Hour Children, the group that shelters ex-female convicts and their children, has withdrawn from efforts to open a shelter at a Catholic convent in Woodlawn, the heart of the Bronx Irish neighborhood
A large community gathering in opposition to the shelter took place last week with subsequent publicity leading to the decision to pass on the site by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, executive director of the group Hour Children. Threats to withhold donations to St. Barnabas church were made.
In a sharply worded letter to pastor Monsignor Edward Barry who had proposed the idea. Sr Tesa Fitzgerald was scathing about the Irish community's reaction calling it “prejudiced, ignorant and close minded.”
Here is the letter in full.
Sr Fitzgerald wrote :
Jesus wept over Jerusalem.....
I never related to that experience until last night. I wept over Woodlawn. Anticipating the community meeting to be one of the dialogue and clarification, I prayed for openness and trust for all involved. We at Hour Children were hoping to become part of your community but knew that our mission was unknown, unfamiliar and our families too often the victims of stigmatization and unfair stereotypes. Yet we hoped in the spirit of Pope Francis and in light of the Gospel mandate to reach out to the marginalized and needy, that we would be met with open mindedness and a sense of respect for our 30 years of service. Sadly we were wrong.
Monsignor Barry spoke with courage and veracity. Facts had been distorted, Hour Children's mission slandered and the ‘fear factor’ reigned. Indeed it was a tragically sad night in the history of St. Barnabas Parish, the Woodlawn community and the universal church. How quickly we forget our history of racism and injustice - ‘Irish need not apply’. We were all there and now I stand ashamed.
In reflecting upon the experience, the group who were present from the Hour Children community realized how we forgot that change is hard and how easy it is to reject people not like us. Yet in my heart I'm sure there were many people at the gathering who had family members or friends who had ‘made poor choices or mistakes’ - or is the Woodlawn Community perfect? Have you no need for forgiveness and reconciliation? You gave us much to ponder as we move forward in the service of families impacted by incarceration - a ministry that we do each day with pride, humility and gratitude. We are in awe of the valiant women who admit past mistakes, but who work hard, despite great obstacles, to create positive future for themselves and their families.
You will miss the opportunity and the grace to share in this transformative process - I am withdrawing our request to utilize the convent as an Hour Children home. I would never knowingly expose our mothers and children to the prejudiced, ignorant and close-minded people who filled the hall at St. Barnabas on the night of October 12th.
And whoever does not receive you, when you go out of town shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them Luke 9:5
With God's blessing.
Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, CSJ
Before the cancellation, Erin Lee, president of the Women of Woodlawn group who opposed the shelter said that some of the women who are offered housing have been “convicted of violent crimes that they’ve served decades for … Our concerns are valid and need to be addressed.”