Friendship House

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FRIENDSHIP HOUSE

A movement of Catholic lay men and women seeking to relate the Church to interracial justice, the poor and marginalized; founded in Toronto, Canada, in 1930 and in New York City in 1938. In 1938 Catherine de hueck doherty, a Russian immigrant, took up residence and opened a store-front office and community center in Harlem; she attracted a group of young men and women to live and work with her there. The center became a source of emergency assistance for the poor, a recreational place for children, a meeting place to discuss and disseminate the Church's social doctrine, and a place where the liturgy became a daily way of life for the laity. Located as it was in the African-American ghetto, it was one of the pioneer efforts to arouse the consciences of Americans, particularly Catholic Americans, to the sinfulness of racial discrimination and segregation. Friendship House identified itself with the segregated and the insecure, not only through publications, demonstrations, and lectures, but by eschewing support from Church or community funds and relying upon voluntary contributions from interested clergy and laity. These contributions, though generous, were never sufficient to remove real poverty from the doors and tables of Friendship House workers.

By the early 1950s Friendship Houses had been established with the approval of local ordinaries in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Shreveport, La., and Portland, Ore. The directors of each house, together with the chaplains, formed a national board to guide the activities and expansion of the movement. Meanwhile, Catherine de Hueck, who had married the journalist Eddie Doherty, returned to Canada in 1947, and began another apostolic effort known as Madonna House Apostolate. The Friendship House movement suffered one defeat in 1955 when the ordinary of the diocese asked that the Shreveport house be closed, after it had become the victim of a virulent attack by racists.

As the racial climate in the U.S. changed, so did Friendship House programs. Emphasis was redirected from social welfare and settlement house work, to social justice and equal opportunity; from Friendship House as a way of life, to the common vocation of all Christians to humanize the social order; from staff workers living a common life in poverty and under obedience, to staff people living a layman's life frugally and responsibly on a modest salary. By 1960 Friendship House had become a national movement for interracial justice with headquarters in Chicago; houses in all other centers had closed. The principal activities became: (1) social action, including joint efforts with civic and religious bodies to promote passage of national and state legislation in such areas as civil rights, employment, and housing; (2) publication of a monthly magazine (Harlem Friendship House News from 1941 to 1948, The Catholic Interracialist from 1949 to 1955, and Community Magazine from 1955 to 1983), and pamphlets on race relations and interracial justice; and (3) weekend retreats and conferences at Childerly Farm near Chicago where sisters, priests, seminarians, and lay men and women are brought together for prayer, study, and planning directed toward interracial justice and love.

In the face of declining participation and resources in the 1990s, the movement struggled to maintain its outreach programs. The day shelter for the poor and homeless in Chicago, which was opened in 1983, was finally closed at the end of March 2000. The movement vacated its historic premises on Division Street on Chicago.

Bibliography: c. de hueck, Friendship House (New York 1946).

[d. m. cantwell/eds.]