When Renae Wilson arrives home every day, the first thing she does is take off her shoes.
The simple act is a luxury she didn’t have during the years she experienced homelessness.
“We never took our shoes off, because we always had to be on the go,” she said. “Now, it’s the first thing I do, because I know I won’t have to run out of there for any reason. Because it’s my home.”
Wilson left home at age 15 and was homeless on and off for decades, describing herself as someone who “slipped through the cracks.” Without much job history, she struggled to find regular employment. Unaddressed trauma and anxiety led to drug and alcohol use, and she spent time in prison. She found help through Healing Action, which provides services to adult survivors of sex trafficking or exploitation, but struggled to find permanent housing and a stable job.
Wilson was referred to DePaul USA’s Project Plus program about two years ago. DePaul USA case managers helped her secure an apartment and have supported her ever since.
“It’s just been a wonderful experience because everyone is very loving and kind — the total opposite of what I was used to dealing with,” Wilson said. “(My) walls are breaking down. It’s helped me mentally, emotionally, physically.”
Wilson now works as a housekeeper with DePaul USA. Case managers helped her apply for benefits, figure out transportation, find health care and more. She continues to receive trauma therapy through Healing Action. She feels respected and loved, she said, and “I feel better about myself. I take pride in what I do.”
“I’ve been so happy here — it’s like a family,” she said.
A foundation of dignity and respect
DePaul USA’s St. Louis Project Plus and Project More are housing-first programs that serve adults who experience chronic homelessness and major mental illness or chronic health issues. Clients are placed in scattered supportive housing, and staff regularly visit them to assist in their transition to independence. They link residents with needed social services, advocate on their behalf and assist with finding employment and applying for benefits.
“When you hear Jesus say, ‘Give me the sickest of your sick, the poorest of your poor’ — that’s who we work with,” said Rich LaPlume, DePaul USA’s St. Louis director.
DePaul USA is part of the DePaul International Group, founded in 1989 by three Catholic organizations: the Daughters of Charity, the Passage Day Centre and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. DePaul USA’s programs are rooted in Vincentian values to affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every person, LaPlume said.
“We treat people with dignity and respect. That’s the baseline. Then, you go from there,” he said.
“Each case of supportive services is going to be different because each person is different, and what they need is different,” he said. “It could be anything from legal services to immediate services like going to the grocery store to get groceries. It’s working on budgeting, applying for benefits, linking people to employment.”
Currently, DePaul USA serves 65 men and women through Projects More and Plus and 17 young adults ages 18-24 at St. Lazare House, an apartment building with round-the-clock support staff.
“By putting them in housing with these wraparound services, we’re able to keep them doing well in the community, and making them own it and come to the self-realization, ‘Hey, I can live independently,’” LaPlume said.
Will Wills was 18 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the midst of a manic episode shortly after his father’s death, he lost his housing, car and job and eventually was hospitalized.
After receiving treatment, he found another job but couch-hopped among friends. A social worker from Barnes-Jewish Hospital connected him with DePaul USA, who found him his current apartment in the Northampton neighborhood of south St. Louis.
Without the constant stress of worrying about getting a safe and affordable place to live, Wills has been able to focus on finding habits that keep him happy and healthy, he said.
“I can spend time focusing on my mental health, working out, doing the things I need to do to be balanced so I can live a successful and happy life,” he said.
That means taking his medication daily and meditating and praying regularly. He’s kept a steady job at a restaurant, and he was able to save up enough money to buy a car.
“Where I’m at now is a beautiful place. I’m truly blessed because the side of mental health that isn’t pretty is very rough. And it can take you to a place where it’s very dark,” he said. “And for me to be able to pull myself out of that is a miracle. But if it wasn’t for DePaul USA and what they bring to my life, it would have been 20 times harder, and I might not have been able to do it.”
The relationships Wills has developed through DePaul USA have been instrumental as he’s made progress and gained self-confidence. He meets weekly with Sister Kathleen Driscoll, a Daughter of Charity. “She’s adopted me as her grandson,” he said. “She pops in to make sure I’m doing good, and we have great conversations about God, life or whatever is on my mind.”
During a recent visit with LaPlume, Wills greeted him with a big hug at the door. LaPlume teased Wills good-naturedly about the St. Louis Rams gear displayed prominently throughout the apartment, discussing the upcoming Super Bowl before asking Wills how he was doing and if there was anything he needed right now.
“In today’s society, people just don’t care much — it’s a cold world,” Wills said. “But (DePaul USA staff) make sure we know that they appreciate us, and they take care of us and check on us, and they always go the extra mile to make sure that we’re good.”
Wills wants to use his “newfound joy for life” to share his experiences with others someday, perhaps through public speaking or a podcast. He wants others with mental illness to know that they’re not alone, as he once felt. “It’s something, especially in the African-American community that plagues a lot of us but we don’t talk about,” he said. “We don’t go to therapy, we don’t seek out medication or all the things that are necessary — the things I found are necessary for me to have a balanced life.”
“I don’t know why I’m bipolar,” he continued. “But I know that if I have a balanced life, if I take my medication, if I workout and do all these things to keep my mind right — and with God — I can’t lose.”
Catholic Social Teaching and Lent
The reflection and sacrifice that we’re all called to during Lent makes the season an optimal time to consider how we are engaged in and upholding the principles of Catholic social teaching, said Father Don Henke, associate professor of moral theology and pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury.
“Lent is a time where we’re meant to pare ourselves down to the things that are important — that we are creatures dependent upon God, that God has given us everything,” Father Henke said. “We’re all in that boat together; we’re all finite, and our lives are here for a reason. We’re meant to get reacquainted with that reason, both in our relationship with Jesus, which is first and foremost, but then also with the people that He loves, that He made.”
During each week of Lent, the St. Louis Review will feature one of the seven themes of Catholic social teaching.
Feb. 20: Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Feb. 27: Call to Family, Community and Participation
March 6: Rights and Responsibilities
March 13: Preferential Option for the Poor
March 20: The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
March 27: Solidarity
April 3: Care for God’s Creation
To read more about the seven themes of Catholic social teaching, visit stlreview.com/3YtSQWO.
For more resources on Catholic social teaching, visit stlreview.com/3Isancy.
Read installments of this series by scanning the QR code or visiting stlreview.com/3xnateX
What is Catholic Social Teaching?
Catholic social teaching is the collection of the Church’s wisdom on building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Modern Catholic social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar and episcopal documents, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum novarum: On capital and labor.”
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains, “The Church exists and is at work within history. She interacts with the society and culture of her time in order to fulfill her mission of announcing the newness of the Christian message to all people, in the concrete circumstances of their difficulties, struggles and challenges. She does so in such a way that faith enlightens them so that they can understand the truth that ‘true liberation consists in opening oneself to the love of Christ.’ The Church’s social pastoral ministry is the living and concrete expression of the full awareness of her evangelizing mission in the social, economic, cultural and political realities of the world.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 524)
Catholic social teaching is “an essential part of being Catholic,” said Father Don Henke, associate professor of moral theology and pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury. But because of the wideness and depth of moral issues that make up social teaching, it can often be misunderstood. Some other aspects of moral theology are founded on “negative principles,” like “thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill,” Father Henke explained. “But what makes Catholic social teaching unique — and a lot more difficult — is that it focuses primarily on positive moral principles. It draws us to consider the things that we should do.”
It’s easy to tell if we’ve stolen or killed someone. But we have to wrestle with the question of whether we are truly upholding the dignity of all people, or showing preferential care for the poor, Father Henke said, and people can live out the teachings in a vast number of ways.
The important thing is that we do recognize our duty to participate in the work of the Christ in the world, Father Henke said. “As St. Teresa of Avila said, we are Christ’s hands and feet, we are the way Jesus cares for people in the world,” he said.
Engaging in social efforts is a natural path for evangelization, too, when we share our “why” with others, he said.
“It would be wasting good efforts if we’re not saying that we are engaging in and doing these things because of our love for Jesus,” Father Henke said. “We’re modeling our lives after Him, and we’re meant to show our love of Him by how we love our neighbor.”
DePaul USA is part of the Depaul International Group, which was founded in 1989 by three Catholic organizations: the Daughters of Charity, the Passage Day Centre and the Society of St Vincent de Paul. The Group is a member of the worldwide Vincentian Family, a movement of over 2 million people inspired by St. Vincent de Paul who devoted his life to helping the poor, sick and needy.
DePaul USA has locations in nine U.S. cities, including St. Louis. In St. Louis, Project More and Project Plus are housing-first programs that serve adults who experience chronic homelessness and major mental illness. Clients are placed in scattered supportive housing, and staff regularly visit them to assist in their transition to independence. They link residents with needed social services, advocate on their behalf, and assist with finding employment and applying for benefits. Project More and Project Plus are part of the St. Louis Continuum of Care for the Homeless initiative.
DePaul USA St. Louis also runs St. Lazare House, which serves chronically homeless young adults ages 18-24. Residents live in their own one-bedroom apartments in St. Lazare House, where staff is available in the building 24/7 to provide support as the young adults work toward improving their health and wellness and eventually moving into permanent housing of their own.
To learn more, visit depaulusa.org/programs/st-louis.
ARCHDIOCESAN LENTEN REGULATIONS 2023
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”(John 3:16-17)
The Church has always helped us fulfill these words of Jesus by prescribing very definite penance for all Catholics, so that we too might have Eternal life. Accordingly, the Pope and the American Bishops have outlined obligatory fast and abstinence as follows:
Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22), all Fridays of Lent and Good Friday (April 7) are days of abstinence (refraining from meat) for all Catholics from age 14 onwards. On these two days, fast, as well as abstinence, is also obligatory for those from the ages of 18-59. Abstinence means refraining from meat. Fast means one full meal a day, with two smaller meals and nothing between meals (liquids are permitted). No Catholic will lightly excuse himself or herself from this obligation.
The feast of St. Patrick (March 17) falls on a Friday during Lent this year. Feasts of the Church are meant to be a day of celebration and rejoicing, so on this Friday, March 17, 2023, the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are dispensed from abstaining from meat should they choose to celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick.
We should strive to make all days of Lent a time of prayer and penance.