St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality has been feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless for 75 years.
Every day, the Catholic Worker house opens its doors on South Avenue to offer coffee, a telephone, shower facilities or laundry services to anyone who needs it, explained James Murphy, one of four Catholic Workers at the house.
All of the programs offered by St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality — a soup kitchen, an emergency homeless shelter in the winter, temporary housing, a free store with clothing and other goods, transitional apartments for individuals who suffer from substance addictions — are provided through private donations, Murphy said. The house receives no government or corporate funding, he added.
Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in 1933, would be proud, according to Day’s granddaughter, Martha Hennessy. St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality not only continues to serve the poor where it is needed in central Rochester, it also does a good job of enlisting a multicultural group of volunteers, she noted.
Sam Steele stands in line for lunch Oct. 11 at Rochester’s St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality.
St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality "is one of those Catholic Worker miracles," Hennessy said during a Sept. 29 phone interview with the Catholic Courier. "We are just amazed by the people who come and help out and keep the work going. They are a real gift from God."
Hennessy visited St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in late September to celebrate the house’s 75th anniversary and its distinction as the oldest Catholic Worker organization that is still providing services in its original location. The Catholic Worker Movement operates more than 200 houses across the globe, she said.
The Diocese of Rochester also is home to two other Catholic Worker houses — Bethany House in Rochester and Peter DeMott House in Ithaca, according to the Catholic Worker website.
The anniversary celebration at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality included a Mass featuring the House of Mercy choir and a round-table discussion on the continued challenges facing Catholic Worker houses, Hennessy said. One of those challenges is gentrification, when poorer residents are driven out of a neighborhood after property redevelopment causes a rise in real estate prices. This has happened in New York City, Hennessy said, noting that residents who can no longer afford to live near Catholic Worker homes in Manhattan have the added burden of finding transportation back to those Catholic Worker homes in order to receive care.
Thankfully, that is not the case in Rochester, she said.
"I was so grateful that many of the folks who come to St. Joe’s for care spoke up and testified (during the roundtable discussion) what a blessing it was to have that house … giving hospitality," Hennessy said.
During an Oct. 11 interview with the Catholic Courier at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, James Arnold said the house has been a blessing for him, which is why he now gives back as a volunteer helping set up coffee and serve lunch to about 100 people every day.
Arnold once lived at the house after spending time on the streets in 1998 using and selling drugs, he said. That same year, a group of men he knew made their way to the house, and Arnold followed. He said he never looked back.
"They helped me realize who I am: I am somebody," he said. "They helped me make changes in my life."
St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality referred Arnold to a rehabilitation program, he said, and in 2005, he found his own apartment. Now, he also is a deacon at a local church.
"This is a ministry to me," he said of volunteering at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality.
The house relies mainly on volunteers like Arnold, as the only paid staff are a cook and an accountant, Murphy explained. The four live-in Catholic Workers only receive room and board, he noted.
Members of the Catholic Worker Movement, Murphy said, "are asked to commit a year to voluntary poverty."
Annie Horras of Idaho is the newest Catholic Worker at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality. She moved to Rochester following graduation from the University of Idaho and had been assigned as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Roberto Clemente School No. 8 for the past two years.
Horras, 26, said she wanted a change from the kind of volunteer work she was doing with AmeriCorps at the school. She chose to become a Catholic Worker after volunteering at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality during her time with AmeriCorps, she said.
Becoming a Catholic Worker "has been one of the biggest blessings of my life," she added. "It has been a humbling experience. I’ve realized that I’m no better than anyone else. Even the people who have been living on the streets for years. That could have been me. … I feel like I’m finally a person of the people."
Offering witness and accompaniment is at the core of what St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality does, Murphy noted. And while the house does not provide direct services — other than connecting individuals with housing, food and temporary shelter — Murphy said it brings in local counselors and social workers and other agencies to assist guests with their needs.
"We don’t try and rehabilitate anyone," Murphy remarked. "We try and meet them where they are and walk with them. People will change when they want to change."
EDITOR’S NOTE: Volunteers are needed for overnight shifts during the winter months at the new Dorothy Day House, a temporary homeless shelter that is a joint venture of St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, the House of Mercy and St. Mary Parish. For more information, visit www.saintjoeshouse.org.