A few dozen people were gathered in the dining room of the Catholic Worker Hospitality House in San Bruno for breakfast on a drizzly Wednesday morning. Tables were filled with guests chatting and enjoying company or taking quiet time to eat breakfast alone, while volunteers served breakfast and stopped to talk with guests. Pausing his work for a moment in the dining room, Peter Stiehler, the house’s director, told Catholic San Francisco, “You can see what we do here is serious, but it’s lighthearted too. It reflects the joy here.”
On April 1, the Catholic Worker Hospitality House in San Bruno will celebrate its 23rd anniversary. Five days a week, the Catholic Worker dining room serves breakfast to between 70 and 80 people.
Over the years, the house has added more services: A few years after the breakfast program began, Stiehler was able to start an overnight emergency shelter housing up to nine. Since then, the house has been able to offer permanent supportive housing to needy residents in two homes. “All of our work, one thing has grown out of another,” Stiehler said.
The house also acts as a hub for other services. Showers are available every day, medical professionals stop by every Thursday, and haircuts are offered once a month. The house also hands out toiletries, hats and gloves. As people left the dining room during a recent visit by Catholic San Francisco, Christine Baker, the assistant director, handed out rain ponchos.
While rest and repose are important gifts, Stiehler said the sense of community is the most important offering. “It gives people a place to be with others,” he said. “That’s my most important job, after opening in the morning and making sure we have enough food.”
Stiehler and his wife Kate Chatfield founded the Hospitality House when they moved to the Bay Area, inspired by their experience living in a Catholic Worker home in Los Angeles. The Catholic Worker movement, founded as a loose collection of communities in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, embraces radical hospitality and non-violence and aims to “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ,” according to its website. There are over 200 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S., four in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
One San Bruno guest, who gave his first name as Harold, was homeless when he first visited the Hospitality House 20 years ago. Now stably housed, he continues to visit regularly and tell people about the dining room.
“I know a lot of people wouldn’t have a place to go otherwise,” he said. “People who don’t have anywhere else to go, this is where they talk and mingle. They can’t afford to go to restaurants, they’re getting kicked out of Starbuck’s all the time,” he said.
All have found a warm welcome at the Hospitality House, regardless of their situation in life. “People are saints here,” he said.
Full story at Catholic San Francisco.