After the Wrought Iron Fence Went Down
by Fr. Tony O’Dell, OMI
“What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” — Aristotle
When Fr. Jarek and I arrived in Hamilton, we were being shown various parishes where there was a need for priests. As fate, I think that translates to as God, would have it, we did come to St. Patrick and are now very glad we did. As Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order that Fr. Jarek and I belong to, our mandate is to serve the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged. As it turned out, this was exactly the place God wanted us to be, as according to the Spectator’s Code Red articles about the health and welfare of the various neighbourhoods in Hamilton, we were right in the midst of one of the poorest neighbourhoods.
During the first week we arrived, we had the wrought iron fence taken down. The fence was intended as a means of protection from the harsh realities of crime and vandalism in our impoverished area, but in reality the fence was a barrier – giving the message that the Church wanted to keep people out instead of inviting them in. It was our first message indicating that all are welcomed here, as stated in the value portion of our parish mission statement, under hospitality: “we believe that a warm, welcoming attitude is a first step to building fellowship and meaningful relationships within our community.
When we came here, there were many people knocking on the door, asking for money. We couldn’t give them money. Apart from the fact that we didn’t have any to give, we were advised not to give money, as it would in all likelihood be spent on their various addictions. When we asked people what they wanted the money for, they said it was because they were hungry. While money was not an option, a sandwich and a coffee were.
The staff began initially making a loaf of sandwiches a day… Within a very short while, a loaf of sandwiches wasn’t cutting it. From 10 – 20 people a day, this ministry has grown to the point where we are serving up to 300 people a day, every day, 365 days a year.
From 9:00 – 11:00, our guests are served a coffee, and either a donut or muffin and a snack. At 11:00, our guests come back for lunch, and at this t it is usually a home cooked hearty meal, a hot or cold drink and a snack. What we serve depends on what our volunteers make for us. We are extremely fortunate to have volunteers who are willing to provide these meals to our guests. Every Tuesday, Domino’s Pizza of Canada donates pizzas. Every Friday, 52 Friday’s a year, we provide 200+ people with a barbeque, where each person gets a hamburg, hot dog, a cold drink and a snack. The barbeque has become the highlight of their week.
Initially our outreach room was a 6 x 12 room, located just inside the front door of our office. It was crowded with fridges and freezers, as well as 4 or more volunteers. Our rectory kitchen and dining room was where everything was prepared and bagged from. We very quickly outgrew this room, and Mr. Pat Daly, the Chair of our Catholic School Board, who happened to be at one of our Sunday evening Masses, heard of our cry for help and offered us a room at St. Patrick School, right next door to us. It was an answer to many prayers!
We officially opened the new Outreach Room September 9, 2016. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Daley and Ms. Sue Verrelli, the St. Patrick School principal, who was on-board with the idea from the first time she heard it. This new partnership formed between our church and the school, opens the door for many more opportunities down the road.
God Answers Prayers in Concrete Acts of Mercy: This ministry is made possible by many, many prayers and God opening and blessing the hearts of the generosity of people.
The government or the diocese does not fund us. This ministry is completed supported by the generosity of people who want to make a difference in the lives of poor and marginalized in our city. We hope (and pray) to get more businesses and corporations to support our work through funds and/or product, which will help us to continue to deliver this program.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” — William Shakespeare