Newsletter: October 2019

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

When someone is homeless, he or she needs many things. At the Joseph House, we can’t do everything, but one service we do provide is laundry. We have to set limits since we only have one washer and dryer in our Hospitality Room, but we try to give each person who asks a week’s worth of clean clothes. Putting on a set of freshly laundered clothing goes a long way in upholding someone’s dignity.

In her beautiful book, The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris has a short chapter on laundry:

We groan about the drudgery but seldom talk about the secret pleasure we feel at being able to make dirty things clean, especially the clothes of our loved ones, which possess an intimacy all their own. Laundry is one of the few tasks in life that offers instant results, and that is nothing to sneeze at. It’s also democratic; everyone has to do it, or figure out a way to get it done.

Memories of her childhood, and the colorful laundry strung between tenements in Honolulu’s Chinatown, bring further reflection:

In any city slum, it’s laundry—neat lines of babies’ T-shirts, kids’ underwear and jeans—that announce that families live here, and that someone cares. For some people, laundry seems to satisfy a need for ritual. A television commentator with a hectic schedule once told me that the best, most contemplative part of his day was early morning, a time he set aside for laundering and ironing his shirts.

Even when we finish our laundry, it’s never done—we’ll have to do more later. Laundry is just one of the little domestic chores that everyone has to attend to, that keeps us grounded and united in the creatureliness of being human. It’s part of the private, behind-the-scenes work that goes on in everyone’s life. That some people don’t have the means to do this is part of the stripping of human dignity that can be the most degrading aspect of living in poverty.

The little things we do for each other can be the most important. As Norris mentions, they are signs that someone cares.

In a year’s time, the Crisis Center will touch the lives of thousands of people through our Hospitality Room, Food Pantry, Soup Kitchen, and Financial Assistance program. We can show people we care only because you care about them, too. Your generosity gives hope to so many people.

Sometimes men and women who are homeless are on a long journey of being on the street. Recently, we helped Aaron, age 56, take a new road. His disability claim was approved and his name made it to the top of the waiting list for subsidized housing. The Joseph House paid a security deposit of $175 so Aaron could move into a well-maintained, low-income apartment building.

For the past couple of years, Paul, 64, has been living in a dilapidated trailer park. His residence sheltered him from the elements, but without electricity it lacked even the most basic comforts of a home. Paul has been in poor health and is recovering from vascular surgery. Our payment of $300 toward his old electric bill was enough to restore the power.

Arielle, 32, is separated from her husband. Even though she is caring for their four children, he has not paid any child support. In the meantime, she is working as a nursing assistant at a nursing home to support her family. Arielle’s oldest child, a son, has had to grow up quickly—she said he has been a big help to her, does the housecleaning and looks after his siblings. Arielle needed help paying her electric bill. She went to one agency, but they were out of funds. Fortunately, the Joseph House was able to assist her and we sent $232 to the utility company.

Victoria is only 45 but had to stop working because of severe arthritis. While her disability claim is being evaluated, she is receiving $200 per month in temporary disability and $190 in food stamps. That’s hardly enough to live on! Victoria said her most pressing need at the moment was her overdue water bill; she didn’t want the water to be cut off in her home. We paid the bill of $187.

Lorenzo, 60, lives alone on a fixed income. Each month, 88% of his check goes toward the rent. Although he never learned to read and write, Lorenzo has managed to do odd jobs to get some much needed cash. An extended illness, however, has limited his ability to work. He fell behind in the rent and was going to be evicted. The Joseph House sent $175 to the landlord to halt the proceedings.

Wesley, 48, works in a factory and is also being treated for cancer. A seasonal slow-down at work has resulted in fewer hours. He also had a major car repair bill. Our payment of $280 to his landlord kept Wesley from being evicted.

Naomi is 73 and waiting for subsidized housing. It would help tremendously with her budget. Right now she is paying 79% of her check each month on rent. High housing costs are squeezing people dry. We can’t imagine what’s going to happen to the millions who won’t be able to afford to live anywhere.

Naomi came to see us because she was worried about her electric bill. She lives out in the country and depends on well water. A leak was causing the pump to run continuously. She fixed the leak, but not before it caused her electric bill to jump pretty high. We paid $170 to avoid a shut-off.

These words of our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, spell out the essential mission of the Joseph House. It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since October 27, 2004, when she departed this earth for eternal life with God. We can never remember her without smiling because her joy and laughter are always the first things that come to mind. Please pray for us, that we may be faithful to the work she began so many years ago.

And rest assured that we pray for you. Thank you for all the ways you help to bring the mission of the Joseph House to life. You are so important to us and to the poor! May God’s blessing be with you always.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


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Work is a Good Thing

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A number of years ago, a young man went to work in a limestone quarry. He worked all day outdoors in all types of weather. He broke up stone and carried buckets of lime on a wooden yoke across his shoulders. His hands cracked from the labor and bitter cold of the elements. He was a smart man, capable of many things, but harsh circumstances left him few options. He later recalled this time as one of hardship and monotony, the work as alienating and frustrating.

The man persevered, the times changed, and with the grace of God he went on to greater things. From his experiences he learned the value of meaningful work. He would later write:

Work is a good thing for man. It corresponds to man’s dignity, expresses this dignity and increases it. Work is a good thing for his humanity because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but also achieves fulfillment as a human being, and indeed in a sense becomes ‘more a human being.’

These words appeared in the encyclical “On Human Work” written by Pope John Paul II. The document expresses how the Church sees work as fundamentally important to living a fully human life. When a person works, the work in turn “works” on the person. Work shapes us, it forms us, it builds character. Work can also destroy us. Work can be used to degrade and oppress people. The type of work we do, or the lack of work at all, can leave a gaping hole in our humanity. Then we do not experience the dignity of people created in the image and likeness of God. The Pope saw this himself when he became a working man during the Nazi occupation of his native Poland.

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(Pope John Paul II during his time working in a quarry, 1940’s.)

Work is serious business. Ideally work should be an invigorating challenge. We are lucky if it seems like play. Unfortunately for many people, work is a “problem.” Getting trained for work, getting transportation to work, finding work that provides security, work that pays the bills, work that realizes our potential, work that is a blessing to us and to others, work that supports our dignity — these are serious problems for many people today.

For help with these problems, we look to our patron, St. Joseph. God chose Joseph to be a father to Jesus for a reason. God knew that in his workshop, Joseph would not only teach Jesus how to be a carpenter, but how to be a human being. Working side by side with Joseph during the long years of His hidden life, Jesus learned the life of virtue.

Jesus blessed the working life through the Incarnation. Work can be redeeming. It can bring healing and growth to a person’s life.

May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. We pray:

Good Saint Joseph, with your abilities you supported your family and served your community. In your daily work you made more than tables and chairs; you crafted virtue, and forged your soul. Help me to make my work a means of holiness, too.

Saint Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, come to the aid of those who are unemployed and those burdened with oppressive work.

Amen.