Dear Friends of Joseph House:
According to an article we read, a historian has postulated that periods of civil unrest in our country follow a 50-year cycle. That’s about how long it takes for society’s unresolved issues to reach a boiling point. The last time our nation saw widespread protests and demonstrations—some peaceful, some not—was during the late 1960s and early ’70s. That makes what’s happening now in 2020 right on schedule.
We don’t know if this theory is true or not, but we were thinking about what happened 50 years ago for another reason. In 1968, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sparked protests in cities across the country, including Baltimore. These protests unfortunately led to arson, looting, and confrontations between crowds of people and the police. The National Guard had to be summoned. At the time, the Joseph House was headquartered in Baltimore on McCulloh Street, only a few blocks from where buildings were being burned to the ground. Our founder and other staff members were on the front lines of these frightening events. They assisted 500 families that were directly impacted by the violence.
Our founder wasn’t known as Sr. Mary Elizabeth back then—she was simply Mae Gintling. At the height of the riots, she received a telegram from Governor Spiro Agnew requesting her presence at a meeting to discuss the crisis. More than 100 people attended: legislators, city council members, judges, ministers, and civic leaders. Reporting on the meeting, The Baltimore Sun noted that Mae was one of only a handful of white people present.
The meeting did not go well. Many of the participants walked out because they felt the Governor did not understand the frustration and despair of the African American community. Mae decided to stay and was given an opportunity to address the Governor. The article in the Sun closed with her words: “You’re listening, but you’re not hearing.”
Fifty-two years later, this is a message for all of us to consider. Ironically, listening is a lost art in our media-saturated world, but it’s essential to creating a just and peaceful society. There are voices that have been suppressed, stories that haven’t been told. Do we hear them? Are we so sure of ourselves that we can’t find room for them in our hearts and minds?
Our founder can guide us in another way. She had a strong attraction to the Mystical Body of Christ, which St. Paul expounded on in his epistles:
There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”. . . But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.(1 Corinthians, chapter 12)
For Sr. Mary Elizabeth, this awareness never failed to show her the right thing to do. It can also help us as we move forward. It tells us the truth, that our nation can be a “more perfect union,” one with “liberty and justice for all.”
Will you permit us one more item about our founder? This year marks the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Joseph House Workshop, our program that helps homeless men advance toward gainful employment and healthy new lives. It was the final program that came into being through the vision and leadership of Sr. Mary Elizabeth.
To celebrate the anniversary, three of the current residents of the Workshop wrote letters of appreciation addressed to Sister. Although they never met her, the men nonetheless are reaping the benefits of her lifetime of service:
“Dear Sr. Mary Elizabeth, My name is Andrew, a resident at the Joseph House Workshop. I am very grateful for all that you have done. The program has given me my life back. I owe everything to this program, from my relationship with Christ, family, and learning what it means to love and serve others. Thank you with all my heart.”
“Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, I first want to thank God for your love of wanting to help those who are less fortunate than others. What a blessing you are. I thank you for the Joseph House—it was not only a blessing for me, it saved my life in so many ways. Words cannot express my thank you. But now I know you are in God’s loving arms, grace, and hope for all you did while here. Thank you. – Thomas”
“The Joseph House Workshop has been one of the best decisions I have made in my whole 55 years in life. It was an experience that I grew closer to God like I have never been before. A group of guys trying to do the right thing and also accepting God in our lives. It has not been easy or hard, just trying to follow God’s will. Thank you Sis Mary Elizabeth for a place that made me a man fit for society. Love you for giving me a chance. Amen. – Maurice”
Can you get a sense of how valuable the Workshop is? Of how life-changing the program can be for the residents? Your support makes it all possible. You also give us the means to continue our work at the Joseph House Crisis Center. Families facing the threat of destitution or the pain of hunger receive the assistance they need. By joining together, we make a difference.
Carole, 61, and her husband have lived in a run-down RV for twenty years. The roof leaks, and that is the only running water they have. Carole buys water for all their needs, including the bathroom. Dish water is used for the toilet. Her husband, suffering from cancer, can occasionally do odd jobs such as cutting lawns. Carole and her husband were behind in their electric bill and received a cut-off notice. They Joseph House sent $300 to the utility company. Carole said she was denied assistance at another agency because of her “assets.”
Dora, 73, is a widow and lives alone. She would like to get dentures, but she can’t afford them. Her house needs plumbing work, but she can’t afford that either. The past-due mortgage payments were her most pressing concern: Dora was afraid she was going to lose her home of thirty years. We mailed $400 to the bank on her behalf. We are also trying to help with the dentures.
Rachelle, 48, lives with her young adult son. He was in a serious car accident and will not be able to work for an extended period of time. Rachelle is grateful that he is alive, but she is worried about the loss of his income. She doesn’t earn enough by herself to pay for all their basic necessities. Rachelle and her son have lived in their apartment for fifteen years. Now without warning, their housing was in jeopardy. We were happy that we could give $250 for the rent.
With each passing day, we take our place in history. Let LOVE be our response to the challenges of our time, love in our actions and in our words. “There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians, chapter 13)
Thank you for your continued support of our ministry. We hold you close to our hearts in prayer. May God bless you and keep you healthy and safe.
Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
“In order to listen, it is necessary to keep quiet. I do not mean merely a sort of constraint to be physically silent and not to interrupt what someone else is saying, but rather an interior silence; in other words, a silence that not only is directed toward receiving the other person’s words but also reflects a heart overflowing with a humble love, capable of full attention, friendly welcome and voluntary self-denial, and strong with the awareness of our poverty.
“The silence of listening is a form of attention, a gift of self to the other, and a mark of moral generosity. It should manifest an awareness of our humility so as to agree to receive from another person a gift that God is giving us. For the other person is always a treasure and a precious gift that God offers to help us grow in humility, humanity, and nobility.
“I think that the most defective human relationship is precisely one in which the silence of attention is absent.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah