Over the last year three new hires (excluding the parish school) have, as they do not tire of reminding
Me: Marie, can you tell me a little bit about your background, how you got interested in social work, and what led you to St. Anne?
MJ: I went to college at Catholic University of America in (Washington) DC. I have a Masters in Social work from DePaul. I wanted to be a sociologist (among other things…I also wanted to be a princess named Princess Dream for awhile too). I was interested, still am, in war and the movements of people in response to war and genocide. In high school (Loyola Academy) and in college I did a lot of volunteering (Catholic Worker House, immigrant rights group, Guatemala, etc.) and those experiences led me to be more interested in the lived, daily experiences of people beyond just studying them.
Me: What work did you do with Catholic Charities Refugee Program before you came to St. Anne?
MJ: I’ve worked primarily with refuges and immigrants. I loved that work and still do. I’ve done lots of different types of social work with this population. I am really interested in how a community can respond in better and bigger ways to the needs of our neighbors…meaning program expansion and development.
Me: This is the thing, isn't it? I've always felt that it was important for any church to open up pathways for people to exercise their calling to work for the gospel. People really seem to want to help, but often don't see any clear access to various ways to work for social justice. I know that when Sr. Lorraine and others began the food pantry in Carpentersville, it was an opportunity for my family to begin work together, and after all these years I still love doing that.
MJ: Yes, we are creating space for all of us to serve in the ways we are best equipped to do and allowing opportunities for engagement so that we can learn from the marginalized in our communities.
Me: Can you tell us about any "conversion moments," times in your life when you knew that this was the kind of work you wanted to do?
MJ: A conversion moment, I have them twelve times a day and usually they are more like me being dragged kicking and screaming by the Holy Spirit (hello! …that’s how I ended up in Barrington). I am not sure I can pinpoint one moment; more a series of moments that led me to believing that Jesus wasn’t joking about serving our brothers and sisters. I love Matthew 25. Not the judgment part in terms of me being included or the idea that I could deserve somehow to be included in the group on the right…I’ve a far way to go for that. More like when he says that whatever you did for the least you did for me, and what you didn’t do, you didn’t do for me. To me this isn’t something sweet, this is real. If I claim to be a lover of God, then how can I not serve God?
To me serving means the dirty work. It’s more in the ugly, hard moments that I learn about God’s love than in sweet songs (uh, no offense...) or platitudes. It's in the interactions I have had with the refugee, the homeless mother, the substance user, the angry drunk, the abuser, the undocumented, the mentally ill, that I have met God. That for me the incarnation is made real. That God came to us as Jesus and that it mattered. It should change the way we deal with the “other.'
All of this is hard though, I can’t say that I am “good” at it or that I always do it lovingly…thus the dragging, kicking and screaming of conversion. Especially as this intersects with my professional role as a social worker and setting boundaries and discerning what is best for a client and for an organization (or ministry as it is here). I just know that my own personal brokenness has been responded to with such love and grace by God and by God made manifest in my tribe of people. My hope is that as a ministry we do this for others, and I think we do, we provide hope and more importantly we tell people that they matter,that their life is valuable and that they are loved by a God that’s bigger than any brokeness or any of the shit life throws at them.
Me: OK, and to follow up with hipper interview questions–favorite color?
Me: Celebrity crush?
MJ: Gary Daigle.
Me: If you only knew how many times I've heard that! Any last thoughts?
MJ: Well, yes...I also I blame my mother for tipping my life toward this work. We had "solidarity with the poor" nights….she would make a very simple meal (rice and beans) and we would talk about how better to serve the poor in our communities. Yup. Mama Jokes.
Maybe, friends, you can begin to understand why I look forward to having Marie on staff with us at St. Anne for many years to come. It's hard not to catch her fire for her work even while being a little intimidated by she exposes how much closer we really are to tremendous suffering than maybe we had imagined. But there is hope in the solidarity of a community that faces that suffering together. That's what I hope to catch. Hope.
Now, as promised, this is the text of Marie's talk to the House of Hope volunteers at the 2015 appreciation dinner from last month. Even I, who work at St. Anne and know a lot of these people as my friends and neighbors for over twenty years, was amazed at what they are able to do in the community on behalf of the poor. I leave you with Marie's words:______________
Tonight we celebrate you. You the volunteer who works long hours in House of Hope, sorting
This year, we were called to serve in increasingly bigger and bolder ways. You responded to this call the way you do all things…with joy and hard work.
This year we fed 6,200 people. 6,200 of our neighbors in need who came to us for help in keeping their families fed and healthy. Even more than food you offered hope.
We worked with 1700 households in our community that were in need of rental assistance, help with prescription medication, school supplies for their children. You kept lights on and homes heated. You repaired cars. You kept people employed and self sufficient. But even more than that you offered hope.
You gave out $170,000 in grants to 14 local organizations that feed, house, and counsel those in need; extending our reach in the community further than the Project Hope walls. But even more than that You offered hope to our community.
In order to do all of this you worked long, hours in the food pantry, Project Hope office, on the grant committee, on the Board of Advisors and at House of Hope.
House of Hope: This year we had another record breaking year. You just can’t stop yourselves……For the first time in our history, House of Hope brought in over one million dollars in revenue. One million dollars to serve God’s people. Thank you. Thank you. Our clients thank you, our community thanks you, I thank you.
A special thanks goes out to our (donations truck driver) Jim. I literally begged him to come. We all did. So perhaps we can show our gratitude to Jim even with him not being here.
From polishing silver, to keeping our pantry stocked, answering phones, sorting and pricing shoes, linens, clothing, household goods, sporting equipment, stationery, the welcoming of customers & Clients alike …. All of these moments you are offering grace and mercy. You offer this mercy to each other, to our clients, our customers
One of the many things I am continually impressed with is the way that we minister and are ministered to by one another. This is a community of friends, neighbors, and family. Nowhere was this more apparent then in the passing of our dear friend and manager Caryn. Many of you walked with her in her final weeks, visiting, praying, and supporting Jim and Peggy as they cared for Caryn right up to the end. It was beautiful to see this community come together to support one another.
Caryn remained deeply committed to Hope Ministries to the end of her life. She shared with our ministry some of the financial gifts of her life for which we are extremely grateful. As you know, One of the things Caryn was most passionate about was serving families who faced a housing crisis such as a fire, flooding, or transitioning out of homelessness. She loved putting together the things that turn a house into a home. We will specifically be using these funds from Caryn to serve families in a housing crisis. Continuing to pass on the gift of mercy and love that Caryn was to all of us.
The book of notes and memories you shared with Caryn near the end of her life was full of stories of hope. Stories that demonstrate the many ways you are a community of the faithful. Faithful real people.
Some days the thought of yet another bin of clothing might be enough to put you over the edge. Or hearing of yet another tale of substance abuse or family disintegration may be enough to hang up your Project Hope hat. Sister Lorraine’s vision of working together to serve the poor is a hard one. She did not intend that this work was to be done by one person. Her vision was and our vision remains to do this work together, as a community….a community of the faithful who are real people. This life of service within a community challenges us to be together in the tough parts of life and the hard parts of serving. The tough conversations, the tough decisions-it is not easy to do this work.
And yet You demonstrate, that it’s worth it. The call of the faithful is answered daily by each of you, to serve, to love in the hard times and through the hard moments.. As a community You demonstrate an openness to learn, to grow, and to think in new ways about old problems. You are a group of people open to God’s call. Open to listening to the Holy Spirit as lived in our real lives. In the smelly, ugly bits, just as much as in the times of rejoicing.
As we continue to grow in all parts of our ministry, change is inevitable. We know Peggy will be retiring as our General manager next June. She and I along with the Board of Advisors and ministry leaders have been working closely to ensure our long term sustainability, I am confident in all of you to continue to do the work of serving the poor because this call was not reserved for Sr. Lorraine, for Peggy, for Diane, for Jim. This call is all of ours. Those of us in this room and the many others we invite to join us. As we continue to evolve, I want to share my awe for each of you as you serve God’s people with love and mercy. Your brave, generous, open, and humble response to the call to serve is an inspiration. I can’t wait to see what next year brings us.
So while I am in awe of the money we’ve made, the people we’ve fed, the grants we’ve given and I am certain we have the best "upscale" resale shop in the state….I am convincd that what we do best is this; being in community with one another. Ministrering to each other, offering hope to our community, and growing in faith together.
This is who you are, this is who we are.