At Manna House I have come to know some saints over the years. In their life times I would guess few of them would have been considered prime candidates for sainthood. Saints are people of faith who were particularly exemplary in their lives, those to whom we turn for inspiration and edification. They are God’s “holy ones” who share with us something of God’s presence and power, something of God’s love and life-giving and liberating Spirit. They incarnate Christ for us in this time and place. None of this should be taken to suggest that they were perfect or without faults and failings (no human is perfect and the desire for perfection is more destructive than helpful). Still, they helped us along the path of faith, they were guides for the journey of discipleship.
Sarah, Abe, and Tyler constitute a holy trinity of founding saints for Manna House. A Native American woman, a white man, and a black man. They each brought to Manna House in its earliest days a spirit of welcome, of humor, and of willingness to forgive. The small group of people who formed Manna House talked with them and we learned from them what people on the streets thought was needed in the neighborhood around Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Just down the street from the church was the St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission, known as “the radio station” because at that time it was in an old radio station building. Just up the street from the church was “Friends for Life” ministering to people with HIV/AIDS, a day labor business, and a shelter. (The day labor place and the shelter are both gone now). To the west was the VA and the Med (now Region One). To the east were many low income apartment buildings (now a massive empty field).
They told us, “We need a place where we won’t be bothered, where we’ll feel welcomed.” “We need a place,” they said, “where we can sit and talk and enjoy a cup of coffee.” They also told us, “We need a place to shower and to get a change of clothes, and maybe a few other things.” So Manna House was born as a sanctuary for people from the streets. It is a place to get coffee (or water) and relax with friends. It is a place for showers, and “socks and hygiene,” and once a week a meal, and once a month a foot clinic. They taught us what was needed.
All three of them had a sense of humor. They easily laughed, at their own foibles, and the silliness that sometimes bubbles up out from the absurdity of homelessness. Sarah, as an amputee, would ask a new volunteer for shoes. Abe would tell stories that had life lessons wrapped around incredible series of unfortunate events. Tyler had a quiet comic sense, ready to smile at some quirk he observed in himself or others.
Sarah would hold court from her wheelchair, sitting in the middle of the house. She knew everybody and everybody knew her. Tyler and Abe were not exactly retiring in their personalities, but both seemed more comfortable from the corners than at the center of a room. Still, they were known quantities in the neighborhood, fixtures in the Claybrook and Cleveland cast of characters. All three could be rascals, mischievous to the point of trouble (ok, even into trouble from time to time). But all three had expansive hearts, ready to share and to help and to support those who came to them in need.
I will never forget Abe jumping in to help me dig a ditch for our new waterline after I had punctured the old line with a misapplied pick axe. He dug with me for hours, on a hot and humid day. I would have never finished without him. Tyler was known for finding treasures in other people’s trash and then sharing them with people in need on the streets. Sarah held people together with her charisma. When she entered a room the placed lighted up.
All three of them are dead now. As I thought of them today, I had to sing,
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.