This Hermitage Speaks

Carlo Carretto was a Little Brother of Jesus, a religious community inspired by the life of Charles de Foucauld. With a poetic style, he also wrote several books that explored his desire to live a contemplative life in the world.

One of those books was about St. Francis of Assisi (I, Francis), and Carretto in fact died on the saint’s feast day (October 4) in 1988. What follows is an excerpt from the preface in which Carretto reflects on his time spent in a hermitage favored by St. Francis, a cave near the Italian town of Narni:

I sought out this hermitage because it is one of the special places of the Franciscan world, where the Saint sojourned on repeated occasions, and where all blends together in a perfect oneness. Forests, bare rock, the architecture, poverty, humility, simplicity, and beauty, all go together to form one of the masterpieces of the Franciscan spirit—an example to the centuries of peace, prayer, silence, ecology, beauty, and the human victory over the contradictions of time.

When we behold these hermitages, abodes of men and women of peace and prayer and joyous acceptance of poverty, we have the answer to the anguished conflicts that torment our civilization.

You see, these rocks say to us, peace is possible.

Do not seek for luxury when you build your houses, seek the essentials. Poverty will become beauty then, and liberating harmony—as you can see in this hermitage.

Do not destroy forests in order to build factories that swell the ranks of the unemployed and create unrest; help human beings to return to the countryside, to learn again to appreciate a truly well-turned object, to feel the joy of silence and of contact with earth and sky.

Do not hoard up money—inflation and greedy people lie in ambush for you; instead, leave the door of your heart open for a dialogue with your brother or sister, for service to the very poor.

Do not prostitute your labor fabricating things that last half a season, consuming what little raw material you have left; but make pails like the one you see here at this well—it has been drawing its water for centuries and is still in use.

The ill you speak of consumerism is a cover. You fill your mouth with words in order to stifle a bad conscience. Even as you speak, you are consumerism’s slaves, without any capacity for innovation and imagination.

And then . . .

Unburden yourselves of your fear of your brothers and sisters! Go out to meet them unarmed and meek. They are human beings too, just like you, and they need love and trust, even as you.

Do not be concerned with “what you are to eat and with what you are to drink” (Matt. 6:25); be calm, and you shall lack nothing. “Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and everything else will be given to you for good measure. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).

Assisi, the city of St. Francis.

Yes, this hermitage speaks. It speaks and says brotherly and sisterly love is possible.

It speaks and says that God is our Father, that creatures are our brothers and sisters, and that peace is joy.

All you have to do is will it. Try it, brothers and sisters, try it, and you will see that it is possible.

The Gospel is true.
Jesus is the Son of God, and saves humankind.

Nonviolence is more constructive than violence.
Chastity is more pleasurable than impurity.
Poverty is more exciting than wealth.

Try to think about it, sisters and brothers. What an extraordinary adventure lies here before us. If we put Francis’s project into execution we shall be escaping the atomic apocalypse.

Is it not always this way? God proposes peace.
Why not try it?

The Poor Are Just Like Us

The following was written by Bishop Kenneth Edward Untener (1937-2004), who served as the bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw:

Helping the poor is not always a pleasant experience.

It’s no picnic helping the poor. There is often no feeling of fulfillment. It’s work — like a lot of virtue is work — like taking care of an elderly parent is work.

The poor, as fate would have it, are just like us. They are mixtures of virtues and vices. Like us, they are not always grateful. Like us, they don’t always trust. Like us, they don’t always respond. Like us, they are both generous and greedy. Like us, they are sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful. Whatever happened to the noble poor? Some are out there, but mostly they are in Charles Dickens.

The “poor” poor are not always so noble, and they are the hardest to deal with — which is probably why we don’t.

Mental note: When you help the poor, you always receive more than you give — but it may not seem that way at the time.

Newsletter: September 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

A prison can keep someone locked in, and also locked out.

In Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the protagonist, Jurgis Rudkus, finds himself homeless, destitute, and ravenously hungry. He staggers up and down the city streets looking for work, fighting hunger-induced fatigue. His struggle is to no avail: he is a prisoner, trapped in a type of reverse prison. As Sinclair explains,

“Everywhere he went, from one end of the vast city to the other, there were hundreds of others like him; everywhere was the sight of plenty — and the merciless hand of authority waving them away. There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside.”

Excluded from society, not welcome anywhere, Rudkus is confined to the forgotten shadows. It’s easy for us to keep the poor and homeless locked in this sort of prison. We go about our lives, preoccupied with our own concerns, never seeing the poor because we avoid them. Mentally, if not physically, we shut them out from the world in which we choose to live.

Each of us has a key to this prison. The first door to unlock is the one leading to the heart. After that, we need to take a look at how we live. Ask God for help: He will open our eyes and opportunities to love the poor will present themselves. The doors we kept locked — out of fear? ignorance? prejudice? — will be in our power to open.

As a friend of the Joseph House, you already have an active concern for the well-being of people in need. With your support, we welcome the poor as our brothers and sisters and share with them the essential goods they are lacking. The Joseph House Crisis Center helps numerous families every week with food, rent, utility bills, and the like.

The Joseph House Workshop, which opened 12 years ago this month, provides personalized and in-depth assistance for up to eight homeless men at a time. The goal is to help these men learn the skills they need to find gainful employment and live independently. We’re not ones to toot our own horn, but the Workshop is doing a great job.

For homeless men, the Joseph House Workshop is an open door to a new life. It maintains a healthy, substance-free environment and is staffed 24 hours a day. Residents can live there for as long as two years (click here for more details about the program). Here is a report from the Workshop Director, Dr. Art Marsh, and the Resident Program Manager, Mr. Rudy Drummond:

We currently have all are beds filled or committed to be filled. We have seven residents housed at this point. One resident is in the most senior phase of the program, which requires considerable achievement. Four of our residents are about to begin Phase 2 (seeking employment). We currently have two residents about to enter Phase 1. We are awaiting another resident coming to us from Eastern Correctional Institution, who we anticipate will be joining us the end of this month.

One of our recent graduates, who enrolled in the Armed Services, will be returning to us for a brief visit before shipping out to his assigned station in South Korea. Several of our other successful graduates visit the Workshop periodically to confirm their on-going successes.

The Workshop is in need of volunteers to teach various aspects of Phase 1 life skill topics. The commitment would be for a one hour time period one to two days a week in the afternoon. It is our pleasure to note that all the successful residents, past and present, manifest a continued deep appreciation for all that the Workshop and the Little Sisters have given them.

God’s blessing has nurtured this ministry from the beginning. We’ve been told that the Workshop has quietly garnered an excellent reputation around town. This is due to the dedication and quality service supplied by the staff. You’re also key to the success: your generosity alone keeps the Workshop afloat. Thank you!

The Joseph House Workshop. Art is in front wearing a grey shirt, Rudy is in the back on the left.

Your generosity also makes the Crisis Center a refuge for people in need.

Tracey, 34, has three children and was working two jobs, but then she relapsed into alcoholism. She said stress was the reason she started drinking again. Tracey found a better reason for stopping — her family —  and has been sober for six months. She is trying to repair the damage that was done, and that includes getting the electricity turned back on in her home. The Joseph House paid $200 toward Tracey’s delinquent electric bill.

Howard, 59, is also trying to reclaim his life from alcoholism. He had his last drink a month ago while he was still homeless. Howard found a place to stay in a halfway house, but to continue living there he must pay rent. We agreed to send over $200. Howard opened up to one of our volunteers and talked about his childhood abuse and his current struggles with anxiety and depression.

Laura, 51, is a simple and humble woman. She lives alone and recently lost her job working in a restaurant kitchen. Her new job will be in a fast-food establishment. In the past month Laura earned $600. She paid some of her essential bills and was short on the $400 rent. We paid $200 to her landlord to stop the eviction.

When we die, we all hope St. Peter will open the Pearly Gates for us. How wonderful that will be, to be welcomed into God’s house, where there are many dwelling places and one prepared for each of us (John 14:2). Our exile will be at an end. In the meantime, let’s do what we can to help people who feel left out today.

As always, we hold you in our hearts each day in prayer. May you be blessed with happiness and peace.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

Character Traits of Givers

In light of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, people are rising to the challenge of helping their neighbors. They are giving what they can: food, water, money, boats, shelter. It is not the time to hold back.

Opportunities to give happen every day, not just during natural disasters. What are the characteristics of people who give? Here is a list for reflection and for taking a personal inventory. It comes from the book, 5001 Simple Things to Do For Others (and Yourself), from Liguori Publications, 2010. Would you add or change anything?

Character Traits of Givers

  • Promote adaptability
  • Support an appreciation for people
  • Stay attentive
  • Are available
  • Reinforce their commitment daily
  • Keep their compassion
  • Place their concern where it will do the most good
  • Show confidence
  • Are always considerate
  • Understand that consistency wins the game
  • Find contentment in what they can accomplish
  • Promote cooperation
  • Fortify their courage
  • Keep creativity flowing
  • Stay decisive
  • Encourage deference
  • Are known for their dependability
  • Stay determined
  • Show they are always diligent
  • Exercise discernment and discretion
  • Know that efficiency allows you to accomplish more
  • Understand that equality keeps the balance
  • Are always fair
  • Are faithful
  • Practice fearlessness
  • Remain flexible
  • Understand forgiveness
  • Know that winners are friendly
  • Realize that generosity with time and resources will make them rich
  • Are known for their gentleness
  • Express their gratitude
  • Remain honest
  • Are humble before God
  • Know the worth of their integrity
  • Celebrate joyfulness
  • Practice kindness
  • Indulge in love
  • Are loyal to their values
  • Understand we are all meek on the inside
  • Believe God is merciful—we just try to follow His example
  • Observe what is truth
  • Keep their optimism
  • Are patient
  • Practice prudence
  • Are known for their punctuality
  • Promote their purpose
  • Are always resourceful
  • Respect those around them and those who seek their help
  • Know we are all responsible for humankind
  • Practice self-control
  • Don’t let their sincerity overrule logic
  • Are submissive before God
  • Remain tactful
  • Are thorough
  • Believe thriftiness will pay off
  • Know the world is in need of tolerance
  • Are trustworthy
  • Always promote the truth
  • Understand that we can’t live on virtue alone, but we can’t live without it

Newsletter: August 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Every organization and institution, whether it is civic, business, religious, or charitable, has its own style of operation. It’s not just what they do, but how they do it that sets them apart. This is true of the Joseph House, and our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth looked to a particular person for inspiration: Charles de Foucauld, who also went by Br. Charles of Jesus.

Given that he was a hermit in the Sahara Desert more than 100 years ago, it’s not surprising that Charles is a mystery to many people. René Bazin, his first biographer, didn’t think Charles was important enough to warrant a book. He had to be convinced otherwise, and fortunately he was. Bazin’s Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer, published in 1923 in English, kept alive the memory of this fascinating and saintly figure. This passage from the book shows why the life of Charles found a home in the heart and mind of Sr. Mary Elizabeth:

“Charles was one who gave a fraternal welcome to the poorest and most unknown and undeserving of neighbors, who never let it be suspected that he was put out, and was willing to waste his time for talking with God upon unreliable nomads, corrupt slaves, beggars and bores.

“Every minute somebody would come and open the door, and Brother Charles appeared with his beautiful eyes full of serenity, his head bent forward a little, and his hand already held out. . . .

“He wrote : ‘I wish to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews and idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, the universal brother. . . . They begin to call the house the Fraternity (the Khaua, in Arabic), and I am delighted.’

“This beautiful word suits our missionary and might describe him: he was truly the universal brother, not in words, but in deeds; he did not scatter political formulae, or promises which only add to the weight of wretchedness, but he forgot himself for the sake of his nearest neighbors, he spent beyond his means to feed them and to ransom them if ransomed they could be. His way was the silent way.”

Being available to the poor is at the heart of our ministry. Many people have good intentions for helping the poor, but far fewer have the inclination to “waste time” with them.

Charles did everything he could to address the material needs of the poor, but he gave them something else too: the fruit of his time spent in prayer and recollection. People have deep hungers that go beyond an empty stomach. Charles offered them the peace of Christ. The poor could see it in his face, they could know it by his actions and his unhurried sense of time, and in the way he made his home a home for everyone. He preached by example, letting charity be God’s ambassador.

Br. Charles distributing bread. Illustration by René Follet.

If the Joseph House is to have a corporate culture, we hope it resembles this. We want people in need to receive your generosity with love and respect. Along with our many volunteers, we do our best to make sure our ministry welcomes everyone. Hearts need to be open as much as the front door.

On a typical day, Charles might have received 70 poor people, plus 15 sick, 50 children, and 20 frail and elderly. We can sympathize. One will never be lonely working with the less fortunate.

Valencia, 63, was not in a good mood when she came to the Joseph House Crisis Center. We could understand why. Pain radiated from her hip that was healing from a fracture. Anyone of us in a similar situation would have wanted to be home resting, but an eviction notice from her landlord required Val to get up and look for help. She was angry and distraught and it took a little time to find out what was going on. Val regained her composure and explained that she lives alone and her monthly income of $756 doesn’t always cover her basic expenses. We agreed to send $200 to her landlord, alleviating one of the burdens Val is carrying.

Dominic, in his fifties, recently had two serious surgeries as part of his treatment for liver cancer. His doctor has ordered him not to work for several months. In the meantime, Dominic is trying to get by on a temporary disability payment of $640 monthly. It is not enough for his rent and utilities. A firm job offer for the fall and the promise of better health give him hope. We sent $225 to Dominic’s landlord. The Joseph House depends on Divine Providence, but the poor know what that really means.

Amber, 44, is another cancer patient. She’s been hospitalized and has received several rounds of chemotherapy. She believes the worst is behind her. Amber missed a lot of work during her illness and also a rent payment. This is a new experience for her since she has been a stable renter at her place for well over a decade. Her wages make it nearly impossible for her to catch up. Amber asked us for help; she especially didn’t want her son to undergo the trial of being homeless. We sent $225 to her landlord.

Ingrid and her three children were homeless. A shelter had beds for them and Ingrid found a job in a chicken factory. Unfortunately, they had to leave the shelter before Ingrid received a paycheck. To break the cycle of homelessness, we paid $170 toward the security deposit for an apartment for Ingrid and her family.

Jerrod, 32, works for a landscaper. He and his wife must both work to support their family of four, soon to be five. Jerrod came to the Joseph House shortly before his wife was due to give birth. She had stopped working temporarily, but this interruption for a natural and beautiful part of family life was wreaking havoc on their budget. Jerrod had an eviction notice with him and no means of paying the back rent by himself. Wanting Jerrod and his wife to welcome their new baby in an atmosphere of peaceful security, we mailed a check for $225 to their landlord.

Thank you for supporting the Joseph House. You’re the answer to someone’s prayer! Working together, the little that each of us can do adds up to something great. You can make a donation here.

May God smile upon you and guard you as the apple of His eye.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, is also a time to honor the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of the Fields.

From The Rural Life Prayerbook:
“When this great feast of the Mother of God is celebrated, nature is still arrayed in her summer glories, although the harvest has already begun. At this time, the Church blesses the finest grain, fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers.”

Psalm 65
Lord, you care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.

And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.

You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.

The hills are girded with joy,
the meadows covered with flocks,
the valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.

Helping Face to Face

In an online world, there is still a place for personal contact.

Our help at the Joseph House is given person to person, in the flesh. This way we get a grasp of the details that cannot be conveyed in an e-mail, details that help to express the uniqueness of each person and the many sides to his or her circumstances.

Person to person, we see the missing teeth and the shoes held together with duct tape. We see the mismatched clothes that came from the donation bin. We see arthritic hands and swollen ankles and feeble legs that need the assistance of a cane. We see calloused skin rough as sandpaper from years of hard work in the sun. We hear words slurred in a haze of alcohol. We hear broken English and uncouth grammar and slang. We hear wisdom and sobbing, whispering and yelling.

Person to person, we see faces, and the windows of the soul, the eyes: blood-shot eyes, eyes filled with tears, eyes flaring in anger, nervous eyes that flit about, eyes clear and bright, and eyes that refuse to make contact with our own. Up close, we also detect the tang of unwashed skin that comes from living outside in beastly hot weather, the sharp mustiness that clothes pick up from decaying houses, and the acrid odor that comes from looking in garbage cans for food.

Most importantly, person to person, we experience the person, and not just the eviction notice or the overdue electric bill or the other bits of fallout from poverty. We can reach out and touch someone, and not just figuratively. Simple human contact shoulders many a burden.

The greatest poverty is to feel alone, unloved, and unwanted. Face to face, person to person, we give and receive the gift of each other’s presence. We can meet Christ waiting for us to love Him in the poor, waiting for us to wake up from our indifference, waiting for us to overcome our fear and prejudice, waiting for us to open our heart to the person in front of us.

Newsletter: July 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

The middle of summer, when everything is lush and full, brings to mind the Book of Genesis and the story of Creation.

At this time of year, the earth, the trees, and even the air seem heavy with life. Every little corner and niche is occupied. Our backyard becomes a miniature Eden, with all manner of vegetation and seed-bearing plants, crawling living creatures and winged birds. A close inspection of a square foot reveals a universe under our feet. Author Annie Dillard writes,

“This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

One thing is clear: God doesn’t hold back. His creative power is super-abundant and endless.

A statue of St. Francis amidst the foliage of the convent yard.

What does a deeper reading of Genesis reveal? In the beginning, God created order out of chaos. “The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen 1:2). The mighty wind was the Spirit of God, and God commanded into being a world of harmony and coherence. This is the bedrock of existence.

God created a world that lets life flourish, a world that has so much to offer each person. It’s a gift for everyone. God gave humanity dominion over creation, but that means we have a responsibility to be good stewards — and good neighbors. Everyone has a chance to share in the fruits of the earth when there is concern for the common good and for what each person is due, that is, when there is concern for justice.

Without justice, everything falls back into chaos.

Some people look at the world and ask, “Where’s my share?” But our rights and responsibilities go hand-in-hand in a well-ordered society.

“Justice focuses on how we treat people, how we share benefits and responsibilities, and how we ensure everyone sits at the table. Justice, then, is about community life. Individuals and the community are complementary” (Alison Benders, Just Prayer).

Creating just communities is a mission for all of us. Many people today lack food, housing, medicine, and other necessary goods. The Joseph House works to fill these needs and address the underlying reasons they exist. Thank you for joining us in this mission through your prayers and generous giving. We can’t do it without you.

Sam, 52, is in poor health. Due to kidney failure, he is on a home dialysis machine seven days a week. His wife is also disabled. Their combined monthly income is $1,120. Of that, $750 goes toward the rent. Sam has medication that he needs to take but doesn’t because he can’t afford it. Like a growing number of people, he started a GoFundMe page on the Internet to help with his health care costs; it hasn’t been successful so far.

Sam came to the Joseph House Crisis Center with his many needs. We were able to assist him with $175 for his electric bill, a few days before the cut-off date.

Terri, 29, is a single mother of two. She works full-time as a housekeeper but brings home only $250 weekly. Terri is also going to school and studying to become a corrections officer. She is working very hard to get ahead through education. Terri fell behind in her rent because her tight budget leaves no room for even the smallest unplanned expense. The Joseph House sent $180 to her landlord.

Claudette is 81. She lives alone, enjoys good health, and volunteers at a local school (spending time with children is a secret for staying young). Her monthly Social Security check is $954 and $850 goes toward her housing, a tiny bungalow. Sometimes a family member helps Claudette with her basic expenses. A leftover heating bill was too much, so Claudette turned to the Joseph House. We sent $168 to the gas company.


We depend solely on private donations to help people in need. Click here to make a donation online.


Kenny, 64, is a disabled Army veteran. A few months ago, he was living in another state and suffered two heart attacks. After he recovered, he decided to return to Maryland to be closer to his brother. Kenny was in an accident on the way home, and the trailer he was towing, filled with his belongings, was demolished. He lost everything.

When Kenny finally arrived in Maryland, he was turned away by his brother. There seems to be a history of religious and political differences between them. With nowhere to go, Kenny started living in his car. He found his way to the Joseph House, and thankfully we had the funds ($225) to get him moved into an apartment.

Athena, 70, and her husband are on a fixed income. Athena’s life is controlled by COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s had a debilitating effect on her. She has reached the point where she needs an electric wheelchair in addition to bottled oxygen.

Athena also has massive ulcers in her mouth. She must take medication to treat these, but her monthly medical bills are already high.

Athena came to the Joseph House in desperate need of help. We contacted the pharmacy and agreed to purchase the $152 in prescriptions waiting for Athena. We also paid the $93 she needed to acquire an electric wheelchair. Looking over Athena’s budget, there was little room for economizing. She and her husband receive Food Stamps, but only $16 per month.

The lack of affordable housing and health care in our country is troubling. How much longer can this go on? The poor suffer first and suffer the most.

On the first full day of summer, the air conditioner at the Crisis Center quit working. Maybe it was protesting the coming workload. Fortunately, the repairman got it going again, but this expense underscores the fact that our ministry needs your support year-round, even during vacation season. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.

The mighty wind of God still sweeps across the earth. The Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness to help us become the people we were created to be. May we surrender to His power and be renewed in His strength. May each of us be a real presence of brotherly and sisterly love in the world.

With our promise to pray for you every day,

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

Called to Love, Called to Serve

The life of a Catholic nun or religious sister is a mystery to many people. Stereotypes abound, but as usual the reality is quite different. Even though some things change over time, the essentials do not: all that is good, true, and beautiful continues to exist.

If you are considering a religious vocation, or you would just like to know more about Catholic nuns today, check out some of these resources:

Light of Love gives viewers a look into the lives, suffering, and joys of religious life captured in a way like never before.”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIwJacw_Z3Y

Imagine Sisters is an organization that exists to expose the beauty of the religious life to a world desperately in need. We are so glad that you’re here, and we can’t wait to share stories of discernment, transformation, and faith.”
imaginesisters.org

Vision Vocation Network presents information on religious communities for both men and women. The site helps people considering a religious vocation to get in touch with the communities that best match their personal interests.
vocationnetwork.org/en/main

Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-35) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.”
www.catholicsoncall.org

A Nun’s Life provides information about figuring out God’s call in your life. You’ll find articles, videos, and other resources on popular topics.
anunslife.org

Catholic Nuns Today: “What is your image of a Catholic Nun? We invite you to learn more about our active, faith-filled lives by reading our stories and frequently asked questions.”
catholicnunstoday.org

Giving Voice is a peer led organization that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”
giving-voice.org

Beloved is a film about the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. “This joyful, holy community radiates their love for Christ and neighbor, revealing in this compelling film what it means to live the consecrated life as both a contemplative and a teacher. They manifest to the world that religious life is all about love and joy, but a love that is different and unique. It is a love that is eternal.”
www.ignatius.com/Products/BND-M/beloved.aspx

The Value of Work

A good book opens with a good introduction, and the Bible has one of the best.

The stately verses of Chapter 1 of Genesis reveal a truth to remember: God made the universe with coherence and meaning. We can easily imagine the inspired author of the text looking up at the nighttime sky with awe. Existence begins with God saying, “Let there be…,” and is capped with the words, “It is good.” We are hemmed in by His presence. The word of God is beneath everything that is, and everything that is has received His blessing. Nothing is beyond the realm of His care.

Although the Bible says God rested on the seventh day, His creative power never ends. He endowed human beings with the capacity to reflect His divine initiative in creation. That is, God gave us the ability to work. What we can do with both our hands and minds puts us in a unique, and privileged, position in the world. And as always, privilege begets responsibility.

Since we are more than animals — we are imago Dei, the image of God — we can move beyond the domain of instinct. Through our conscious, deliberate activity we can shape the world around us. We can transform the raw material of the earth and create the things we need, even things for the sake of beauty alone.

Ordinarily, work is intentional, it is a choice, and thus it is a moral act. It can be for good or for evil.

We can never think of the value of work and its spiritual and ethical dimensions without calling to mind our beloved Saint Joseph. He is honored with a feast day on May 1 under the title “St. Joseph the Worker” because work is more than just labor, more than just a way to make money. Work helps to make the world more “human.” It provides food and shelter and also creates culture. It unites people, makes us interdependent, and is one of the foundations of family life. Through work, the blessing that God extended over creation can reach everyone.

Work is a way to holiness. It involves the giving of ourselves in some form. There is a reason why God chose the carpenter of Nazareth to be a parent to His Son.

The first of May has always been important to us. Sr. Mary Elizabeth held the dedication ceremony of the first Joseph House in Baltimore on this day in 1966. We continue to celebrate St. Joseph the Worker with a measure of solemnity, but never by taking the day off. According to Sister, it was the perfect occasion to do the chores that never got done, such as cleaning the dust from the ceiling fans!

The ultimate value of a particular type of work is found not in the work itself, but in the people doing it. The Joseph House and the Little Sisters have always called upon their members to exercise a variety of work. Although the work may be humble, it is never without dignity.

The Son of God became man and worked with human hands. Work then has a dignity of its own in God’s plan for creation. — St. John Paul II

Profile: Sr. Mary Elizabeth

Sister and her beloved Ziggy.

In 1995, a local newspaper did a profile of Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters.

What was her greatest disappointment? What would she like to tell the youth of today? What trait did she admire the most in others? Read below to find out.


Joseph House Founder Opens Door to Homeless
Her greatest aim: Help others build values

Name: Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling

Family members (and ages): Two dogs: Fresca, 6, and Ziggy, 13. Four sisters in the convent in Salisbury and two in Baltimore as part of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary. Two brothers living in Baltimore.

Occupation: Founder and head of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, CEO and founder of Joseph House and Joseph House Village on the Eastern Shore.

What I like most about my job: The fact that we have no red tape. We are free to do for the poor what the poor need.

Previous occupations: I worked as a lay person with Joseph House in Baltimore before coming to the Shore in 1972 to find a new mission.

I had been religious for 21 years and was working with a group in Baltimore that only dealt with institutionalizing of people.

We (Patricia Ann Guidera, who came with Sister Mary Elizabeth to found Joseph House), wanted to come out into the countryside since there were so many agencies in Baltimore.

The first mission, Joseph House by the Sea, gift and religious book shop in Ocean City opened shortly after Sister Mary Elizabeth’s arrival on the Shore. The shop is still open today and all the proceeds from the shop are given to the poor.

From that first mission the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary decided to open Joseph House Center in Salisbury, which still provides support to the poor through food donations, and helping with medical, rent and utility payments.

Since 1989, Joseph House Village has provided “transitional living” for single mothers in helping them to find jobs and be able to support their families.

The Joseph House mission also includes helping to prevent homelessness by taking over a person’s finances when they are unable to handle it themselves for reasons of mental or social problems.

Sister Mary Elizabeth said Joseph House currently has 28 people that they are helping to live on their own.

If I had to pick a different occupation it would be: I’ve been doing this all my life. Even as a child I was attracted to trying to help people with their problems. I was about four-years old when I decided to become a nun. Otherwise I think my occupation would be fishing. I’m 80 years old and there’s no point in changing things now.

My interests and hobbies: My interests are naturally in religion and prayer and spending time with the Lord. My hobby is reading.

Not taking yourself too seriously is also important.

Community involvements and memberships: CEO of Joseph House and Joseph House Village.

Why I moved to this area: To found Joseph House and help the poor.

Length of time here: Almost 23 years.

Where I lived previously: I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Baltimore.

What I like most about living here: I like it here very much, I really feel at home here.

Changes I’d like to see in the community and why: For the people who have made it in life to try to understand the people who haven’t; not to do something for them, but do something with them. As far as Salisbury is concerned I couldn’t ask for better support than I have here. What they want to do is keep the community in good shape. I think they’re a very kind community.

My proudest accomplishment: I guess, I think the most difficult thing anyone has to do is to come up with their own decision that is life-directing.

My biggest ambition was to give up material ambitions and think of doing things for others.

My greatest disappointment: Not being able to give my values to some people.

My major goals: My major goal is to help people to establish good values.

My pet peeves: Talking on the telephone. I never make phone calls if I don’t have to. Shopping — can’t stand it.

My worst habit: Jumping to conclusions.

The trait I most admire in others: Honesty.

My heroes: Christ is my hero. But I most admire Dorothy Day. She’s the founder of the Catholic Worker and their hospitality houses. I’ve seen her walking around with holes in her stockings. She really lived what she preached.

My guiding philosophy: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.

My advice to today’s youth: Don’t let TV and Madison Avenue values rob you of the wonderful person you could be.


SOURCE: Salisbury News & Advertiser, Salisbury Maryland 21801 – August 16, 1995
Photos from the Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

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