History of the Benefit
The first Christmas Party was hosted by Archbishop John F. O'Hara on December 18, 1956. Among the many concerns in Archbishop O'Hara's early tenure as Bishop were Pennsylvania's changing adoption laws and the protection of a child to be allowed to be formed in his or her own religion. The extensive child care programs and services of the Archdiocese in the 1950's was a strong impetus to the initiation of the Christmas party, as a vital help to the work of caring for children. The Archbishop's desire for neglected and abused children to experience joy at Christmas time led to the organization of the first Christmas Party for dependent children held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel's Crystal Ballroom.
Over 1,000 invited guests attended the party for the benefit of 4,252 needy children in the Archdiocesan institutions.
Assisting the Archbishop in this noble effort were generous Catholic lay men and women who shared Archbishop O'Hara's desire to make Christmas special for those in the care of the institutions run by the local church. Photographs from the early years show that adults may have outnumbered the children at the parties. That would change as the tradition evolved.
This year more than 400 children will attend the annual Archbishops's Christmas Benefit for Children, representing the more than 16,000 children served through Catholic Social Services each year.