A soup kitchen’s anniversary celebration mirrored the humble presence it has claimed west of downtown Phoenix the last three decades.
Rooted in prayer and community, André House’s anniversary weekend Oct. 30-Nov. 1 featured opening and closing Masses in the parking lot similar to liturgies its guests are invited to four days a week. This time, it was the founders plus staple volunteers and staff over the years who filled the benches and chairs that double as pews.
The handmade altar was the same table where volunteers sliced vegetables and buttered bread for nine years in a backyard. Now, André House sits in a former food bank just outside the county’s Human Services Campus.
Hearty community meals, André House’s flagship ministry, also sandwiched the weekend-long tribute. Other ministries, including employment resources — now housed under a separate nonprofit, St. Joseph the Worker — showers, clothing, a laundry facility and blanket distribution were the fruit of conversation with guests over the years.
The ministry, rooted in the Congregation of Holy Cross and the Catholic Worker Movement and named for St. André Bessette, meets the immediate, basic needs of its guests via food, hospitality, prayer and transitional houses.
213 S. 11th Ave., Phoenix
Prayer service for poor, unclaimed dead
Join staff and volunteers in praying for the deceased among the community whose family could not afford their own burial or whose remains were never identified. Features Scripture, music, luminaries and vigil candles.
7:30 p.m. Nov. 25
White Tanks Cemetery, 5000 N. Alsup Road, Litchfield Park
Related article: Sanctuary, not just shelter (NPR)
André House always thrived on building community for the poor and homeless. Its transitional housing is an extension of that. Congregation of Holy Cross staff, core team members and volunteers still hold regular community dinners and potlucks with guests there.
An Oct. 31 forum discussion brought the same type of people together to examine the ministry’s impact on both sides of the soup kitchen’s serving line and touch on what the future might hold. Some realized how fresh the memories are from an emotional standpoint and the community that exists because of it.
Others noted how much more stressed André House’s longer-term guests look and the challenge of better serving them. Any small gesture could keep another level of darkness away, one guest said during the forum, or serve as a turning point. He confidently showed off his new long-sleeved green shirt and new shoes, courtesy of André House donors.
A young woman sporting black-rimmed glass that featured a pink bow on one corner, also spoke up. Anastasia recommended building up hope and comfort through His word.
“The ultimate thing when you come down to feed us is to experience that suffering that we are also suffering,” she said.
That’s the idea Mike Baxter and John “Fitz” Fitzgerald had when their passion for social justice led to an all-nighter creating André House. Fitzgerald said it’s a bit distressing to know such suffering not only exists, but does so to such a degree that 600 meals are served there almost daily.
“All the same things that have made people homeless have gotten far worse,” Fitzgerald told The Catholic Sun, but praised André House volunteers as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
More importantly, they’re doing it enough that they’re losing the “us” and “them” boundaries, he said. That boundary likely disappeared long ago for Holy Cross Brother Richard Armstrong. His 50th jubilee coincided with André House’s anniversary activity because he has served there since its infancy, rising each morning to open the doors, make food bank runs and other errands, clean toilets, eye finances and step in wherever else he’s needed.
“He has been in title and reality the steward of André House,” Holy Cross Father Tom Doyle said during a tribute.
Br. Richard’s name is now eternally linked with the ministry. André House founders and former directors unveiled a new sign naming the transitional house for men — the ministry’s original location — after Br. Richard.
“André House is still a miracle. It’s God’s greatest gift that we’re a part of it,” Br. Richard said.
Honoring him and several volunteers — including a few area parishioners — during the anniversary weekend matched similar landmarks core staff and volunteers celebrate with guests at any given moment: a new pair of socks, days of sobriety, securing employment, transitioning out of homelessness or simply rejoicing in the exchange of cordial greetings as the soupline advances.
“André House has probably served between four to five million plates of food over the 30 years, but the most highly-leveraged value is on its volunteers and staff,” Fr. Doyle said in his homily Oct. 30.
Just like the founders, the volunteers that cycle in on a largely regular schedule “came inspired by faith and the courage to not just lend a hand, but to change themselves,” Fr. Doyle said.
He’s only been on staff 14 months — a transition that also delayed the anniversary celebration by a year — but it was enough time for the André House director to know how much the experience opens the eyes of volunteers. They see guests as their suffering brothers and sisters.
“Almost always we come away with a sense that we left with something sacred,” Fr. Doyle said.
André House’s mission was founded in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the Catholic Worker Movement. It was named in honor of St. André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother well-known throughout Canada for serving in the most lowly and holy of ways, for healing the sick and for his hospitality. Many throughout the Valley and even the country — thanks to its core staff and series of college volunteers who swoop in during spring break — now know the place that bears his name as one of hospitality and humble service opportunities.
“The staff and volunteers have never had a day when we weren’t doing something or thinking about how to better care for the poor and homeless,” Fr. Doyle said.
Megan McDonald couldn’t agree more.
“There was a rhythm I instantly was in. I just felt purposeful and faith-filled,” she recalled of her first days as a member of the volunteer core staff 10 years ago. McDonald is now in her second year with the board of directors for André House.
The experience taught her how central it is to the faith to be connected to the poor. At its heart, André House embodies the 25th chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. Some 9,000 volunteers from households, churches, schools and corporations contribute 50,000 hours each year to ensure the hungry are fed, the thirsty get a drink and the afflicted are comforted.
St. André Awards
André House presented an icon of St. André Bessette to a series of staple volunteers as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations:
- Mama Jo — Serves breakfast with her faith community every other Saturday plus offers prayers and encouragement.
- Paul Kuffler — Oversees Tuesday’s meal preparation including homemade pasta sauce and initiated weekly faith-sharing groups which often draws in more than 20 guests.
- Alexis Wadas — Came as a nursing intern. Headed to U.S. Navy next month.
- Lou Pratt — Prepares fruits and veggies three days a week plus dishwasher and the last one to leave
- Kathy Gibbons — Maternal figure for core team plus the men’s transitional house
- Bob Gottsfield — Began legal services and recruited attorneys. Dinner volunteer for more than a decade.
- Bill Leinheiser — Represents all the volunteers who have been there nearly three decades. Member of the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale Sunday evening cook for last 10 years.
- Steve and Katie Brown — Recruited volunteers from St. Thomas More Parish in Glendale where they make special effort to coordinate fresh desserts for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
- Jack and Joan Butler — Among the original volunteers who perform an array of tasks. Joan is known for her Tuesday fruit trays.
- Ted Dunne — Performs facilities maintenance for André House and four related residential properties for 15 years and credits St. Joseph for his success.