The Second World War reduced much of Europe to a shadow of its former glory. Cities and villages across the continent were destroyed, churches lay in ruins, millions of people were uprooted from their homes. While the U.S. government would eventually take the lead in rebuilding Europe with the Marshall Plan, that would not commence until 1947. America’s Catholic bishops were ahead of their government in the relief business. In 1943 they formed War Relief Services to address the widespread devastation and aid in the resettlement of refugees. By 1955 that organization had become Catholic Relief Services and expanded its reach into Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In the early years, support for CRS work came from grassroots giving via parish offerings. As the organization grew, Catholic philanthropists began to offer larger gifts as well. John and Helena Raskob, for instance, became early and strong supporters. John had made a fortune handling finance at DuPont and then General Motors, and later used his earnings to build the Empire State Building. The Raskob Foundation today involves more than 100 family members and has given more than $150 million to Catholic entities working at home and abroad. A typical CRS project funded recently by Raskob trained Afghan women in embroidery skills so they can support themselves while living in refugee camps.