Catholic Worker house serving Uptown community for 50 years

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Catholic Worker house serving Uptown community for 50 years

Catholic Worker members work in the kitchen as volunteers and residents at the St. Francis House, 4652 N. Kenmore Ave., prepare their weekly Monday night dinner for the community on Nov. 20, 2023. The house is a home of hospitality in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement, located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Since 1974, their community has provided hospitality for single adults experiencing homelessness and housing precarity. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Elizabeth Duff-Russo pulls out rolls while Sam Russo cooks greens as volunteers and residents at the St. Francis House, 4652 N. Kenmore Ave., prepare their weekly Monday night dinner for the community on Nov. 20, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Stephanie Held, a former resident in the house, makes last-minute preparations. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dinner guests socialize in the living rooms at the house. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Greg, a guest at the dinner, shares a video with Dan Justman while Daniel Delapava visits with other dinner guests. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Since 1974, the St. Francis Catholic Worker House of Hospitality, 4652 N. Kenmore Ave., has been ministering to the poor, many of whom are homeless, in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.

The Catholic Worker movement was founded in 1933 by Servant of God Dorothy Day, who grew up in Chicago, and Peter Maurin.

Across the country, members of Catholic Worker houses serve those in need, support various social justice efforts and live at the same economic level as the people they serve.

The Catholic Worker community at St. Francis House began 50 years ago, when members purchased the house “for a nominal amount” from a group of anti-war activists with connections to Franciscans ministering in Chicago. It was named after St. Francis, said Daniele Delapava, one of the two workers currently living at the house.

While many Catholic Workers have lived in the house over the years, today Dan Justman and Delapava manage the ministry. 

Each Monday, members of the Catholic Worker movement serve dinner to guests — some are friends of the house and others are people living in the area who need a warm meal and a place to relax for an evening.

The dining and living rooms are usually full of people, Justman said.

“We have so many regulars. They almost all come at 5 and stay until 9,” Justman said. “We get anywhere between 20 to 40 people who come every single time we are open.”

When members invite people into the house for dinner, it is about more than just serving a hot meal, Delapava said. It is about accepting them wherever they are on their journey with all that that entails. Sometimes that means mediating conflicts between guests.

On Saturdays from noon to 9 p.m., guests come in and out for a shower, a small bite of food and to spend time socializing.

“We’re usually making pots of coffee up until 9 at night,” Justman said. 

All of the food for the guests and residents is donated, and the house is a temporary home for up to 10 guests at a time.

On the days when they are not formally open, Delapava and Justman are cleaning and preparing for the next dinners, picking up food donations or spending time doing case management for their permanent guests.

Those guests range in age from their early 20s up to their 60s at the moment. It is like a modern-day family, they said.

“We’re all from very different areas, walks of life and all of that, but we are in this house and we get along. We get along as well as any family,” Justman said laughing.

Catholic Workers do not take a vow of poverty, but they live simply.

“We try to follow the same rules and expectations that our guests follow,” said Justman. “When I first moved into the house in 2017, I got rid of pretty much all my possessions except my clothes and my books.”

Neither Justman nor Delapava receive a salary, and both have part-time jobs outside the house, working less than 20 hours a week.

Delapava, who is originally from Columbia, moved to Chicago in the late 1990s and first became involved with the Catholic Worker movement on the South Side. He has been in and out of the movement over the years and has lived at St. Francis House for six years.

Justman became involved with the movement in 2016. Like Delapava, he has been in and out of the movement over the years. This is his second time living at St. Francis House.

Members of the movement do not have to live in houses of hospitality. They can be married or single. And not all Catholic Worker houses are connected, Delapava explained.

“The movement is a very loose movement. It’s more like a federation of houses, more like a multiplicity of houses around the country and internationally, too,” he said.



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