L'Arche Portland's Annual Benefit Celebration: Circle of Friends.
You did it! Whether you were able to join us on Saturday, send a donation, purchase a raffle ticket, or sponsor the Benefit Celebration, you were part of a record-breaking effort that grossed over $72,000. Together with a match opportunity for the paddle raise, the event had a total impact of $87,000. Not only that, but we had a total of 39 paddles raised to learn more about volunteering at our annual Christmas Tree Sale. It was truly a community-building night, and we thank you.
On a fall morning, before their Sunday donut run, Marilyn and Therese had the opportunity to interview Sue Mosteller via Skype. Sue is the former leader of L'Arche International and a close friend of Henry Nouwen. Nouwen describes that Sue "opened up the third phase of [his] spiritual journey, her words struck [him] like a thunderbolt." Below is the full interview.
To hear more from Sue, please join us on November 15th at Holy Trinity Catholic Church for An Evening with Sue Mosteller: Travel Tips for Your Heart's Journey. Click here for more info.
Therese: I was telling Marilyn you have something in common because you’re a nun and Marilyn what are you?
Marilyn: A holy name associate.
Sue: Wonderful! Good, so what can we do for you today?
Marilyn: Well, I want to know, how do you like L’Arche?
Sue: Oh that’s a good question! I spent a lot of my life at L’Arche and I love it. I love L’Arche. It’s been a beautiful place for me to live. It’s been a home and a place of belonging. So thank you for that question, it’s a beautiful one.
Therese: How did you get involved?
Sue: Well it’s a funny story how I got involved but it was many many years ago and as a nun I had to go out at that time with a partner. I couldn’t go out by myself. So this day, one of the sisters said can you go out to a lecture with me tonight and I said whats the lecture? She said oh its a guy from France who is coming to talk and I said whats he talking about? She said its about people with disabilities and I said I’m not really interested but I am free so if you cant find anybody I’ll go with you. She came back to me at supper time and said [she] couldn’t find anyone so could [I] go and I said yes. So I went to this lecture by this very young Jean Vanier who had just started a few years before the communities of L’Arche. He spoke about it and I became very interested so I sort of followed him for several years before I was able to go.
Therese: Wow, Marilyn how do you feel about that? She’s known about L’Arche since the very beginning. You mentioned that when you heard from Jean Vanier that there were several things that really resonated with you. What were some of those things that you connected with?
Sue: You know I was in probably my mid-thirties at that time and what I remember is that I had never heard anybody talk about Jesus the way he did. He talked about Jesus as someone that was his friend and someone that he would have had breakfast with this morning. It was just such a close relationship and nobody had ever told me anything like that before and that’s why I followed him around because I wanted to know more. I think all through my life he’s been an inspiration for me in terms of my own inner life and my life trying to follow Jesus as a disciple.
Therese: (To Marilyn) Wow, what do you think about that? Having Jesus as a friend.
Marilyn: That’s good.
Therese: Can I ask a question that our director posed but he’s out of town so I’m going to relay it? He wants to know what advice you have for people who are choosing to share life in L’Arche homes.
Sue: I think that you’re in a really special position to be more fully human and I think that I would say to you, try to really take advantage of that. And try to enter into each encounter with your very best energy of who you are and the love that you have. So to enter into those encounters and to make exchanges and to forgive each other and so on. Because you don’t know its happening but we really are helping each other to grow inside and to become beautiful individuals. My advice would be to get up in the morning and don’t just fall into the day but be conscious that you’re in a really special place, that love is present there, that god is present there, that there’s a real growth for you to happen.
Therese: Wow that’s powerful. And so true I think. I agree. The founder of L’Arche Portland just came to our formation last week. His name is Paul Lipscum. He was telling us, it’s not only what L’Arche brings to you but what you bring to L’Arche and how you approach it and what you put in but also what you get out. Its all kind of waiting for you if you approach it in the right way.
Sue: Yes, and one more thing. Trust your feelings and give them, because it’s true, there’s a lot for you but you have something to give that no one else has. So my advice is that everybody trust their gifts. Because some of you have a gift of smiling, some have a gift of laughter, some have a gift of caring. Give your gifts and give them generously.
Marilyn: That’s good. You care. (to Therese)
Therese: So do you. What kind of gifts do you give?
Marilyn: I don’t know. Gifts! What kind of gifts do you have? (to Sue)
Sue: I’d like somebody else to name those. But I’m a happy person, I’m glad to be alive. People have become friends and I just enjoy it. I find it sometimes challenging to live in community but I know that it’s the best place for me and I really am happy there.
Therese: You live in community now?
Sue: I do. I live with eight sisters and we are all over eighty! So we live in what you would call an old people’s home. We live in a home that supports us to keep doing our ministries and we’re all friends and it’s wonderful and its not always easy. But everyone tries so we have a very happy home.
Therese: When you said you’re happy to be alive that reminded me of Marilyn. What do you always say?
Marilyn: I’m alive be happy.
Therese: Do you call yourself a miracle?
Therese: You look like it.
Sue: That’s fantastic, I love that. That’s beautiful.
Therese: I’m wondering, do you have any hopes for L’Arche in the future?
Sue: You know, I’m still a member of L’Arche. I’m a long term member although I don’t live there anymore. I have a role and that is to pray for L’Arche. So, everyday I pray that the people at L’Arche will give their gifts to each other and that they will lead at the point of their gifts and that they will follow at the point of everybody else’s gift so that they’re both at peace and harmony. That’s my hope. I hope for communities of love and care and growth and depth. I pray for that every day for communities of L’Arche. I pray for the meetings that are happening in the world, that people will listen and lead and listen and follow and make unity in the world because theres so much hatred and theres so much people criticizing and we don’t have to be like that, theres so many other things we can do.
Therese: Very true. Wow, thats a very beautiful vision. I think we’re cultivating that in Portland.
Marilyn: I’m wondering when we’re going to be through.
Therese: Soon, I think. We have a busy day today, whats on our plan today?
Therese: And what else?
Marilyn: Oreo doughnuts.
Sue: Oh wow I wish I was there!
Therese: Soon! Soon you will be. That’s great about your prayer life. I know we do a lot of praying here. Marilyn is like our leader in prayer. Honestly, she leads us in prayer before dinner and bed time.
Sue: Wonderful, keep it up Marilyn!
Therese: Thank you Sue for talking with us and taking the time.
Sue: Yes well I can’t wait to see you and have a great day!
Therese: We’re very excited, thank you.
Sue: Okay, bye now!
For one week this past spring, students from an all boys Catholic Highschool in California that came and did an immersion with us. They ate dinner with the homes, went bowling, ate Salt & Straw, and did lots of cleaning, lawn care, and painting at the new Beaverton house. They come every year and donate their time and resources to L'Arche Portland. The following essay is a reflection on this experience by student Seamus Caslin.
Michael is a homeless man, struggling to stay afloat in downtown Portland. But, when we met him at St. Andre Bessette parish, he was more than happy to chat with anyone and everyone who came his way. Adam is a remarkably skilled basketball player, a quality bowler, and the most loyal fan of the Portland Pickles baseball team in the entire city. He does not let his intellectual disability hold him back from living a full life. It is easy to say that two people in such difficult circumstances have nothing to offer to society, that they are expendable. Marginalized people like Michael and Adam are regularly treated as less than human. However, the biggest lesson that I learned from the Portland Immersion is that that mindset couldn’t be more wrong. The root of the problem is that society often decides for itself who is worthy of basic human dignity and who isn’t. However, Michael, Adam, and all of the other people that society has pushed to the margins are just as human as any of the rest of us. They feel the same joy, experience the same struggles, deserve the same dignity, and desire the same relationships. If this immersion experience only taught me one lesson, it would be that we can begin to fix the problem only through authentic relationships with the marginalized.
The Portland immersion was a unique opportunity to see the connections between different groups of marginalized people because it was one of the only immersions that worked with more than one population. In the mornings, we worked at the morning hospitality program at St. Andre Bessette Parish, where the homeless could get a meal and stay in a safe place for a few hours. I worked serving food and handing out hygiene items to the guests, as well as simply welcoming them and having conversations with them. In the afternoons, we worked for the L’Arche community in Portland, serving those with intellectual disabilities. We either spent time with the members of the community, or worked on fixing up a new house that they had recently bought. Spending time with the community was certainly a more rewarding line of work for me than taping walls or doing yardwork, which is what I did at the new house. But, all of the work we did on the trip helped people in one way or another, which made it all worth every minute.
All of the insights I had during the Portland Immersion can be summarized by one word: relationship. Relationships were the main focus of the services at both St. Andre Bessette and at L’Arche. St. Andre Bessette made a point of handing out name tags to both the volunteers and the guests, and all of us made a point of calling the guests by name when interacting with them. The use of names in this fashion was the seed of a true relationship. Calling people by name changed my view of the guests from “homeless people” to just “people.” The L’Arche community was also intensely focused on the idea of relationship. The very first thing we learned at L’Arche were the “Pillars of L’Arche Spirituality”, one of which was “Authentic Relationships.” L’Arche communities are guided by the idea of people with disabilities and people without disabilities living in relationship with each other. Through my time at L’Arche, I got to experience those relationships, and even began to form some of my own with people like Adam, Ben, Rebecca, Erin, and many more.
The lessons I learned about relationship extended a bit farther than simply experiencing a few authentic relationships. I also learned some striking philosophical truths about the value of a person. During a prayer reflection at the L’Arche community, one of the volunteers noted that society only values people who contribute. We live in an intensely capitalistic society, so people are only seen as really human if they have jobs, make money, and are productive in the economy. This is one of the reasons why the intellectually disabled, who are often unable to work, are marginalized. Our group focused on this idea quite a bit during our evening reflection. Yes, society only values those who are productive, but there are other sources of value available. Mr. Lai brought the idea full circle by arguing that all people—the people at L’Arche, the guests at St. Andre Bessette, allpeople—have value because they can form relationships. Everybody’s happiest moments always come because of a relationship with someone else. Anybody can contribute to those moments, which is one of the reasons why everybody should be accepted as they are. Relationship is what is important; not productivity or value to the economy.
A different set of relationships also colored my learning experiences in Portland. The relationships that I formed with all the other volunteers I met showed me the person that I wanted to become. The people that we met all made tremendous sacrifices to live their lives in service of others. Jacqueline and Rachel, who worked at L’Arche and St. Andre Bessette respectively, took a whole year out of the prime of their lives, right after college, to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Kelsey, who was another worker at L’Arche, chose working in the community as a career, not just a short volunteering stint. Brother Joe, who worked at St. Andre Bessette, even decided to become a brother, just so he could more fully dedicate himself to service of God and others. All of these people were models of the kind of life that I want to be able to live someday. Making relationships with good people makes you better yourself, and I truly felt the effects of each of the volunteers that I met.
Scripture and the Catholic tradition also yield important insights about my service in Portland. In his teachings, Jesus alludes to many of the same ideas that I experienced during the immersion. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus proclaims, “Though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:14). This insight is very similar to my own insight about relationship. One’s life does not consist of possessions or of economic value. Instead, it consists of relationships, and to deny someone these relationships is to deny them their basic humanity. The ideas about humanity that I learned are summed up in one of the themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The Church believes that every person is created equal by God, and therefore that every person deserves the same basic dignity. Society often tries to ignore that dignity. We ignore the dignity of homeless, and the drug addicts, and the mentally ill, and the intellectually disabled. We ignore the dignity of anyone who seems somewhat different from us. The Church teaches that such a mindset is morally wrong, and after experiencing such joyful relationships with these people, I agree wholeheartedly.
What I saw in Portland inspired me to try to make a change. Yes, authentic relationships are the key to accepting the marginalized into society, but, in the end, something more needs to be done about the issues of homelessness and disability. There are many services in place to help these groups, but they need money to function. The homeless need job opportunities and affordable housing. None of this can come from just relationships. Therefore, for my advocacy project, my plan is to write letters to the mayor’s office. One letter will advocate for the homeless, attempting to alleviate the effects of the homelessness crisis faced by both Portland and Sacramento, especially through affordable, long term housing. Both cities offer very little in between a tiny single room occupancy and an expensive apartment, so increased low-income housing could greatly help the homeless population. My second letter will advocate for adults with intellectual disabilities. While programs for people with intellectual disabilities aren’t run directly by the government, the city can and should give money to programs like L’Arche. These programs change the lives of adults with intellectual disabilities, so increased funding for them would be hugely beneficial.
So much of my Portland immersion experience revolved around the idea of relationship, and I cannot overstate its importance. My relationships with Adam, with Ben, with Rebecca, with Michael, with Kelsey, with Jacqueline, and with everyone else that I met were the backbone of my immersion experience. Relationships humanize people, and allow them to more fully realize their sense of dignity. Relationships are one of the sources of the intrinsic value of human beings. Relationships are the key to ending the marginalization that plagues our society today.