Spotlight: Gesu Parish in Milwaukee
By Eileen Ciezki, Social Ministries Director
In these times when there is limited material help, our solidarity does not always bring immediate solutions, but may bring some hope and encouragement.
At Gesu Parish in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the Marquette University Campus, the Saturday Evening Soup & Sandwich Meal Ministry continues to welcome, feed and give a quiet hour’s refuge to the neighborhood guests. Many, mostly men, are from the surrounding shelters, lower-rent apartments and group homes and others from the streets. The number of guests has increased about 10% on the first three Saturdays of each month. Basic hunger needs are met within a welcoming and praying community.
For this same central city, high poverty neighborhood, our parish-based St. Vincent de Paul Society has seen an significant increase in assistance requests for food, beds, clothing, rent and utility assistance which far surpasses their capacity. Evictions are common and homeless prevention measures are often unmet. Parish visitors offer food and clothing assistance with promises of prayer. A diocesan seminarian who did his field ministry at Gesu, noted that accompanying parishioners on these home visits was the most formative experience during his time at Gesu.
While Gesu’s St. Vincent de Paul Society primarily responds to requests in the immediately surrounding urban neighborhood, there has also been a marked increase of calls for help from outside our neighborhood, primarily by single persons with health and income problems and without resources:
- An inner city, unemployed mother of 5 with 2 grandchildren, who has been ill with recently diagnosed health problems is seeking utility payment assistance so her electricity won’t be turned off. Her only source of income is SSI for one of her children. We are only able to provide school supplies for the children and prayers.
- A south side Catholic educated, divorced woman with no children in her early 60’s with chronic health problems, mobility challenges, limited income and no health insurance called looking for health care and housekeeping and personal care assistance. We are only able to offer her phone numbers to interfaith and county agencies that may help, along with our hope and prayers .
- An unemployed middle-aged man with chronic health problems and no insurance, living in a middle income neighborhood in his deceased father’s now foreclosed home is unable to make payments on the reverse mortgage. He is looking for household chore assistance, health care and new housing. Besides our prayers, we are only able to offer referrals to other charitable groups, community and county agencies that may help.
- A parishioner calls for an immigrant mother, employed as a cleaning lady, with children, whose monthly rent is $1,700 for a three bedroom flat. She is falling behind on rent. He is concerned that the landlord may have had the woman sign a lease that she did not understand. We are able to refer him to Milwaukee’s Fair Housing Council, and promise our prayers.
It is humbling that even in these dire circumstances, with only limited help given, people express their deep gratitude. As followers of Christ, we try to offer assistance, support and prayers and surrender our limitations to the all-loving God. We are called to witness our faith, hope and love, as faltering and incomplete as it is.