Something to think about: Crossroads

November 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community, People

By Kristine Thomas

There is no question about the need for the services provided by St. Joseph Shelter, Mission Benedict and Casa Adele in Mount Angel. The question is, who is in the best position to lead, manage and support them?

Founded by the Benedictine Sisters of the Queen of Angels Monastery to serve poor and vulnerable families, St. Joseph Shelter is the only emergency homeless shelter serving families in Marion County; Mission Benedict is a food, clothing and emergency assistance bank; and Casa Adele provides housing for families who are homeless, low-income and working in agricultural industries.

St. Joseph Shelter currently serves 10 families with 13 adults and 24 children. Casa Adele houses nine families with 15 adults and 30 children. In September, Mission Benedict provided food, clothing, diapers and cash assistance for 115 local families. 

Last fall and winter, there were 25 to 35 families on the waiting list for St. Joseph Shelter, as the cold weather brings more families seeking shelter.

“The Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel care deeply about the needy and the homeless of the surrounding area, as do other members of the local Catholic community,” the winter 2015 edition of the Reflections newsletter said. “Since 1988 this special partnership has helped many in need receive kind, compassionate care from St. Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict.”

“The Mt. Angel Catholic community and others have given time, resources and endless hours of energy providing what they can to those in need,” the article noted. 

The question facing the Sisters today isn’t whether the services are vital. Instead, it is whether or not the Sisters can continue to support the ministries on a financially sustainable basis.

In seeking the answer, the Sisters have asked Catholic Community Services (CCS) of Salem to provide them with assistance in exploring options to fund, manage and oversee the three ministries.

During this time of reflection, the 31 Sisters living in the monastery are being led by Sister Joella Kidwell, the president of the Federation of St. Gertrude, who is the nonresident administrator, and Sister Dorothy Pulkka, who is the assistant prioress assuming responsibility for the spiritual, health and personal welfare of the Sisters. Barbara George, a lay woman, directs all the financial and corporate operations and serves as a consultant to the Benedictine Sisters.

George said the process for determining the future of St. Joseph Shelter is underway and no determination has been made.

“At the end of the year, Catholic Community Services will present a report to the Sisters of their experience and findings concerning the continuation of the shelter,” George said. “The Sisters will receive the report and their process of discernment will be initiated.”

CATHOLIC COMMUNITY SERVICES

Jim Seymour is the executive director of Catholic Community Services and its foundation. Last year, he was approached by the Sisters about their need for an organization to manage St. Joseph, Mission Benedict and Casa Adele. In May, CCS began managing the three ministries. That contract is set to expire Dec. 31. The Sisters also asked Seymour for a report on the feasibility of operating the shelter on a financially sustainable basis.

“Catholic Community Services is doing everything in our power to help the Benedictine Sisters sustain these ministries,” Seymour said. 

Founded in Salem in 1938, Catholic Community Services is a nonprofit, faith-based organization offering 17 programs across nine Oregon counties and serving more than 3,000 people each year. 

Since May, the Sisters have paid CCS $3,500 a month for its management services. Seymour said CCS receives an additional $7,500 for staff expenses needed for the day-to-day operation of the shelter. “If we didn’t fill them with CCS staff, the Sisters would have to fill these positions with their own employees at roughly the same expense,” Seymour said.

The total $11,000 per month pays for 20-hours a week for an onsite program director; four hours of Seymour’s time; and both a part-time assistant director and case manager along with a safety coordinator. 

SERVING THE COMMUNITY

Describing his work at the shelter as “an eye-opening experience,” Seymour said if it wasn’t for the shelter, many families would have to resort to couch surfing, moving from home-to-home for temporary shelter, or would have to live in their cars.  

“We receive two or three phone calls a week from families who are looking for a safe place for their children and they want to keep their families together,” Seymour said.

Describing the people who use the shelter as “our neighbors,” Seymour said they are counting on the ministries.

“Over the years, the Sisters have been there for people. They have invited CCS to see if they can keep their ministries alive,” Seymour said. “The Sisters are doing everything they can to keep the ministries alive. If they can’t, then the question becomes how to close them in a responsible manner.”

TIME OF CHANGE

For the last year, the Sisters have made decisions about their businesses and ministries.

The Sisters ceased the production of Monastery Mustard last December; closed Bernard Migrant Men’s Program this spring and announced the planned closure of the Shalom Prayer Center in June of 2017. This October, the Sisters did not host the annual Founders’ Day Concert and Celebration or hold a car drawing, both events traditional ways to celebrate the history of the Sisters’ community life and service to others and to raise funds. The Sisters were established as a religious community in Oregon on Oct. 30, 1882. 

From his conversations with the Sisters, Seymour said he believes they have established a goal of being able to “age in place” and want to reorganize around that goal.

“Several Sisters are over 80 years old and they are looking at how they can continue to live in their monastery in Mt. Angel,” he said. “I think they know they don’t have the same kind of vigor and focus to provide the leadership for their ministries and they are focusing on taking care of each other. Providing the leadership for their ministries is not something they see in the cards. They are trying to figure out how to adjust to that.”

FINANCIAL PICTURE

Fr. Philip Waibel, OSB, of St. Mary Catholic Church in Mt. Angel serves as the board chair for St. Joseph Shelter and its ministries.

He said Casa Adele is paying for itself, breaking even, and Mission Benedict is supported by the Sisters, Mt. Angel Abbey and the parishioners of St. Mary Catholic Church.

The Sisters are solely responsible for the financial stability of St. Joseph Shelter, he said.

“The Sisters are at a crossroad as they evaluate the future of St. Joseph Shelter,” Waibel said. “Whatever decision that needs to be made, that decision will be made by the Benedictine Sisters.”

Waibel said the Sisters are subsidizing the shelter, something they can no longer afford to do.

Seymour said the budget for St. Joseph Shelter is about $400,000 per year. The Sisters receive about $100,000 a year from grants from organizations such as United Way. The remaining $300,000 comes from individual donors or the Sisters.

“The biggest question the Sisters want us to look at is how the shelter can continue to be funded,” Seymour said. 

In recent years, they have not been able to raise enough money to cover the expenses for the shelter, he said.

“They cannot continue to take money out of their reserves to run the shelter,” Seymour said. “It is not sustainable.”

When asked what fundraising has been done, Seymour said to his knowledge the only fundraising the Sisters have done this year for the shelter was to host St. Joseph the Worker dinner in May.

OPTIONS ON THE TABLE

Seymour said there are two options for the Sisters to evaluate when he gives them his report: they can decide to close the shelter or give CCS a contract for another six months – until June 30, 2017 – to explore if there are additional partnerships willing to provide financial stability to operate the shelter. 

He said he would like to have more time to explore the latter option. Seymour added the Sisters want to keep the shelter open.

“When I first began looking into the feasibility of finding sustainable funding, I wasn’t hopeful,” Seymour said. “At this point, I have hope we can find sustainable funding for the shelter.”

By asking the Sisters for a six-month extension, Seymour said he would recommend the Sisters invite the community to participate in the discussion. “I have come to believe that if we reach out to the community and ask for help to keep the shelter open that the community will respond,” he said.

RIGHT FIT

Waibel said Catholic Community Services is dedicated to serving the poor and the less advantaged. He said Catholic Community Services is the only Catholic provider in this part of the Willamette Valley that has experience with the services offered by the Sisters.

“We didn’t look elsewhere for other organizations because they are a major Catholic provider locally and the fit was pretty natural,” Waibel said. “They have such expertise and wisdom on how to handle things and it is amazing to watch.”

Waibel said his job as the board chair is to serve the Sisters. He emphasized the Sisters are the ones making decisions about their life and their ministries.

“Their ministries have been gifts to the poor,” Waibel said. “The Sisters have not only served this community but other communities.”

Since the Sisters began operating St. Joseph “the dynamics of poverty have changed over the years,” Waibel said, “including homelessness, whether in Mt. Angel or Silverton or throughout the country.”

“There are many more people living on the edge,” Waibel said.

Pulkka said the community can help support homeless families by advocating for fair housing practices, increasing the number of affordable housing units available, supporting programs that serve the homeless and by volunteering, praying and contributing financially.

She invited the community to hold the Sisters in their prayers. “CCS and the Sisters are prayerfully and carefully seeking the best outcome for all,” Pulkka said.

Both Waibel and Seymour said the Sisters have reached a point in their ministry of hospitality where decisions have to be made, and the only way for the Sisters to make a decision is to have accurate information.

Both men also emphasized in separate interviews how important it is to honor, respect and be thankful for the vast amount of work done by the Sisters to care for people.

“The Sisters are focusing on their spiritual work and are looking for other organizations to take on the leadership role for their ministries,” Seymour said. 

“They are looking at whether they need someone else to come in and play a leadership role,” he added. “They still want to be part of the community and support the community but they need someone else to lead.”

Many people don’t understand the shelter, food bank and migrant housing are ministries of the Sisters, Waibel said.

The motto of Benedictines is prayer and work. They gather five times a day as a monastic community to pray together in the Chapel. Each Sister is devoted to spending time alone in contemplative prayer and spiritual reading.

In the August newsletter a story shared how during the Sisters’ 134 years of work in Mt. Angel they have served in spiritual ministries in many ways.

“At a recent community meeting, we again afford that spiritual ministry and hospitality are at the center of our service to God, the church and the local people,” the article states. “Additionally, we have formed a task force to explore new ways to live out this commitment as we move into our immediate future.”

Waibel said it’s important the wider community trusts and supports whatever decision is made.

From his years working with the Sisters, Waibel believes they have been thoughtful and honest in the process as they stand at the crossroad, determined to make the best decision for the future of their ministries.

“This is a very thoughtful time for the Sisters,” Waibel said. “I am praying for God’s guidance for them and that they get all the information they need to make the right decision.”

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