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3/27/2013 10:30:00 AM
Longtime Catholic social worker, champion of refugees, dies at 81
Cecilia Baricevic
Cecilia Baricevic

Cecilia Baricevic, who served needy and especially refugees through her work with Catholic Charities for 55 years, died March 25 at age 81. She had recently entered hospice care.  

Baricevic graduated from Seattle University in 1953. She worked at Meier and Frank briefly, but then became a social worker for Columbia County Public Welfare.

In 1958, Father Morton Park hired Baricevic to work in the Catholic Services for Children Foster Home Department. She provided case management for children and provided back-up to an adoption program.

Starting in January 1961, Baricevic played a significant role in aiding Cuban refugee children who had lost their parents. She managed four refugee group homes and many foster home placements for Cuban children.

In the late 1960s, Baricevic attended Catholic University of America, completing a masters in social work. She returned to Catholic Services in 1969, assuming responsibility for the agency’s new group home foster care program. In 1975, after the fall of Saigon, she helped establish the agency's refugee resettlement services.  

In 1986, upon the retirement of Father Park, Baricevic was appointed executive director of Catholic Services for Children. In 1989, upon the merger of Catholic Family Services and Catholic Services for Children, Baricevic was made coordinator of Catholic refugee services. With the final merger of Catholic Charities with Catholic Community Services in 1995, she was named program manager for refugee resettlement, remaining in this position until March 2013.

During her tenure as refugee director, more than 15,000 refugees from Southeast Asia, eastern and central Europe, central Africa, the Middle East and Cuba have been resettled in the Portland are via her work. From 1998 until 2000, Baricevic also oversaw startup of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services.

Though her work was in Oregon, Baricevic became well known in refugee service circles nationwide. She was also a longtime member of the choir at St. Mary Cathedral. She had joined as a child.

Plans for a funeral are not set, but service will probably take place after Easter.   

“Cecilia’s 55 years of devoted service to the church and Catholic Charities is enshrined in the hearts and minds of countless refugees whom she helped feel welcome in their new home in Oregon," says Pietro Ferrari, executive director of Catholic Charities. "As a true ambassador of our Refugee Resettlement program,  Cecilia exemplified the Gospel’s teaching where stranger was no longer.”

Douglas Alles, director of social services for Catholic Charities, worked with Baricevic for two decades.

"People are always amazed at Cecilia’s longevity — her loyalty to agency and work that spanned 55 years," says Alles. "What is hidden beneath that remarkable contribution is the way she made such personal connections with everyone around her — refugee families, her staff, co-workers, community partners, donors and board members."

Alles recalls laughing with Baricevic at the impossible nature of their work, yet marveling at how the grit and determination of refugees was reflected in her.

"She was," Alles says, "essentially and finally, a woman of deep faith who was committed to justice and love of neighbor."

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