Sister Betty: Welcoming From the Inside Out

In a neighborhood of million-dollar homes and a thriving tech industry, Sister Betty’s parish is finding creative ways to help those outside the reach of such financial prosperity. St. Jude’s parish, where Sister Betty Schumacher works as a pastoral associate, is using its parking lot as a place of hospitality to the homeless.

“Those with limited resources are just being pushed out,” she says.

The parish has a history of responding to the needs of the community, engaging in hunger relief projects, hosting Tent City (a homeless encampment) several times, and regularly participating in service days. Projects have included a retirement housing development and yard work for a women’s and children’s shelter.

Yet two years ago the parish community began asking themselves what more they could do. The idea of Safe Parking emerged and after meetings among the pastoral council and local police department, the program began with a hearty volunteer corps on December 4, 2017.

Sister Betty shares announcements with her parish community.

Safe Parking and allows people who sleep in their cars to use the church parking lot and bathrooms. Participants pass a background check, consent to program policies, and demonstrate a plan to get back into housing. The program becomes especially effective when there are 5-7 cars because it creates a feeling of safety. St. Jude’s Safe Parking program currently has 18 cars.

Three quarters of the Safe Parking participants are working. They are single men and women as well as couples. One participant is a 74-year-old man who is homeless for the first time and has spent a great deal of his life taking care of his disabled son.

Thirty volunteers show up each evening to help orient the Safe Parking participants. There is a core of 30 volunteers. Each night at least one volunteer is in “The Hut” to meet with the residents of safe parking. While there is a focus on meeting the essential physical needs such as safety and warmth, the team also finds themselves addressing issues of loneliness and spends a good deal of time talking with the overnight guests. Through a coalition with local churches, participants can also access showers and a hot meal on each day of the week. In the first year, police were called out twice for incidents.

St. Jude’s, which serves 1,700 households, is diverse both economically and culturally. “What does it really mean to celebrate diversity?” asks Sister Betty. “It includes how we pray and gather as a community.”

Sister Betty is also on the parish’s Social Justice Committee, teaches a scripture class each Tuesday, visits and gives communion to the homebound, visits the sick and grieved, and welcomes new parishioners.

“This is what gives me life,” she says.

Sister Betty’s emphasis on hospitality and stability is not surprising considering that she has been a Benedictine sister of the St. Gertrude’s community since 1969. “The monastic community has been a huge influence on my life,” says Sister Betty.

Growing up in nearby Grangeville, Idaho, she was also educated by the Benedictine sisters. The eldest of ten children of German Catholic parents, she attended Saints Peter and Paul school where she was in the first 8th grade class of Sister Clarissa Goeckner, a former prioress. While attending Sts. Peter and Paul School, it was the sisters’ sense of fun that inspired her to consider religious life. “I saw the humanness in them,” recalls Sister Betty. “I thought, ‘They just have a great time together.’ I have experienced struggles throughout the years; however what keeps me here is a group of women that share a common vision and common values.”

Sister Betty began teaching elementary school and over the course of ten years taught in Boise, Pocatello and Grangeville. She became principal of Saints Peter and Paul when her little brother entered first grade.

She transitioned to parish work when she was invited by Father Joe Muha to join him in Weiser and to coordinate the Religious Education Program.  “I fell in love with parish work,” she exclaims. “It is an honor to walk with people in their journeys.” Eventually Sister Betty earned a Master’s of Ministry from Seattle University and would serve parishes in Boise, Weiser and the Seattle Area.

Her concerns for her monastic community are similar to those for her parish. “We have a lot to offer by the way we live our life. The sense of community is vital to the world: connections, acceptance, belonging, finding meaning, and delving deeper. I believe we are always challenged to stay in touch with those who are poor and struggling in our midst. What sustains us on this journey is our belief that we walk together and that we have a responsibility to bring about the vision of Jesus as One Body.”