Samaritan House, Denver Rescue Mission team up to shelter homeless during blizzard

Moira Cullings

When a massive snowstorm ripped through Denver on March 13, residents took shelter in their homes, keeping warm and avoiding the dangerous conditions outside.

Those who didn’t have that luxury — particularly the city’s homeless — were left to face the elements. Although many sought shelter at the Denver Rescue Mission, the building lost power and left hundreds of women without electricity or heat.

The team at Samaritan House knew they needed to act.

“It’s just something you do as a service community,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelter Services at Samaritan House. “You come together to take care of the less fortunate and those that are in need.”

Samaritan House opened its doors four hours earlier than normal to accommodate the women and shield them from the blizzard.

“We had women that came in, and they were just soaking wet,” said Lisa Cooper, Director of Operations at Samaritan House. “We had to replace all their clothing and get them warm.”

Sinnett explained how gracious the women were for the extra help.

“They’re dealing with a lot of challenges just being homeless,” he said, “and then you throw a storm like that on top of it — it’s very stressful.

“We just brought them in, loved on them a little bit, made sure they had hot chocolate and coffee and food to eat,” he said. “We got them out of the elements and got them in a nice, safe place.

“We do that every night,” he added. “But what made it more different was the fact that we had the elements fighting against us.”

When a blizzard hit Denver on March 13, Samaritan House went above and beyond to make sure local homeless people in need were safe and warm. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

Just a few hours later, the Denver Rescue Mission was still out of power and short on meals for that night’s dinner for the men it serves. The Samaritan House staff stepped up yet again and was able to provide the Mission with 450 meals.

“The Rescue Mission would’ve done the same thing for us,” said Sinnett. “That’s just the cooperation and partnership we have with them.”

On top of everything, Samaritan House, with help from the St. Francis Center and the city of Denver, was able to transport the women it serves to its Smith Road shelter, where space was made, and beds, cots and mats were utilized for everyone who needed a place to sleep.

Cooper explained that despite the treacherous weather conditions, staff members came up big — and did so with a positive attitude.

“Our maintenance guy shoveled snow for five hours straight and didn’t complain,” she said. “It was just amazing. There was nobody arguing — there was just people being present.”

 

Sinnett, who spent the day welcoming women at the Smith Road center, saw the same positivity both in the employees and the homeless.

Denver’s winter conditions can add even more stress to those experiencing homelessness. Shelters like Samaritan House and Denver Rescue Mission provide warm food and a place to avoid the harsh elements. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

“Everybody was smiling,” he said. “Nobody was stressed out. We knew we had a task ahead of us, but everybody had a ‘can do’ spirit, and we did it.”

Cooper was inspired by the work two different shelters with the same mission were able to accomplish together.

“It’s refreshing to know that we are now sincerely working as a team, and it really is a team effort to serve the homeless population of Denver,” she said.

For the Samaritan House team, it simply confirms why they do what they do.

“I’m really proud of my staff,” said Sinnett. “It just refreshes the reason we’re here, and that is to serve the poor and those in need.”

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.