Catholic Worker House S Randolph St Champaign  IL 61820

(out of date) 


St. Jude Catholic Worker House was an entirely volunteer-run organization providing temporary housing and daily access to the homeless population of Champaign and Urbana. It is no longer operational and of this writing instead runs as cooperative housing.

The Catholic Worker Movement

The St. Jude Catholic Worker House is part of the larger Catholic Worker Movement, founded in New York in 1933 by Dorothy Day, a journalist and activist, and Peter Maurin, an French immigrant worker and scholar.  It was founded largely in reaction to the Great Depression, in order to provide services for the many put out by the economic crisis. Its ideals come from left-wing socialist theory, and seek to reject the present social order, withdraw from capitalist society, and actively participate in social justice movements of all kinds.

There are currently approximately 197 active communities within the United States, and an additional 20 active communities internationally, including sites in Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Uganda.  The funding for these communities is supplemented by residents’ part-time jobs or “cottage industries” of a particular location, but the majority of support comes from donations, both of goods and in kind.

By nature, Catholic Worker Houses do not apply for tax-exempt status, and have “no board of directors, no sponsor, no system of governance, no endowment, no pay checks, no pension plans” (Forest, 1997).  This is by design, in order to eliminate bureaucracy and political influence on the Worker Houses, in order to better serve the community outside of the “impersonal charity of the state.”  As such, there is no traditional staff or board of directors for a Worker House; daily operations are staffed and financed entirely by volunteers and donors.

St. Jude Catholic Worker House

Founded circa 1977–1980 (accounts vary), the St. Jude Catholic Worker House in Champaign-Urbana was originally located in a house at 1308 University Avenue in Urbana.  Originally donated to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the house began serving as a temporary residence for the homeless after its original intended residents, a family of Asian refugees, were unable to secure passage to the United States.

At this location, the Worker House offered temporary living arrangements for up to 17 people and a soup kitchen that served 30 to 80 people each afternoon. As of 1985, St. Jude’s had 3 live-in co-directors, and a nightly count of around 15 temporary residents.  Food, utility, and program costs were all supported by private donations. The house itself was provided, rent-free, by an anonymous donor.

In the late 1980s, a combination of financial hardship and an expansion by Covenant Medical Center forced the Worker House to move. By 1989, monthly operating costs averaged $850, and the anonymous owner had become interested in selling the property. St. Jude’s began looking for new premises that year, eventually settling on the house at 317 W. Randolph Street in Champaign, which was purchased for $73,000 in 1990.  The next year saw significant renovations to the property, mostly focusing on increasing the number of bedrooms in the house.  With renovations completed, the Worker House reopened, at the present location, in November 1991.

In 1992, they acquired the property to the rear of the Randolph St. house, at 314 Cottage Court, for $32,000.  This property was remodeled to complement the Randolph St. house by providing community gathering space, an office, and multipurpose rooms for volunteers and residents.

By 1993, St. Jude Catholic Worker House was down to one live-in volunteer, forcing them to cut noon lunches down to two days a week. As more volunteers moved in, lunches were again offered on a more regular basis. In 2000, the Randolph St. house kitchen underwent a significant renovation, made possible by a donation willed to the St. Jude’s by Josephine McDonnell.  This renovation updated the nearly 100-year-old kitchen, and nearly doubled the size of the cooking and preparation space.  At the time of the renovations, the soup kitchen was serving 50 to 100 meals daily.

In 2009, the Steering Committee of St. Jude’s made the decision to discontinue the soup kitchen at the Worker House and instead focus the Worker House’s efforts on hospitality and social activism. 

A volunteer cites the effect that the large number of men milling around the house had on the residential portion of the house’s service: “it [wasn’t] conducive for them feeling safe and that this is their home.” Its meal program volunteers reorganized off-site, founding what is now the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Champaign, about a block away from St. Jude’s.

With the closure of the soup kitchen, the Worker House found that many of the donations it had relied on for operating costs were redirected to the new, separate soup kitchen.  Volunteers suggest that donors were confused as to what St. Jude’s was doing for the community, if not running the soup kitchen.  Finances subsequently got tighter and the Worker House was forced to eliminate one of its two phone lines, and reduce service on the remaining phone line to domestic long-distance only.  At the time, there was discussion of getting Wi-Fi service to the Worker House, but the lack of donations meant they simply couldn’t afford it.

As of 2011, the Worker House currently had 7 residential volunteers, along with approximately 12–15 women and children who live in the Cottage Court house.  St. Jude’s opened its doors daily from noon to 3 p.m. to allow nonresidential patrons to use the phone and other facilities. Worker House members were also active in social justice movements, and take part in outreach and protests.

In 2014 an article in the CU News Gazette stated that the homeless shelter operations were ending for the Randolph St. house. An article from St. Jude's blog from 2015 stated that there were still weekly dinners and set drop-in hours at the location.

In November 2016 the Randolph St. house was sold to Jonah Weisskopf, who performed extensive renovations and converted it to a private rental/residential property.


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