Hearts and hands of nuns, laity take Christ’s love to the poor

Little Sisters, Christ in the City missionaries, Regis college students minister to elderly, homeless

Roxanne King

Their Denver ministries are different but they share a common theme: they all serve the poor.

With the help of lay staff, nine Little Sisters of the Poor nuns lovingly care for needy seniors at Mullen Home in West Highlands, while 25 young adult Christ in the City missionaries serve the chronically homeless downtown, and 115 college students from Regis University’s Father Woody Programs serve inner-city youth, the homeless and the elderly.

Members of the three apostolates shared their stories with 150 guests at a second annual jointly sponsored get-acquainted dinner Sept. 22 at Mullen Home.

“This is a friend-raiser, not a fundraiser,” Little Sister Patricia Mary Metzgar, superior of Mullen Home, told attendees. “It’s to make people more aware of what is going on in our city and the beautiful things you might not hear about.

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A big part of the ministry of the Little Sisters of the Poor is serving the elderly at Mullen Home for the Aged. Several women from the Little Sisters gathered with Christ in the City missionaries and students from Regis University Sept. 22 for the second annual get-acquainted dinner, where the three ministries coordinate efforts to serve the poor and elderly of Denver. (Photo by Abby Dellasega)

“This year’s dinner is called Hearts and Hands of Hope because if we didn’t have the heart we wouldn’t be doing it,” she said. “If we didn’t have the hands to share—everyone helping us—we couldn’t do it. We have hope because we’re all working for the Lord—and the more we work together the better.”

The Little Sisters were started by St. Jeanne Jugan in 1839 when she took in a blind, infirm elderly woman and began caring for her in her home in Saint-Servan, France. Today, some 2,500 Little Sisters serve 13,000 elderly residents in 195 homes worldwide, 30 of which are in the United States.

Next year, Mullen Home, which has 65 residents who the nuns support in the manner of their foundress by relying on Providence and begging, will mark its 100th anniversary.

“What goes on here is family—it’s a home,” Sister Patricia Mary said. “There’s a lot of love that goes on here.”

Taking Christ’s love to the homeless is the ministry of Christ in the City, which was founded in Denver in 2010 to form lifelong missionaries. Young adults commit to a summer or a year of living in community to serve in exchange for spiritual, intellectual, apostolic and human formation through the program run by the Christian Life Movement. Missionaries search out the chronically homeless, befriend them, help connect them to resources and feed them.

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Christ is the City is a homeless outreach ministry that was formed in 2010. The aim to serve the chronically homeless population of Denver by befriending them, feeding them, and directing them to various resources that can help them. (Photo by Abby Dellasega)

“This last year has been the hardest of my life but the most beautiful and one of the happiest because it has been such an adventure falling in love with God and sharing that love with our (homeless) friends,” missionary Adriana Aguirre, 19, told the crowd. “I see everything is worth it: all the sacrifice and leaving my home in Sonora, Mexico. Being here and suffering with (the homeless) and sharing their life makes me feel so happy.”

Miriam Hernandez, 23, program assistant for Father Woody Programs, spoke about the service Regis college students do during the academic year (a handful also serve during the summer), which ranges from tutoring at Catholic schools, to helping Christ in the City and other entities to feed the homeless, to assisting with the elderly at Mullen Home, to co-sponsoring a huge annual Christmas party replete with dinner and gifts for thousands of homeless and poor.

Named after Msgr. Charles B. Woodrich who died 25 years ago and was co-founder of Samaritan House homeless shelter, Father Woody Programs was started by Regis professor Victoria McCabe after his death.

“We try to continue (Father Woody’s) mission,” Hernandez said. Quoting one of the key values of the Jesuit university, she added, “We are men and women for others.”

All photos courtesy of Abby Dellasega

COMING UP: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.