Sheltering the homeless a corporal work of mercy

January 21, 2016

To shelter the homeless is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. In a social context when we provide housing that is affordable, we are sheltering.

In the 1950s, the church in Louisville grew by leaps and bounds. New parishes were springing up, and with them schools. Those returning from WWII fueled this growth. I was in grade school and the parish was a center of our social life.

In the 1970s, I worked in a team ministry in the Black community. We were a small community of predominantly Black Catholics but a very “kool” group. Jewell and her family were very much a part of that mighty band of believers — we prayed in a geodesic dome inside an old Romanesque church that was used also for a Montessori school and an African arts boutique. Jewel had four kids and struggled to care for them.

In 2000, working at Catholic Charities, we were developing affordable senior housing. We would do adaptive reuse of former school buildings into very uptown affordable apartments. When I say we, I mean the parish, the archdiocese, Catholic Charities (development group) and the United States government via the HUD 202 program. These units are energy efficient, very handsome apartments for low-income seniors at a price they could afford.

Shortly after opening, we were filming a promo and some of the residents were there in the community room. Lo and behold, there was Jewel. And there were three others who had gone to school in this space, St. Bartholomew Senior Apartments, which was now their home.

Now in the normal course of events, most preachers would not count this event as a work of mercy. Some might better consider it a work of justice. But to talk about mercy without justice is like talking about compassion without love, aka action.

It was not one to one. It is intentionally large — 30 elderly persons who needed safe affordable housing. It required lots of money and legions of talented persons. Our end was not just a one-time event but a lifetime commitment to safe shelter.

A community of folks who responded to a community of need who would probably never use the term: Corporal Work of Mercy. A work of mercy that comes from love that builds on the past and requires of us to craft the future. Building a future of hope based on the challenge of love of thy neighbor. To build shelter for those in need. To house my friend Jewel.

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