still have people coming back saying … they changed my life.”

As times continue to change, Buff-Rogers is confident that CMS will be around to help with whatever growing needs face their community: “We’re always challenging, evaluating and checking in with consumers about what needs should be met, and that’s a process that’s going to continue for years to come.”

“I find a lot of honor and privilege in serving the folks that we serve,” Buff-Rogers added. “That families and children are able to open their hearts and let us in so that we can help them through some really hard times. I think that’s hard for people, so I find that it’s just remarkable.

“None of us would be doing this job if there wasn’t that gratification and knowing you really helped somebody, and we do that day in and day out. I just find that to be a privilege and an honor.”