Marriage, Family, Forgiveness — every topic was on the table when I met with the women of the Julia Greeley Home in early April. The group of 17 women also included the young mothers from Shannon’s Hope, the Christian ministry which shares the residence with us. It’s the first of many monthly visits I’m planning to make. I want each woman who enters this beautiful home to know she is valued and loved, and that our Christian faith supports her in her goal to achieve self sufficiency.
I also wanted each woman to understand that the Julia Greeley Home is built on the foundation of Catholic Christianity, which is my faith, which gave me my vocation as a Capuchin priest, and inspired me to found Julia’s three and a half years ago.
It was a special evening too, because we were able to celebrate the fact that two Julia Greeley women, Camille and “Trudi,” have recently achieved self sufficiency. Each of them received a simple necklace-cross from Julia’s, which we hope will always remind them of what they have accomplished.
I hope you’ll take the time to click on Camille’s Story (see News blogs, at the right of the home page). Her story shows how even educated, smart, professional women can quickly lose everything in this harsh world. But Camille fought her way back! We are proud to say that she is using her many managerial skills on our staff, and is inspiring new Julia Greeley residents to reach their goals, too. “Trudi” wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ve given her another name. Let me just say she has bravely moved onward after many setbacks, and we are happy to know she has found an apartment, a job, and a new life.
So I am very grateful to God for His constant help to to women in trauma and crisis. Before the Julia Greeley Home, when I counseled women to help them move past homelessness, so many would say, “But Father, I have nowhere to go!”
Now, thanks be to God, she does.
I suspected that few of the women had ever met a friar-priest in brown robes before, and they might be curious. I was right! But as a former high school math teacher, I enjoy getting tough questions from a crowd.
“Ask me anything,” I said as the evening began. The questions were so deep and thoughtful, that at one point I kidded, “Wow, I thought we wouldn’t get to these kind of questions 'til the 3rd or 4th time!”
To give you an idea of our conversation: “What is a true friend? A friend always supports you, right?” (Not necessarily, because if they supporting you to do something wrong, that is not a true friend.)
“What if you can't forgive God for something? Am I a bad person if I can't forgive? How can I forgive when I don’t even feel like it?” (You don’t have to feel like forgiving, I said. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s an act of the will. Allow yourself the chance to forgive, even if you don’t feel like it, and let God do the rest.)
“Why did you want to be a priest?” I did my best to explain how a tough kid from Pittsburgh started to hear God’s call breaking through the exciting, late ‘50s teenage world of parties, girls and college plans. But that kind of happiness didn’t feel like it would hold up forever. But giving my life to God? That felt like a permanent happiness, and after 40-plus years of priesthood, it’s turned out to be true!
“What is a good marriage? Is it OK to get out of a bad marriage? What is an annulment?” We were heading out into deep waters there, and after some serious back and forth we all agreed it was a good topic to pick up next month.
My thanks to Glenda Bolin, who gave up teaching her Bible class That Monday night, so I could be there. Thanks also to Terri Nalty and her son, Emilio, for providing volunteer support staff that night (Terri is from the same Denver chapter of the Secular Franciscan Order that Julia Greeley herself belonged to a century ago). And thanks also to our on-site director, Leslie Collins-Pottebaum, who emailed some very kind words the next day that she thought the evening was Holy Spirit-inspired, “and that only adds to the Home’s environment, and to our motivation to continue to do a good job.”
I am grateful for their work and commitment.