Many Are Thankful for Ministries to the Poor

Posted: 11/6/2014

Brother Joe SteenBrother Joe Steen arrived in Tennessee in 2012 to join Father Steve Pawelk and Brother Craig Digmann in serving two new Glenmary missions in Union and Grainger counties. Brother Joe, a master carpenter, also brought decades of experience in building and service to those in need, as well as a deep faith in God's guidance and help.

Two years later, Brother Joe, a very generous benefactor, volunteers, and especially county residents are thankful he has established his home-repair ministry here and is making a difference in many people's lives. It's been a team effort.

"God's been very kind to me," says Brother Joe, a home missioner for 42 years. "Even when I haven't had a grand plan, things have fallen into place by his grace. That's what has been happening here."

One of his first priorities was transforming two storefronts into all-purpose gathering spaces for the Maynardville and Rutledge mission communities.

Once he had accomplished this task with the aid of mission members, his next challenge was to begin his primary ministry: outreach to the poor. Brother Joe first found a couple of county residents who needed him to do home-repair work for which they couldn't afford to pay. He gradually began to get referrals to others in need from individuals and county agencies.

The major hurdle he faced in his early repair jobs was inadequate funds for materials. "I had to scrounge money together, buy materials and do some work, then stop to scrounge again."

Around that same time, Glenmary development director Father Don Tranel connected Brother Joe with Father Macarius—a parish priest in a Southern diocese who had inherited a large sum of money and felt called to help the poorest of the poor. (Father Macarius is not the donor's real name; he wishes to remain anonymous.)

The priest has supported many charities, but in the last couple of years, he felt led by God to give most of his money to one group "that would use it the right way." That group was Glenmary. "I've loved and respected Glenmary since I was a teenager," Father Macarius says. "I've bequeathed my estate to them and pray for them, but I also want to keep making donations to them to help the poor right now."

Brother Joe says the two "hit it off right away when we talked for the first time on the phone. We share a lot of the same values and ideals. And he's been extremely generous. He tells me to call him any time help is needed, and sometimes he calls me first. Then he sends the money to Glenmary, designated for my use. It's been an amazing blessing."

Father Macarius feels very blessed, too. "Brother Joe and I have a warm friendship," he says. "He is giving his life for the people in the missions. He's really something, doing hard physical labor at his age (69). I have told him I don't question his judgment for one second. He has carte blanche to use the money I send to help the poor who need it, whether it's for home repairs or other emergency needs. I'm very thankful to have this outreach beyond my parish."

The other good news for the repair/building ministry is that the new Glenmary Group Volunteer Program site opened in Grainger County in the summer of 2013. Visiting groups of volunteers—along with some mission members—have become another source of help on these projects, while Brother Joe serves as an expert guide for them.

He is now involved in a range of projects with materials largely paid for by Father Macarius. The following are just a few examples:

• A local couple and their children live in a large, age-worn house. "Something always needs to be fixed," says Brother Joe. In addition to assistance from the family's church, Brother Joe and Group Volunteer Program participants (with his guidance) have made many repair visits, and the family is really grateful for the help. They say it's great to have a house that doesn't rain inside anymore.
• In another home, Brother Joe repaired a toilet that was leaking, preventing it from rotting out the floor and falling through. The owner thanked him profusely.
• Brother Joe and volunteers have constructed many ramps to make homes accessible for residents with disabilities.

In addition—because of Father Macarius' funding—Brother Joe has become the local Catholic-church contact person who can help some county residents with emergency financial assistance for their utility and rent bills and other essential expenses.

"After we help people, we give them a card with the mission's contact information," says Brother Joe. "And we ask them to pray for us and for the priest who gave us money to pay for the materials or bills.

"We try to let people know the Catholic Church wants to help them no matter who they are, that this is something we are called to do as Catholics, and that there are no strings attached."

Brother Joe and other missioners know they wouldn't even be present in mission areas without ongoing assistance from Glenmary's donors. "We and the folks we help are deeply thankful to Father Macarius and all our supporters."

This article first appeared in the November 2014 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.