May 1, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the first building known as “Joseph House.” It was a three-story row house with green-and-white-striped awnings at 2009 McCulloh Street in Baltimore.
The house was a God-send. At the time, the nascent Joseph House ministry was operating out of the rectory basement of Immaculate Conception Church. That space was proving to be too small for the number of people coming for assistance.
Years later, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our foundress, recalled how she obtained the house on McCulloh Street in the early months of 1966:
“I went down Pennsylvania Avenue and found a man named Herman Katkow. I wanted him, I knew I had to form a board to be tax-exempt. So I asked Mr. Katkow if he would be on my board. And he said his only acquaintance with me had been that he had a shop, a clothing shop, and I had sent people down to get clothing that we couldn’t give them, and he said he would give it at cost, and we could have an account with him, so that was his acquaintance with me.
“So I went down. (He had told me of a store that had a piece of linoleum that had a misprinted pattern on it that I could have for nothing to put on the floor so I wouldn’t be sitting on the cement floor. So I got that from him.) I asked him to be a member of the board and he said no, he really didn’t want to be a member of the board. He had all these activities, he was Jewish and had all these activities that he needed for his own congregation. But he would help me. He’s the one who got me the house.
“He invited me to the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association’s annual banquet. And at that dinner he announced that he had hoped that they would sponsor one of the women who was a guest there. He gave me the opportunity to get up and talk about what I was trying to do and that I needed a place to do it out of. Mr. Kurland was there.
“They had all been feasting and having little drinks. They were not drunk by any means, but they were convivial. So Mr. Kurland said that he was landlord of a house that was empty on McCulloh Street, and he would let me have it for a dollar a year and that I could use it for my work.
“Well, I was a little apprehensive. I thought what kind of house was this going to be, but when I saw it it was lovely, it was very nice. So I had it. Then I went up there and looked it over and as I said it was a very nice house. It needed just a little bit of painting and stuff. So that’s where we started.”
With help from seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary and novice Franciscan sisters, the house was ready for its official dedication on May 1, 1966.
Here is a newspaper article about the aforementioned banquet of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association. Mr. Katkow is on the far right in the photo, and Sr. Mary Elizabeth is seated next to him (she was a layperson at the time).
As seen by this notice from a local paper, the dedication ceremony for the new Joseph House building had an inclusive, ecumenical tone:
2009 McCulloh Street became a home for the entire neighborhood. Volunteers tutored children and teenagers and organized recreational activities. A Job Placement Program gave special attention to people with police records and those with limited education and skills. Families received fiscal help through the Budgeting Program. Lessons in cooking, sewing, and care for the sick and infirm were part of the Home Management Program.
A Block Program sent volunteers out into the community, to meet the residents and learn firsthand what their needs were. A few of the volunteers stayed around and lived on the upper floor of 2009 McCulloh Street, along with Sr. Mary Elizabeth.
In October of 1968, Arnold Kurland sold the house on McCulloh Street to the Joseph House for $5,000. A benefactor helped with the purchase price. Mr. Kurland died in 2002.
Mr. Katkow died in 2013. His obituary from the Baltimore Sun highlighted his progressive and generous actions:
“In a talk he gave in 2010 at a Morgan State University forum, he reminisced about selling clothing in an African-American neighborhood. He said he was color-blind to race and enjoyed his experience. He said he hired his salespeople and managers from the neighborhood and when he and his wife traveled overseas, he left the store in their hands. He acted as a confidant to his customers and helped them get better jobs and schooling.
“As the founding president of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association, he promoted events such as a popular Easter Parade along the street and voter registration drives. He lobbied city registration officials to keep Saturday hours to accommodate working people.”
Both Mr. Kurland and Mr. Katkow show what can happen when business people care for more than just the bottom line. Fifty years ago, these two men helped to get the Joseph House established. Could they have dreamed that what they did is still bearing fruit today?