Newsletter: May 2020

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Even after a couple of weeks we are still not used to this new way of living.

We are writing this Newsletter in the middle of April, a critical time for the spread of COVID-19. From morning till night we are on guard against an invisible enemy, a virus that will not leave anyone unscathed, whether or not we get infected.

We keep a watchful eye on soap and disinfectants, always mindful of how physically close we are to another person. It’s a balancing act. We must take care of ourselves so we can care for the people God sends to us at the Joseph House.

Our ministry continues, despite some substantial modifications to how we normally conduct it. At the Joseph House Crisis Center, we closed our Soup Kitchen in March because we don’t have the space to allow patrons to practice social distancing. The dining room is empty, the kitchen is quiet— the sight creates a sense of loss, although we know the situation is temporary. It’s quieter in general at the Crisis Center. Many of our volunteers have made the wise decision to take a break because of age or other circumstances.

The Hospitality Room, our outreach to men and women who are homeless, is still active. We strictly limit the number of people who occupy the room at a given time. Our visitors have been very understanding and cooperative. Thankfully, we can provide them with a place to receive food, wash up, and get some clean clothes. Some of the churches and organizations that provide meals for the Soup Kitchen are now giving us bagged lunches so our visitors have something to take with them.

Our Food Pantry is open, too. People in need present their information at the front door of the Crisis Center and then go around to a side door to pick up their bags of groceries. We are also doing Financial Assistance for emergencies. This is being done with social distancing measures in place.

The Joseph House Workshop is near full capacity: we have eight residents and another man is planning to enter the program soon. All are staying healthy. The Workshop helps homeless men develop life skills needed for employment and independent living. COVID-19 is keeping our teachers away so classes have been suspended temporarily. A few of the residents are in the employment phase of the program and their jobs are continuing. One of the residents is working in environmental services at the local hospital. Two other residents have been hired there as well, but we don’t know yet in which department they’ll be working.

During these weeks of “staying at home,” the residents occupy their time with in-house meetings, group discussions, and recreational activities such as playing various games and watching television. They are keeping the building clean and in good order and recently finished a major painting project. A fresh coat of paint does wonders and we are proud of the work they did (visit our website for photos).

At both the Crisis Center and the Workshop, we are operating with a skeleton crew of staff members and volunteers. They are doing an outstanding job. We treasure them. Their dedication will never be forgotten.

The overriding mission of the Joseph House is to “Cry the Gospel with your life!” We often view that in terms of providing charitable service to people in need. But the Gospel has many other aspects that we are called to enact in our lives. We are called to be witnesses to our faith, to be people of prayer, trusting in God’s never-failing providence. In recent weeks we have felt close to Mary, who pondered the events of life in her heart, and who kept the faith during the silence of Holy Saturday when her Son lay in the tomb. The busyness of life can drown out the whispers of the heart. Now we have more time to listen.

Our collective pilgrimage into the unknown is a time of trial. It may not seem like it at the moment, but going through a crisis is a time of learning and developing new strengths. We can all agree that we have taken so many things for granted (to begin with, we miss hugs and just going to the grocery store without a second thought). We are re-learning what our priorities are and what is most important in life.

We are also being reminded of how much we depend on one another. This is especially true when we consider all the people who work at jobs considered essential during this pandemic. Where would we be without retail workers who make sure we have food and other necessary items? And doctors, nurses and health care workers! There is a long list of people who are making sacrifices to preserve our lives. Ordinary people, rising to the challenge of extraordinary circumstances, doing nothing less than safeguarding our civilization.

May 1st is a special day for us, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. In his document on our patron saint, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the family of Nazareth.” That’s what we see all around us: daily expressions of love.

Waiting is a sign of hope, and every day that passes we are growing stronger in that virtue (and to live in virtue means “to be set right within”). Grave concerns loom large for everyone, like heavy clouds that won’t go away. The health and safety of so many people. The dire economic impact of layoffs and shutdowns. Who can fathom it all? When the world seems out of control, it’s helpful to focus on the things we can control. Little things that spread hope and joy make a big difference, in the same way a single candle shines brightly in a pitch black room.

Our ministry is a saving grace: we can do something for someone else. Erica, 45, left her abusive husband just before the pandemic started. She is struggling to provide for herself and her son. Her job pays about $1,100 per month. Erica has many serious financial woes. We paid $400 toward her rent so she would at least have a place to live….Jolene and her two children were living in a car. She found a place to live but could not move in until she got the electric in her name, and that required paying off an old bill. We paid the $200 that was due. There are many more people having their own crisis in the midst of what’s happening in the world. Thank you for helping us to help them.

Viruses don’t respect boundaries. They don’t care about wealth, religion, race, politics or any of the ways we separate people. We must take care of everyone for each one of us to survive—that is a lesson from these times to be burned in our memory.

There’s a long road ahead. Being connected to people—though physically separated—makes the journey easier. Please visit our website for our latest news: thejosephhouse.org. And thank you for being part of the Joseph House family. You always have an honored place in our hearts. May our loving God, who holds the whole world in His hands, look with mercy and kindness on the needs of His children everywhere.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


During this stressful time, please send us your special intentions so we can remember them in our prayers: Contact Form.

If you would like to support our work, you can learn how here: Donate.


On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic crashed into an iceberg and four hours later sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Survivors spoke of a woman who left the relative safety of the upper decks to return to her cabin. She hurried along the corridors already tilting at a dangerous angle. She crossed the gambling room where money and costly gems littered the floor. Reaching her stateroom she saw her own treasures waiting to be picked up. But she paid no heed to them. Instead she took as many oranges as she could hold and hurried back to the life boats.

An hour earlier it would have seemed incredible to her that she could have preferred oranges to her own diamonds, but Death boarded the Titanic and all values were transformed. Precious things became worthless, and common things became precious. Oranges became more important than diamonds.

Today the coronavirus has boarded our spaceship, and toilet paper has become more important than stocks and bonds. But what is really important?

Fr. Stephen Verbest, OCSO
New Melleray Abbey

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

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.