Posted September 16, 2009 in MH Edmonton AB:
Who is Poor?

by Patrick Stewart.

To be on the staff of Marian Centre, you don’t have to be smart, strong, emotionally together, or physically healthy. You just have to be willing to give what you’ve got, love and forgive your brothers and sisters, love the Lord, and love yourself in the Lord. That’s a lot of work.

I grew up in North Carolina, in a fairly wealthy family. For me, the poor were the people who cut our grass and cleaned our house and served us at the country club.

So after I’d joined Madonna House, I was really grateful when I was assigned to Marian Centre. I wanted to get to know the poor, and I wanted to get over my fear of them.

In my twelve years at Marian Centre, I’ve learned a lot of things—probably the most important one being that I am poor. Yes, I’ve discovered that I am poor.

So it’s not them anymore. It’s not them and me. It’s us. I am one of the poor.

In Madonna House, you live in poverty, you discover your own poverty, and you learn to depend on the Lord. I have to depend on the Lord every day.

Marian Centre, which has been in operation since 1955, is right in the middle of Edmonton, Alberta, a major western Canadian city. I’d like to tell you a little bit about what we do and who we are. Who we are is more important than what we do, but if you want to know who we are, it helps to know what we do.

We’ve done many different things over the years, but whatever the specifics, essentially what we do is serve. We serve each other and our friends who serve with us, and we serve the poor of the inner city.

At the present time, six days a week we serve lunch to an average of 150 people. One day a week, we operate a clothing room. And throughout the day we give sandwiches to whoever comes to the door and asks for one.

In fact, whenever people come to our door, we try to meet their simple needs. Sometimes that means sending them to another agency or group of people who can do that better than we can.

When people come, they come to our home, not to an institution. They come for a meal, for a place out of the cold or rain, for a listening ear. We make friends with them. I think friendship is the most important thing we give, especially to our brothers and sisters who are materially poor.

We serve tasty, healthy food in our soup kitchen, and occasionally it’s extra-good. Last Easter, for example, thanks to generous benefactors, we were able to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ with a steak dinner for all.

We are trying to proclaim the second coming of Jesus by how we live and how we serve.

We are twelve Madonna House staff living in community in Marian Centre, and we are quite a variety of people. Mike Fagan is the oldest; he’s 79. Melanie Murphy, the youngest, is in her 30s. Our youngest volunteer is about 18 months old. She comes on Tuesdays with her mother and helps us at the dishwasher.

We have here in our family—as in Combermere—the very strong and able and the not so strong and able. One of our members, Miriam Stulberg, has MS, multiple sclerosis. Most of the time, she needs the assistance of a walker or one of those electric buggies to get around the house and the city.

She’s just finished writing a book about her life in the apostolate, God Calls Me Miriam, and she’s also edited another book for Madonna House Publications—Light in the Darkness, a collection of some of Catherine’s words about living in hard times.

She also answers the phone, and when necessary, she helps serve the meal in the soup kitchen.

Mike Fagan, who at 79 has a fair number of physical problems, answers the phone and writes thank you notes. He’s a man people come and talk to, to receive his counsel, his love, and his care.

Lisa Cox has been struggling with a severe illness for many years now, and she’s relatively young. She is all over the house participating in our life. I think her greatest joy is to come down to the clothing room on Tuesdays to serve and visit with the people who come for clothing.

Not too long after I got to Marian Centre, three young men came to our door asking for sandwiches. In the hierarchy of the inner city, they were at the bottom. These are the guys who carry rags and little containers of lacquer thinner.

They pour a little bit of lacquer thinner on the rag, hold it up to their noses, and breathe it in. It really messes up your brain.

Anyhow as I was walking to the kitchen to get them their sandwiches, a voice in my heart said, "Tell them I love them more than anyone else." I said to the voice. "You’re crazy. I can’t say that because they’ll think I’m crazy."

I opened the refrigerator door and took out the sandwiches, and as I was walking back to the door, I heard again, "Tell them I love them more than I love anyone else."

"No. I will not say that."

"Tell them!"


"Tell them!"


So I made the Sign of the Cross, opened the door, and said, "You know, you guys, God loves you most of all."

One of them said, "We know that!"

So God was saying that for my benefit, not theirs. At that time, I was just beginning to discover my own poverty. So, I thought, since I am poor, God loves me most of all, too.

Last year I got to know three other guys, Bob, David, and Greg (not their real names). I got to know Bob first because he was the most outgoing.

He had recently gotten off the Greyhound Bus; the depot isn’t far from our house. He had come to look for work in the city. He put down his bags, lit up a cigarette, and somebody asked him for the cigarette.

He said no, so whoever it was stabbed him in the stomach, grabbed his bags, and ran. So Bob was recovering from a stab wound.

David, too, I learned, had been through something or other not too much different.

Slowly I got to know these three guys, and I learned that they were in a rehab program at a center not far from us.

They liked coming to Marian Centre. They said they felt some kind of peace and some kind of friendship and welcome that they didn’t feel in other places. So they came to our house for lunch every day.

As I said, Bob was the one I had gotten to know first. One day he didn’t come. There were just David and Greg, and where’s Bob? He left, they told me.

I began talking more with David, who was the more talkative of the two, but eventually I started getting to know Greg as well. He was the one I thought I’d never get to know, but he is now one of our best friends.

Greg is a cowboy; actually he’s a bull rider. He’s also an addict, and his addiction kicked his butt more than the bulls did.

But in the last couple of months, through the help of one of our wealthy friends and benefactors, we have been able to help Greg get back on the bull. Literally.

About a month ago, he entered a rodeo competition and got on a bull. He didn’t do too well; the bull tossed him off. When this happened a second time, he picked himself off the ground, ran out of the ring, and immediately headed for the bar.

But he didn’t get there. He caught himself, stopped, and thought about all the friends who had come to watch him ride, including a lot of the Madonna House family. He thought about his relationship with the Lord and about his sobriety, and he returned to the ring.

He’s returned to the ring several times since. He now has a good day job, and he continues to work at his sobriety. He also volunteers and hangs out with us at Marian Centre when he has time.

There are lots of different ways that we serve the poor in inner city of Edmonton. We know bull riders, and we know folks who will never get back on the bull, symbolically or literally. But that doesn’t matter because they are sons and daughters of Christ.

When folks come to the door, they are hungry, and that’s reason enough for us to welcome them into the house for a meal. Even if they’ve been hungry and out on the street for the last thirty years, which some of them have, we say, "Come on in."

One of our works, our most important work, is to love each person we meet as our brother or sister.

The interesting thing is that the brothers and sisters who are the hardest to love are not usually those called "the poor."

Usually the problem isn’t with Bob or Greg or David. Some days it’s with Mike Fagan or Melanie or Patrick. Yes, believe me, we ourselves, our Madonna House brothers and sisters, are the poor who are the most difficult for us to love and forgive.

So we have to work to do that. And as we do, then meeting Jack at the door and talking to David in the dining room is not that difficult. Actually it gets quite natural after a while.

For it is in our encounters with our brothers and sisters within our Madonna House family, through our everyday efforts to love one another, especially through our failures and inabilities to do so, that we discover our inner poverty.

And it is only when we know we are poor and little that we can encounter the poorest of the poor eye to eye, hand to hand, heart to heart.

I’ve learned something else, too. I’ve learned who the poorest of the poor really is. It is Christ. He set aside his divinity and came down to walk among us as a beggar for our love. When we encounter the poorest of the poor, we encounter Him.


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