Going to the peripheries: Bishop Zinkula follows the example of Pope Francis


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

(Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series of stories on Bishop Thomas Zinkula ministering on the peripheries. We give readers a bird’s eye view of his ministry, this time in inner-city Davenport.)

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula shares a laugh with Waunita Sullivan as he places a setting on a table at Cafe on Vine in Davenport. The bishop visited the cafe last fall as one stop on his journey to get to know the people in the diocese he serves. Sullivan is executive director of Cafe on Vine, which serves a daily meal to people in need.

Lunch hour is in full swing at Café on Vine in Davenport. Bishop Thomas Zinkula wears a café apron over standard black clerical clothing as he buses tables. He sprays sanitizer into a pink cloth and wipes off a tabletop before setting it with silverware.

“He came in the back door and said, ‘Put me to work,’” confides Waunita Sullivan, executive director of Café on Vine, which serves a meal 365 days a year with much volunteer support. In December, Café on Vine served 3,439 meals.


While visiting with café guests, Bishop Zinkula recognizes a woman he’d met at a cook-out at McAnthony’s Window, a meal site ministry of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport. She’d been living in a tent outside and it was getting cold. The bishop encouraged her to contact Humility of Mary Shelter in Davenport, and Pastoral Associate John Cooper provided her with contact information. Now at the café, she tells the bishop she is getting help at the shelter. “It was a neat connection between the two places,” the bishop says.

Advocates for people living on society’s margins, whose voices are not heard, have been asking Bishop Zinkula to tour their neighborhoods and programs in the Davenport Diocese. “The bishop is uniquely positioned to call attention to the substantial potential and needs of our inner-city residents,” says John DeTaeye, director of development for Humility of Mary Housing Inc. and Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. in Davenport. “The residents of the inner-city neighborhoods are crying out for public investments; street and alley lighting, sidewalk improvement, access to social services, affordable housing, jobs, and private and public education opportunities.”

Since becoming the diocese’s bishop seven months ago, Bishop Zinkula has visited Café on Vine, Humility of Mary Shelter, McAnthony Window, King’s Harvest Ministries and Project Renewal, all in Davenport; and Iowa City Catholic Worker House. Last month, he celebrated an early Christmas Mass at Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

These are among the peripheries, places to encounter the other, which Pope Francis calls clergy and lay people to do, as Christ instructed his followers to do in Matthew 25, the bishop says. He’s visited other peripheries as well. At Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, he blessed the hands of staff and patients. At the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City he learned about efforts to advocate for medical research that recognizes the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. The bishop also has prayed with a group outside the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, where abortions are performed. And he blessed an ultrasound machine at Pregnancy Resources Center in Davenport.

As he cleans tables at Café on Vine, the bishop asks a diner: “Is the food good here?” “Oh, yeah,” the 64-year-old veteran says. “Thank God it’s here,” pipes up an 18-year-old diner, referring to the café. “One guy knew I was a bishop. Most people don’t know that,” the bishop says later.
Humility of Mary Shelter Inc.

At the doorway of Humility of Mary Shelter Inc., a shelter guest greets Bishop Zinkula with a hug. In the day room, guests sit at tables with their backpacks beside them. Some play cards; some just chat. “We have a priest in the house, so let’s watch our language,” a man says.

Christine Adamson, the shelter’s director of services, gives the bishop a tour. Other social service advocates join him. He takes a look inside an empty bedroom in the women’s quarters, upstairs from the men’s quarters. Each room has four bunk beds to maximize space.

The bishop asks: Where do referrals come from? The Davenport Police Department and Genesis Behavioral Health Unit are the main source. Outreach teams also go out in cold weather to find people without shelter. They try to “broker some trust to get people to come in out of the cold, and once they’re in, try to figure out ways to get them into safer housing situations,” DeTaeye says.

No one is turned away unless they are a threat to themselves or others. The “Housing First” philosophy applies. “God is radically accepting us all the time…. We want to be radically accepting of people experiencing a housing crisis at that moment in time,” DeTaeye adds.

Humility of Mary Housing and Humility of Mary Shelter are sponsored programs of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary dedicated to providing shelter, housing and other resources that enable individuals and families to build on independence and self-sufficiency skills. The shelter has an 80-bed capacity, with 13 of those beds dedicated to veterans. The housing program provides 43 units of permanent and supportive housing for individuals with qualifying disabilities, such as substance abuse or a mental health issue, Adamson says.

Bishop Zinkula asks about funding sources. Humility of Mary Housing receives about 65 percent of its funding from community donations, churches, individuals and community-based fundraising events. The remaining 35 percent comes from state and federal grants. About 33 percent of the shelter’s funding comes from the community; 67 percent comes from the state and federal government. “We do have a generous community,” says Emily Harvey, executive director of both nonprofit agencies.

Between July 1 and Dec. 5, 2017, 486 adults and 92 children were served in both the housing and shelter programs. Overnight stays totaled 10,231: an increase of 1,100 stays over last year. “We have more people and they are staying longer at our shelter because affordable housing isn’t available. There’s no place for these people to go,” DeTaeye says.

King’s Harvest

Volunteers line up behind the counter, waiting to serve hungry guests at King’s Harvest meal site. Bishop Zinkula gives a blessing over the meal and then stops by tables in the cafeteria-style dining room to talk with diners. “Do we call you Father?” a diner named Betty asks. “You can call me Bishop,” the bishop suggests. “Or you can call me Father.” “Thank you for being here,” says another diner, making the sign of the cross before eating. A diner with a long gray beard shares that he once was an altar boy.

King’s Harvest serves about 500 people a week – lunch on Wednesdays and Fridays and brunch on Saturdays — and provides an overflow shelter in cold-weather months. Men sleep on cots in the dining room and the women in bunk beds in a separate room of the building that previously served as a church and, earlier, as a mortuary. As many as 75 people will stay overnight at King’s Harvest. Transitional housing is upstairs.

This shelter accepts the most challenging individuals who are homeless, people who have been barred from other facilities, Executive Director Michael Gayman says. “We started, honestly bishop, because we were worried that people would freeze to death.” More volunteers are needed for overnight shifts, adds Gayman, who is working some of those shifts.

Standing inside the women’s dormitory, Bishop Zinkula sees two rows of tidy, stacked bunk beds on either side of the room. “I wouldn’t house anyone where I wouldn’t be willing to sleep,” Gayman tells the bishop. “I wouldn’t serve food that I wouldn’t eat.”

A man approaches the bishop as he prepares to leave. “My name is Raphael, and I need prayers,” he says, shaking hands with Bishop Zinkula. Raphael has lost several close relatives recently, including his father, who died a year ago. “I’ll pray for them, Raphael,” the bishop says. Raphael talks about gaining sobriety and being a faithful Christian. But he’s struggling to cope with grief. “Stay close to the Lord,” the bishop says. “Work with Mike … I’ll be praying for you.” “I’m grateful for everything God does for me,” Raphael says.

Project Renewal

The bishop knocks on the door of a home that houses Project Renewal, a year-round program for children in grades kindergarten through high school living in Davenport’s inner city. Ann Schwickerath, Project Renewal’s executive director, welcomes the bishop before the children arrive after school. “We have about 35 kids a day; they kind of filter in,” she says. During summer, about 60-65 children participate.

Schwickerath shares the history of Project Renewal, which she knows thoroughly, having served more than 24 years with the nonprofit since graduation from college. For more than 40 years, Project Renewal, affectionately known as the “Treat House,” has provided a safe place for children to do homework, play and learn social skills. They also get a treat such as cookies, fruit snacks, vegetables and granola bars. Project Renewal’s summer program combines an education component with fun activities and community volunteerism and ensures that kids get breakfast and lunch. The program depends on volunteers, and St. Ambrose University work study students, to help provide the individualize attention that helps kids flourish.

Children in all grades are welcome at the Treat House, which is a huge help for their families. For many of them, the Treat House is the only place their kids participate in activities, outside of school and home. “The longer kids are with us, the bigger impact we can make,”

Schwickerath says. Project Renewal strives to stay in contact with the older kids by offering a high school night about every six weeks. Long-term participation in Project Renewal leads kids to grow in confidence and self-esteem and motivates them to get more involved in high school and beyond, she says.

It’s all about being present

Last fall, Bishop Zinkula visited McAnthony Window to be a presence to the hungry guests. “On my own I want to get a feel for what’s happening out there. I have no agenda. It helps keep me grounded.”

The meal site on the campus of St. Anthony Parish serves about 70 hungry people from 9-11 a.m. weekdays. The menu varies, depending on what’s been donated. Sometimes it’s biscuits and gravy or soup and sandwiches. Cookouts happen in warmer weather.

The bishop’s visit inspired Pastoral Associate John Cooper to create an “information door” where diners can learn about services such as shelters, other meal sites, food pantries and clothing sites. His hopes to soon have a list of resources for jobs and education. “There are people out there who want to make changes in their lives and we want to help,” Cooper says.

“One of my reasons to visit the peripheries is that we can see and experience Christ in those whom we find on the periphery, those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, grieving … Matthew 25,” Bishop Zinkula says. “It helps keep my faith real and focused. It helps keep me humble and compassionate. It helps keep me close to Christ. And I need all the help I can get!”

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