Catholic Charities staff reflects on end of Refugee Resettlement program

Expresses thanks to parishes that have supported effort

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

Photo: Chance Muhango (left), a refugee living in Cedar Rapids, with Caleb Gates, his Catholic Charities case manager.

DUBUQUE — As Catholic Charities prepares to end its Refugee Resettlement program in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, staff recently took a few moments to reflect on their ministry and to express their gratitude to the people in Catholic parishes and other parts of the community who have supported the efforts.

“For me, the ultimate reward with this program and this ministry was seeing families reunited,” said Mary Ready, Refugee Resettlement manager for the agency. “We worked (with those who had) U.S. ties. The refugees who arrived here always had family.”

Ready remembers one particularly heartwarming scene that will always stay with her.

“(There was) one airport arrival where a father got to meet his son for the first time because his wife was pregnant when they were separated,” she recalled. “Getting to witness those moments and to hear families say they finally feel at home and they’re happy to be back with their family, that’s the most memorable pieces for me.”

After 77 years, Catholic Charities is ending its Refugee Resettlement program primarily because of a drop in the number of refugees entering the nation and a change in requirements for the minimum amount of cases an agency must handle per year to at least 100. (Scroll down to see the press release below this article for more on this).

“I do think it’s heartbreaking that we won’t be able to provide those reunions but … we’re hopeful someone else will be able to and refugees throughout Eastern Iowa will still be reunited with their loved ones,” said Ready.

Catholic Charities has been providing key assistance to refugees for a 90-period after they arrive as part of an agreement with the U.S. government. They received federal funds for this purpose as one of several approved refugee resettlement providers in Iowa. In December, they began assisting a family and another individual, and will stay with these cases until the 90-period is concluded. After that, their resettlement program will end. In the past year, the number of refugees assisted was 49. That’s down from 94 the previous year.

“Prior to these December arrivals, we had not resettled a family since June and so our program has been slowed down substantially by these decreasing numbers,” said Tracy Morrison, executive director of Catholic Charities.

On a conference call Dec. 20, a transition team discussed how the close of the program would proceed. Steve Schmitz, the social ministry liaison for the agency, recalled how his role in the program allowed him to witness so much good in the communities accepting the newcomers — primarily in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.

“The aspect I appreciated most about the program was the opportunity to dive into parish community engagement,” said Schmitz. “Waterloo is a prime example of embracing the Burmese community and working through the challenges of that unique expansion of their school system and transportation systems, housing and job markets. It was just amazing to see all that come together. It brought everyone to the table to address the challenges. Hawkeye Community College built programs to help the Burmese but it blossomed into a larger program …”

Catholics from the communities in which the refugees were settled have played an important role in recent years, doing everything from mentoring refugees to providing material support, according to Ready. “The volunteers are really the ones that help them go from surviving to thriving and becoming comfortable in the community,” she said.

Morrison, Ready and the rest of the Catholic Charities staff wished to thank the following parishes in particular for their efforts to aid refugee resettlement:

Collected Donations

• St. John XXIII in Cedar Rapids

• Immaculate Conception/St. Joseph in Gilbertville/Raymond

• St. Patrick in Cedar Falls

• All Saints in Cedar Rapids Collected Donations and Mentored/Volunteered with Families

• St Mary in Waverly

• St. Pius X in Cedar Rapids

• Sacred Heart in Oelwein

• St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hiawatha (They were waiting for a family to arrive in Cedar Rapids, but have still collected donations).


• Sacred Heart in Waterloo (Allowed Catholic Charities to have community meeti­ngs there every other month to discuss refugee and immigrant needs in the Cedar Valley).

• St. Wenceslaus in Cedar Rapids (Allowed Catholic Charities to have five-week, four days a week job readiness class in a parish center classroom).

• Sacred Heart in Osage (Fourth grade class collected donations as a Lenten project and spent the year learning about refugees).

Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program employed three full-time staff and two AmeriCorps members. There were also other staff of the agency that didn’t work in the program directly, but their jobs will be impacted. “Some employees will be laid off, others will be transitioned into other ministries,” said Morrison. Catholic Charities will continue to help newcomers to the country through the agency’s legal aid program for immigrants. Morrison reported that demand for legal services is so high that the charity is looking into hiring another attorney. Catholic Charities would also be open to reopening the Refugee Resettlement program should conditions change, according to Morrison. There are several other organizations in Iowa that will continue to resettle refugees into the future.


Catholic Charities to end Refugee Resettlement program

DUBUQUE — Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque is ending its 77-year-old Refugee Resettlement minis­try. Recent local and national changes have significantly decreased the number of people needing the organization’s assistance to legally establish roots in Eastern Iowa.

The primary reason for the program’s closure is the U.S. Department of State cutbacks which decrease the number of refugees who can legally seek refuge in the United States from 110,000 to 45,000 annually. Additionally, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration recently announced that all refugee resettlement sites across the country will be required to resettle at least 100 refugees annually in order to stay open.

These federal changes are occurring at a time when the needs of local refugees are also being met by others who provide reception and placement services. These circumstances mean that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque will not be able to meet the new minimal threshold required.

“Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque has been resettling refugees from all over the world in Eastern Iowa since 1940, primarily in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo,” stated Tracy Morrison, executive director. “It’s a loss for our entire community.”

“Our faith guides us to believe in the dignity of all persons and the need to protect the most vulnerable, especially refugees and migrants. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the ending of this ministry,” said Archbishop Michael Jackels.

Catholic Charities remains committed to supporting refugees and immigrants through their Immigration Legal Services ministry available in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Hampton, Marshalltown, New Hampton, Postville and Waterloo. Visit for more on what the charitable organization does.