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Bishop Visits Father Joe’s Villages

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — Even during his years as a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Bishop Robert W. McElroy was well aware of the good work of Father Joe’s Villages.

While living and ministering in the Bay Area, he would regularly hear radio spots for the organization, with its then president and CEO, Msgr. Joseph “Father Joe” Carroll, soliciting donations.

On March 18, Bishop McElroy finally had the opportunity to tour the main campus of Father Joe’s Villages, to meet with its staff and to interact with its clients.

It was his first visit to San Diego’s largest and oldest provider of homeless services since his installation as the diocese’s sixth bishop last April.

The bishop told The Southern Cross that, through his visit, he hope to express the diocese’s support for Father Joe’s Villages, which he described as “one of the treasures of the Church in this county” and an organization that should be a source of pride for local Catholics.

“I think that Father Joe’s Villages is a breathtakingly significant and Christ-like outreach of the Church to one of our most enduring and complex human problems in San Diego County, namely homelessness,” the bishop said.

He praised Father Joe’s Villages as “a place of hope and creativity,” which has adopted “a very well-thought-out, compassionate and ... comprehensive approach” to addressing the variety of challenges that homeless men and women face.

For Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, the bishop’s visit provided a welcome opportunity to explain the current state of homelessness in San Diego as well as to provide a detailed look at the programs that Father Joe’s Villages has implemented to address the issue.

“I wanted him to get a sense of it all, so basically we went through every single program on the tour ... with the exception of those that are offsite,” Deacon Vargas said, adding, “I think he walked away feeling that this [organization] is a resource that he has as bishop.”

The day began around 10 a.m. with a tour of the Neil Good Day Center, a day facility for homeless adults.

The bishop was then taken to Villa Harvey Mandel, one of four affordable housing buildings operated by Father Joe’s Villages, where staff members made presentations about all of the programs and services offered by the Villages.

At lunchtime, in the Paul Mirable Center dining room, Bishop McElroy gave the blessing for the meal and joined Deacon Vargas in serving lunch to local homeless and families in need.

“It took me a few minutes to get my portion control right,” Bishop McElroy said with a smile, recalling his experience serving lunch. “I was in charge of the rice and I had to get the amount right and get it in the right place on the plate, but I managed to do that after several tries.”

The bishop spoke approvingly of the dining room as providing not only nutritious meals but also “a place of socialization ... and hospitality.”

Deacon Vargas told The Southern Cross that Father Joe’s Villages typically serves about 3,000 meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — out of its two dining rooms at St. Vincent de Paul Village, and last year served a total of about 1.1 million meals. He said the lunch line is open to the wider community, because there are many San Diegans who are not currently homeless but are “just a couple of paychecks away from being on the streets.”

Bishop McElroy himself ate lunch in the Joan Kroc Center, the residents’ dining room, along with staff members and those residents enrolled in the Villages’ culinary arts program. Deacon Vargas said the 14-week program teaches residents of St. Vincent de Paul Village everything they need to know in order to become chefs and also helps them find jobs.

The bishop said he not only enjoyed the meal, which had been cooked by the culinary arts students, but also appreciated the opportunity to speak with the students themselves and to hear how the program has provided them with a path to immediate employment as well as the dream of opening their own restaurants someday.

After lunch, Bishop McElroy was taken on an extensive tour of the St. Vincent de Paul Village campus. Among other things, he saw its medical and dental clinics as well as its therapeutic childcare center, where preschool-age children — often with developmental delays — are brought up to speed and prepared for elementary school.

The tour concluded in C15, another affordable housing development operated by Father Joe’s Villages, where the organization’s leadership, including president emeritus Msgr. Carroll, spoke with the bishop about their fundraising and development efforts, which depend heavily on private philanthropy.

Bishop McElroy said his visit to Father Joe’s Villages confirmed for him that “the challenge of homelessness in San Diego is immense, it’s growing rather than shrinking,” and “it will only be addressed in a humane and effective manner if all of the actors in society work together to form a continuum of care and support for the needs of the homeless.”

He added that “the Church has to be at the center of that” and that it is, thanks to the work of Father Joe’s Villages and other organizations like Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego.

The Southern Cross

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