Father Dempsey’s Charity is located in downtown St. Louis and was founded in 1906. It began as a hotel available for men who were traveling for work and needed a place to stay. According to a 1921 study by Nels Anderson, several records and observations then showed that men left home due to “seasonal work and unemployment” (61). Searching for a job often left the men homeless, especially if they were travelling far, and their search was unsuccessful. Father Timothy Dempsey provided the men with essential resources because he believed that men who wanted to be decent should have a decent place to stay. Thanks to him and the charity, thousands of men were able to turn their lives around. Father Dempsey’s has left a profound impact on the Saint Louis community and to this day continues to carry on their values and Christian beliefs of helping others.
Some of our group members had never heard of Father Dempsey’s before we began this project, causing our observations to be initial and provisional, but after just a short hour-long interview with staff and residents it became abundantly clear how much the organization strives to uphold the Christian tradition of charity and compassion. The head of Father Dempsey's, Samuel Irons, repeated one phrase that is the backbone of the organization, “accountability with compassion.” Everyone at this organization, whether it is a resident or a staff member, is working to make everyone there the best version of themselves. They hold each other accountable, while still understanding that everyone wears different shoes. The interview not only involved the director of the home, but also involved two residents of Father Dempsey’s who both shared their stories of hardship and how the home has helped lead them on the right path. A lot of times people are dealt a rough hand in life and it seems like Father Dempsey’s is doing their part to help these men back on their own feet. Helping the less fortunate demonstrates the power of Christian values being used for the greater good, which is exactly what the organization is trying to accomplish.
In Slim’s Table, the sociologist Mitchell Duneier states that “we more commonly focus on the welfare rolls, the murder rate, and the prison population in understanding the way that blacks, and especially black males, have changed America” (20). Due to stereotyping, many black males are often not given a fair chance to start over. Father Dempsey’s Charity strives to reverse the effects of stereotyping by giving any man, regardless of their race, the opportunity to start over. This mission has always been an important principle to Father Dempsey's. Amongst many other charitable efforts, Father Dempsey also helped to open the Home for the Colored in 1932. An article on the Archdiocese of St. Louis website expresses Father Dempsey’s inclusive nature, saying that “when dealing with people, Father Dempsey was color-blind. Negroes, as African-Americans were then called, were looking for new opportunities and freedom from social discrimination. Father Dempsey was there to help them” (History of Father Dempsey’s Charities). Shortly after opening in 1932, the Home for the Colored was closed in 1933. The reasoning behind this closure remains unknown, but it may have been due to racial friction within the charity or problems with opposing the social and political ideologies of the time. Nonetheless, Father Dempsey’s mindset and his continued efforts to assist all men have been a driving factor in shaping Father Dempsey’s charity into the nondiscriminatory organization that it is today.
Romans 12:13 NLT states, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” For over one-hundred years, Father Dempsey’s has been a place for men to stay when they do not have a stable home. It doesn’t matter where they came from or who they are, Father Dempsey’s lets men in and offers them food and shelter for a year. Just as Christian scriptures have commanded all people to show hospitality, the people at Father Dempsey's Charity carry out this command by being outstanding Christian examples of hospitality and generosity to those less fortunate. The organization is not looking to make a profit, their actions are done out of choice and kindness. They are sincerely making an effort to incorporate all people of God into good hands. Furthermore, they also allow more fortunate people from the Saint Louis area to come in and help serve the homeless men.
In particular, Father Dempsey’s is a common place for local high schools to come to and serve. If one were to stop by the charity on a Saturday morning, he or she would be overwhelmed by the number of high school students giving up their weekend to help these men. However, it is often not a burden for the students, but rather a very rewarding experience. Two of our group members have volunteered at the charity and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is more about sharing a meal with the men and getting to know them than it is preparing a meal for them. Many of the men that go to Father Dempsey’s were once in the same position as the students; attending a top-notch local high school with endless opportunities to be successful in the future, and many of them even attended college at one point. Each man there has his own unique story, and although they are all different, their stories can teach the students many valuable lessons.
Father Dempsey’s in an important local charity that gives men the opportunity to be successful. It not only enables the men to get a fresh start on life, it also invites volunteers to help carry out the mission and brings the community together. The charity is motivated by Christian teachings and values, but it also intersects with civic life and society in ways that are not so closely tied to Christianity.
Researched and written by Miranda Cason, James Coyne, Mike Gauvain, Claudia Jasinski, Jamie McPike, Max Twardowski
Anderson, N. The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man. The University of Chicago, 1923.
Duneier, Mitchell. Slim's Table. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.
"Father Dempsey's Charities." Archdiocese of St. Louis. Accessed October 17, 2017. http://archstl.org/fatherdempseyscharities.
“Father Jim's Home sign above the entrance way”, On the steps of the building. Personal photograph by James Coyne. October 17, 2017.
Griffith, R. Marie. God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission. University of California Press, 2000.
Samuel Iron (Director of Father Dempsey’s), Donna Kestler (Office Manager of Father Dempsey’s), and two residents interviewed by Miranda Cason and James Coyne, October 17, 2017.
"Society of St. Vincent De Paul." Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis, Helping Neighbors Starts at Home. 2015. Accessed October 19, 2017. https://svdpstlouis.org/.