One year ago we were still buzzing after our “first annual” Churchyard Harvest Festival at Holy Family, with musicians on a stage under the trees, artists under canopies and food trucks on Izard Street.
We didn’t know at the time that within months in our chapel we would host members of the Omaha Symphony and Liz Gre performing her original composition based on stories of her mother. Or that 30 high school students from East Omaha schools would gather to listen and talk with two dynamic musicians and share a meal catered by a Latino chef.
We didn’t know that the archbishop would choose to close the Holy Family Church parish, and put the care and use of the historic building in the care of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, which had offices in the old rectory.
Such plans we had. Such momentum. Such a sense of the spirit moving.
And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and like everyone, we are adjusting to our new world. But our plans and dreams are still intact, and we work every day to take steps along the road to the future, when we can gather people in what is now the Holy Family Community Center.
This month we launch the Listen & Learn Lunch Series with stories recorded in our choir loft told by Black Catholics, all members of Saint Benedict the Moor parish. We have secured a partnership with The Moth, which will provide training and opportunity to craft and tell personal stories, letting our community members share experiences with their neighbors. We will screen art films and sponsor panel discussions among Omaha artists.
All of the above will be posted or streamed from Holy Family. One day, hopefully soon, all of this and more will take place live and together in Holy Family, but none of us know when that day will come.
Here’s what we do know, however.
Every day 70-100 people, mostly homeless, line up at our door to be handed a sack lunch. Every day we load 140 more lunches on a van and send them out to the streets of East Omaha, including to seniors living in high-rise apartments.
Every day dozens of people wait at our door to receive free clothing: socks, underwear, pants and shirts, hoodies and jackets, and soon, hats, gloves and winter coats.
Every day, volunteers from around Omaha, some members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, many not, gather to make those lunches, to hand out sacks and drinks and friendly words, to drive the vans, to find pants and shirts that fit.
Yes, we have plans for the future, architectural renovations, education and performance, training and financial assistance. But mostly — right now — we feed and clothe the homeless, like the folks at Holy Family have done for decades. We are committed, we are honored, to continue the legacy of service that the priests and nuns and generations of Holy Family parishioners started, maintained and passed on to us.
It is a role that we are learning, a community we are getting to know, problems we are helping to solve, and a mission of service we invite all of you to share with us.
Bruce Noble, Director of Holy Family Ministries
Earlier this year the Holy Family parish was merged with another one and the building was left in the care of the Society of St Vincent de Paul of Omaha, which has District offices here. Though in different ways, the Society and Holy Family have been known for supporting people in times of crisis since the 1870’s. People can call the Society’s Help Line when they need assistance with rent, utilities or other support. People can come to Holy Family for a free sack lunch, clothing or basic personal care items when they have no other option. We have an exciting opportunity here to support people in new ways and build the bridge from homelessness, through poverty and into successful participation in a thriving community. We hope to do this through education, the arts, and of course food.
In order to grow our community this way, we need to transform the physical space, find more partners, and begin to tell each other our stories. This historic building needs everything from deep cleaning to major renovations, from program planning to fundraising and we are faced with starting all this in the midst of a global pandemic. We are also acutely aware of the devastating issues facing our neighbors who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and wanted to offer a place for them to speak, while we all listen and learn. As we do what we can on the inside of the building and until we can invite you in to participate, we thought we could reach out to gather stories one at a time and begin to share them through video. These stories in the Listen & Learn Lunch series are part Ted Talk, part the Moth style, part conversation, part interview. Our first group of stories features members of the St Benedict the Moor parish, who recently rejoined the Society of St Vincent de Paul. These are folks of all ages and backgrounds and each has a fascinating story, just as every one of you do.
Future series will include the homeless we serve here at Holy Family and other groups of people who may not have an opportunity to share their stories. We can learn so much about our neighbors when we just take a few minutes to really listen. Our differences may suddenly seem not so different and our similarities can become striking. The divide between us can be bridged through our stories and fear and confusion eased. We hope to offer our beautiful Chapel space to the community in the future as a place to share these stories, and of course to have lunch, because food is another bridge that can cross divides and bring people together. Someday, you will be able to bring your lunch and a friend and listen and learn here with us, but for now, we offer these videos of stories from our community.
It means the world to me to be able to share these stories and to work for the Society here at Holy Family. A million serendipitous coincidences have led me and the other folks that are here to this place at this time and it is amazing to realize that. Some would say it was preordained, some would say it is the hand of God or the spirit moving us. Whatever name you have for it, I am incredibly grateful, though slightly stunned, to find myself here on my 50th birthday. This is a wish come true that I didn’t realize I had until I looked back at all of the things I have done that brought me here. Birthday reflections lead me to ponder old wishes such as having a painting retrospective by this age; living by the ocean; running a bison ranch or a flower farm; singing in a band; or hosting regular dinner parties in a loft. Some of these wishes remain, some will clearly never happen (I leave you to ponder which). All things considered though, I am in the right time and place with the right people to begin this next era. I hope you will join us!
Lori Tatreau, Director Holy Family Community Center