Catholic Welfare Services started on 20th April 1959. Its first members included representatives from Little Sisters of the Poor, Marymount Vocational School, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Motherhood (FMDM), Canossian Daughters of Charity and the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters. It was headed by Archbishop Michael Olcomendy, with Monsignors Noel Goh and Hippolyte Berthold as his Vice-Presidents. Other members included Dr Joseph Ee Peng Liang (Chairman), Mr Cyril Chew (Honorary Secretary). Gabrielite Brother Albert, Director of Boys’ Town (Honorary Treasurer).
In the 1960s, CWS focused on the clinical, social and welfare needs of the poor and destitute. Food relief programmes, social welfare centres in Queenstown (1964), Jalan Kayu (1966) and Tuas Village (1967) and vocational training centres , were set up. Girls could learn sewing skills and boys picked up electrician skills.
In the 1970s, CWS reached out to the victims of the Bukit Ho Swee fire to improve their living conditions with Nazarene Centre (1969). It also helped to fund the Jurong Town Workers’ Centre run by the Young Christian Workers’ Movement for youths seeking counselling and established a feed-the-family programme for registered and approved needy families. At the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s, CWS was the implementing agency for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and helped the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) prepare the documentation for placement of refugees to the United States. This continued until UNHCR closed down its refugee work programme with CWS in 2007.
Some projects were short-lived. The 15- month old Catholic Welfare Transit Home (May 1969), where CWS helped corrected boys find employment with industries in Jurong , and the Heartville Halfway House (July 1995) meant to serve ex-prisoners and men in crisis, did not last. Others, such as a Prisons Project in 1980, has now become the Roman Catholic Prisons Ministry, formalised in 1992. Another project which started small was the Catholic Aids Response Effort (CARE) which began its services as a lay apostolate ministry on 6th June 1992, to fill the void of discrimination and stigma which people with AIDS are subjected to.
Financial aid has been given in various forms, such as study bursaries in 1977, student loans in 1978 and the CWS Scholarship fund in 2003.
CWS has also supported initiatives by other organizations. It has collaborated with Catholic bodies for the St Vincent Community Home for the aged (1979), Canossville Children’s Home and Day Care Centre (1983), the Good Shepherd Crisis and Rehabilitation Centre (1986) and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary’s Poverello Teen Centre (1992).
In the social services circle, it has collaborated with government bodies such as the South East Community Development Council and the Citizen’s Consultative Committee of Marine Parade to set up the Marine Parade Family Service Centre (2001) and the Good Life@ South East (2002). CWS has also taken over management for two Homes— which are Villa Francis Home for the Aged in 2001, previously run by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM) and the home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, before they left Singapore in 2003. The home has now been renamed St Theresa’s Home.
CWS became a Charity under the Charities Act (1982) in 1985 and has been a member of the Catholic Social and Community Council (CSCC) since 2006 although it is a distinct organization with the status of an Institution of Public Character (IPC). CWS began with Dr Ee Peng Liang at its helm until his death in August 1994. Brother Emmanuel, Director of Boys’ Town, was elected to succeed him the following month. Although he asked to serve for only one year, Brother Emmanuel went on to give 19 years of service as the CWS chairman till October 2013. Mr Thomas Tan was thereafter appointed by the Archbishop to succeed Brother Emmanuel.
After serving Singapore for more than 50 years, in 2012, CWS agreed to be the lead case manager of an upcoming Archdiocesan project designed to bring all Catholic Charities under one roof: the upcoming Agape Village. This will lead to better coordination across the charities for the benefit of the poor. CWS continues its mission to serve with the spirit of the Good Shepherd to lead people to love and fulfilment and the spirit of the Good Samaritan to help all who have fallen along the way.