Labre Ministry Comes of Age

If the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry to the Homeless were a person, he would be 14 years old, getting ready to enter high school. Fourteen years is a long time–just ask any parent who is making plans with their son about which high school to attend.

Labre FlatsIn 14 years, a lot happens. There are periods of challenge, growth, maturity, new opportunities, traditions and habits established, and a personality that takes shape. Although most certainly not a person (and yet the work of many), the Labre Ministry has undergone tremendous transformation since its inception in 2003.

Many know that Labre was founded by Mr. Jim Skerl ’74 and Mr. Tim Grady ’95 and a pair of students: Brian Norton and Bob Snyderburn. They prepared PB&J sandwiches and hot chocolate, loaded up into Skerl’s SUV and drove around the city looking to help anyone they encountered.

“A smile, your name, and a handshake go a long way,” Skerl used to say. That’s because what happened on Sunday nights was more important than the meal, though the homeless do appreciate that a great deal. Rather, Sunday nights are time spent between friends. High schoolers learn to look past whatever events, mishaps, misfortune or circumstances that force a person to move outside. They learn that homelessness may characterize somebody, but it does not define them.

In 2017, Saint Ignatius students still encounter Christ in their interactions with the homeless. Inspired by Skerl’s legacy and the work of so many supporters of the ministry, moderators and adult leaders strive to recreate the special experience that students have had for 735 consecutive weeks.

Labre FlatsPerhaps there’s no better evidence that Labre is as strong as ever than this year’s student leaders. Bobby McCormick ’17, for example, heads downtown on the East Route multiple times each month. His friends on the streets include Val near the Greyhound Bus Station, Henry and Roy by Progressive Field, and Eddie Robinson, who recently moved from East 30th into an apartment.

Down in the Flats, Michael Dulik ’17 counts Frederico by FirstEnergy Stadium, Ricky and Sue (formerly of Riverbed Road), and Kurt (now in a boarding house) as people that he gets to catch up with week-in and week-out.

Along the West Route, Anthony Delsanter ’18 always enjoys talking wrestling with Shaun Garel (a former NCAA DI wrestling champ), as well as paying Chris Kerr and Sammy the visits those two eagerly await each Sunday.

Labre WestThat’s just three students out of the thousands who have gone out over the years.

Labre continues to spread across the country. Young alumni David Mooney ’15 (Regis University) and Matt Niedoba ’16 (University of Pittsburgh) have taken steps to bring the ministry to their new schools. Even locally, current moderators Ed Nolan and Connor Walters ’09 have responded to a request from Rick Kubrak, Director of Service at St. Edward, and both groups are eager for Labre #1 at St. Eds on February 2, 2017.

The Labre recipe works. It’s simple and profound. After 14 years, the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry continues to help participants “see Jesus in our poor brothers and sisters, and not judge by appearances.”

May God continue to bless this good and noble work.