A Brief History of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House

 

The St. Jude Catholic Worker House was opened in early 1980 in a home on University Avenue, Urbana donated by a physician who wanted it to be used for philanthropic purposes. The house was originally intended for a family who were refugees from Vietnam. However, due to immigration complications they were not able to arrive at this time. Fr. George Dorsey, a co-pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Urbana, suggested the house be used as a Catholic Worker House. He along with a graduate student, Graham Thompson, helped to furnish and find donations of food and household supplies along with volunteer support to open the house. Sunday evening became the night for clarification of thought on social justice themes, community song time and mass at the house. As Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement described it, we were just sitting there talking, when the hungry came and said we need food. We were just sitting there talking, when the homeless came and said we need housing. And so we began to feed and house the poor in our midst.

The St. Jude Catholic Worker first opened its door and provided housing to persons who were discharged from the psychiatric unit at Mercy Hospital (now Presence Hospital). The house from the outset also provided a noon meal for anyone in need of food and friendship. The house was run by volunteers who helped to run the soup kitchen and stay overnight. Graham Thompson was the first coordinator of the house followed by a resident family, Bill and Fran McCoy, who helped to welcome others to the home. Fran McCoy was the person who suggested we name the house, St. Jude after the patron saint of hopeless cases. She felt hopeless when she and her family arrived at the house but after living there and being supported by the community, she was empowered to give back and find hope once again.

Sharon Monday and Michael Rupsch, who were the next set of live- in home managers, took on the project of major renovation to the house in 1981. The outside was painted yellow with rays of white to represent hope and the inside kitchen area was renovated along with wallpaper and a new coat of paint to the entire house. A chapel area was built with the assistance of Dave Lawrence Jr. in the basement. A food pantry was set up in the basement as well to serve the growing number of guests who came to us from many backgrounds and situations.

In the early 90’s the house was sold to Provena Covenant Hospital. Ellen McDowell and Jean Daley started Saturday morning coffees to raise awareness about the mission of the Catholic Worker and establish a financial base for the purchase and renova- tion of the current Catholic Worker which is now located on Randolph Street in Champaign. The house was purchased for $75,000 and paid off within a year thanks to the generosity of the community and a grant from Solo Cup.

Throughout the 35 years that the St. Jude Catholic Worker House has been opened hospitality to the most vulnerable has always been at the fore- front of the mission. The house has also been a place for live in volunteers and lay people to learn how to form friendship and community with the poor and a place to examine the societal forces at work that create conditions of discrimination and poverty. St. Jude’s has been blessed by local priests who have helped to bring a catholic presence and spirituality to the house. Our current priest, Fr. Tom Royer, has been with the community for many years? He has blessed us with many special homilies and stories related to social justice and the works of mercy.

The house is now in a time of rebuilding the community support and live in base. We remain dedicated to the mission of voluntary poverty, nonviolence, doing the works of mercy, social justice and being a place to share our spiritual journey together with the poor.

Sharon Monday, former volunteer and CSAF Board Member

Looking to the Future of the St. Jude Catholic Worker Community

Late last summer 2014 the Christian Social Action Forum Board [CSAF] asked all but one of the residential volunteers and all guests to move out of the two houses of the St. Jude Catholic Worker. [We were con- cerned about instability in the volunteer community and felt St. Jude had wandered from its roots.] In collaboration with CU@home, one long-term guest with two children moved into her own home. CSAF subsidized the first six months of utilities. A second guest, one who has lived in the House for about 5 years has stayed along with volunteer Dave Powers, who has become a remarkable center for rebuilding St. Jude. [See his article in this newsletter.]

A fellow friend of the Worker House, Pat Fettig, suggest- ed we rename the Annex, the Dorothy Day Center for Contemplation and Action—a name that very much reflects! With the help of Pat Knowles we completely cleaned the space to make it hospitable to outside gatherings. Right now the Center is more focused on Contemplation than Action—all in its time. The core of the CW community is small but the embryonic growth we hoped might happen is occurring.

We hold weekly Saturday morning meetings at 10 a.m. in the Dorothy Day Center [314 Cottage Court] to discuss the aims and means of the Catholic Worker in the context of the activities of the two houses. All are welcome who are interested in being part of this extended community—please let us know [stjudecatholicworker@gmail.com] if you want to be notified if there is any change in meeting time—we occasionally have had to cancel [rare]. Dave brings homemade bread—often just out of the oven and we have coffee and tea. The conversations are important, as is the work to build a common framework for the role of these two Catholic Worker houses in the Champaign- Urbana community.

Leigh Estabrook, Member, Christian Social Action Forum Board and Friend of St. Jude leighe@gmail.com