Jesuit retreat centre in Guleph, ON. Register file photo

Jesuits open doors to homeless in quarantine

  • May 23, 2020

Homeless people waiting to learn whether they might have contracted COVID-19 are living in the Jesuit retreat house in Guelph.

The idea for housing the homeless under quarantine at the Loyola House Retreat and Training Centre came from Guelph Welcome In Drop In Centre executive director Gail Hoekstra. The decision to open up to Guelph’s poorest and most vulnerable was a no-brainer, said Ignatius Jesuit Centre director of operations Lisa Calzonetti.

“Immediately, without hesitation, I said, ‘Yes, we would do this — of course,’ ” Calzonetti told The Catholic Register. “It’s tantamount to our mission. It’s so closely driven by who we are and what we do and what we stand for.”

There’s never been more than 10 homeless at a time living in the 48-room retreat house and on May 14 it was down to just two, “which God knows is a grace, because the more that are here the more who are potentially infected, and that’s not what we want to see,” Calzonetti said.

At first the Jesuits who live and work at the retreat house wanted to help out. But it’s a health care operation and the agencies referring clients for temporary housing at the retreat house (Guelph General Hospital or the Guelph COVID-19 Assessment Clinic) are providing the necessary nurses, personal support workers, doctors and cleaning staff. The men awaiting test results must necessarily remain in isolation.

“So it truly is an isolation shelter,” Calzonetti said.

Each patient referred to the retreat house gets a room with a bed and a sink. Meals and personal hygiene kits are provided. During their 14 days at the farm, social workers contact the patients with options for permanent housing and information about how to stay safe in the context of the pandemic.

The new guests are completely unknown to the Guelph Jesuits. A couple of days after they opened as a shelter in April, Fr. Bill Clarke was accosted from across the room.

“Hey Bill, it’s Wayne,” said a guest downstairs from Clarke’s office.

Wayne had lived with Clarke more than 20 years ago when Clarke ran the Jesuit Farm Community, a kind of rural refuge and experiment in Ignatian community that gathered ex-convicts, people with mental health challenges and the chronically poor together to work and live on the land. 

Clarke told friends in the Jesuit community, “I have a new spiritual director.” Clarke has long referred to the poor whom he shares time with as his spiritual directors.

The Guelph retreat house is as much in limbo during the COVID-19 lockdown as everyone else, said Calzonetti. After initially planning on an August reopening, they’re now hoping they might be up and running in time for the usual 40-day retreat in October. But they just don’t know.

“You show me anyone that knows, they’re not telling the truth,” Calzonetti said.

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