Journey of a Faith-Based Charity
Peter J. Wosh
"A fascinating in-depth case study of one faith-based nonprofit organization from the early 1970s to today. . . . Read this book as a means to understand the personal, social, and administrative complexity of organizational life."—Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Covenant House occupies a prominent place among American charitable institutions. For more than thirty years, it has provided shelter and care for homeless youth as a faith-based social service organization. Founded in 1968 by the Rev. Bruce Ritter, Covenant House began its life as a modest ministry of availability to the poor in New York City, inspired by Franciscan traditions and by the expansive vision of Vatican II.
By 1990 Covenant House had grown into a $90 million enterprise. Its innovative programs assisted homeless and runaway youth throughout cities in North and Central America. Conservative politicians, philanthropic foundations, and average citizens considered it a model for faith-based social service initiatives. Suddenly and unexpectedly, however, the organization suffered through a major scandal, as Father Ritter faced charges involving sexual abuse and financial misconduct. The institution quickly became fodder for tabloid journalists and hovered on the edge of ruin. How did such a respected organization, in the words of an iconic New York Post headline, "fall from grace"?
Peter J. Wosh explores this question, along with a variety of other compelling issues, as he relates the history of Covenant House. His intricately woven history considers changing perceptions of youth homelessness, the pervasive influence of mass media, and the unique dynamics of faith-based organizations. Drawing extensively on oral histories and rich archival collections, this meticulous and compelling work charts the path of Covenant House from its humble beginnings to its meteoric ascent, through the scandals and crises of the early 1990s, to its eventual reemergence as a strong and respectable charity.
Peter J. Wosh is Director of the Program in Archival Management, and a member of the Department of History, at New York University.