Fr. Conroy, Sr. Ludmilla honored at meal site dedication

Father Rudolph Juarez prepares to bless the McAnthony Window meal site in honor of the late Father James Conroy and Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, after Mass Oct. 30

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — McAnthony Window outdoor meal site now features images of its founders, the late Father James Conroy and Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, crafted in wood. The artwork pays tribute to a ministry that has grown and broadened its impact through the years.

St. Anthony Parish dedicated the images and plaques after Masses Oct. 29 and 30 at McAnthony Window, founded in 1987. “Parishioner Mark Bailey, a woodworker, made and donated signs with their images, plus a message that communicates our gratitude for Father and Sister getting all this started,” said John Cooper, St. Anthony’s pastoral associate.

Over the years, McAnthony Window has expanded to include a food pantry, clothing, bus tokens and a ministry of presence. On Nov. 22, the Scott County Regional Authority awarded McAnthony Window a $42,700 grant. The grant covers $4,500 for personal finance classes, $6,000 for job coaching classes, $2,400 to help people get identification cards and birth certificates, $2,400 for laundry cards, $2,400 for bike replacement parts for patrons, $5,000 for clothing purchases, $5,000 for biodegradable food serving supplies and $15,000 for the food pantry.


“It is important to recognize these two ‘saints’ with a small ‘s,’” Cooper said of Father Conroy and Sister Benda. “Who knows, maybe one day they will be made ‘Saints’ with a capital ‘S’ for the good work they did with the poor and those in need.”

Bailey, a food pantry volunteer who entered the Catholic Church three years ago, created the signs in hard maple by tracing the founders’ images on paper and then used a router to custom-cut the designs. He inlayed them with colored sawdust. Then he placed the images into wooden plaques and inscribed them with a message and Scripture verse. He previously created a cross with inlaid stained glass for McAnthony Window and the Father Apo Prayer Center adjacent to the window, Cooper said.

It was Cooper’s idea to honor Father Conroy and Sister Benda and he received strong support from the pastor, Father Rudolph Juarez, to pursue it. “They have been part of my inspiration since I started working here in 2017,” Cooper said.

He did not know Father Conroy, who died in 2005, but he knew Sister Ludmilla, who died in 2021. She told Cooper how McAnthony Window got started, after people came to the kitchen window of the old rectory and asked for food. She and Father Conroy, pastor at the time, would lift up the window to distribute food and eventually established a schedule. Cooper said Sister Ludmilla told him, “One day I walked into the kitchen and Father Conroy had the maintenance man installing a sliding window like at the drive thru at McDonald’s. ‘Hence, that is how it became known as McAnthony Window.’”

“It was a joy and a blessing to be able to dedicate the plaques bearing the likeness of Sister Ludmilla and Father Conroy who were so instrumental in feeding the poor and homeless here in downtown Davenport,” said Father Juarez. “Their great love and compassion for the least among us continues to be an inspiration for all who have followed in their footsteps and expanded on their ministry and service.”

McAnthony Window serves meals Monday through Friday from 9-11 a.m. The number of hot meals served has doubled since the same time last year, Cooper said. “Our record number in August was 168 in one day.”

Two food pantry windows were installed for efficiency and patrons’ convenience. At a third window, guests may pick up clothing and two bus tokens per day until a maximum of 100 have been distributed that day.

“Our ministry of presence has been outside serving coffee and talking to our patrons. It is moving inside the old school building this month so that our patrons can go inside to eat and get warm. We also have a four-person string band that plays every day,” Cooper said.

In October, the parish began offering personal finance classes for patrons. “We took 20 patrons and taught a three-session class covering credit score, spending plan (budget) and predatory lending.” Ted Kurt, a parishioner and former bank executive, teamed up with Alvaro Macias from Ascentra Credit Union for the classes. This month, the parish will start a support group for its patrons, one for men and one for women. Classes on preparing to get a job are next up. The parish also introduced Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for patrons during window hours.

“We are probably one of the biggest church social outreach ministries around and we just continue to respond to the needs,” Cooper said. “We are not only giving patrons fish, we are teaching them how to fish through the new efforts we are embarking upon.”

“Our service has expanded, because the need of our patrons has expanded,” Father Juarez said. “Thanks to our many benefactors in our sister parishes and community, we have been able to do this. We are grateful for the support of so many.”

“When I think of Sister Ludmilla and Father Conroy, I am reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: ‘Brothers and sisters: You know how one must imitate us … we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.’ May we continue the spiritual and corporal works of mercy at this time and in this place! God with us!”

Renovation of the old school building, which housed the first church in the Diocese of Davenport and the first town hall in Davenport, is in process. “That building is key to our being able to do more for our patrons, especially in helping them out of their current life challenges,” Cooper said.

Estimated cost of the project is $650,000 to $750,000. To donate toward the project, contact the parish office at (563) 322-3303.

Former patron now volunteers
For The Catholic Messenger

Roy is a McAnthony Window patron turned volunteer.

DAVENPORT — Roy, who has learning differences, poor eye sight and diabetes, has been with St. Anthony Parish since July 4, 2021, said John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate. Roy arrived at McAnthony Window for help that day because he was hungry and thirsty.

He chose to return because the meal site was, “clean, high class and I recognized something special about people coming in and out of church. I just liked it and I stayed.”
Over the summer, he traveled out of state. A church secretary from a Lutheran parish in Wisconsin called the St. Anthony Parish office and said, “We have this guy named Roy who says he belongs to you ….” He returned to Iowa.

Roy has developed a close relationship with Mike Kent, St. Anthony’s maintenance man, and has grown in his relationship with Cooper, too. “Mike, John and the cook (Al) have taught me how to control my temper. You all have taught me respect, dignity and how to function down here,” said Roy, who now volunteers regularly for Mike. “You ain’t no person in life, if you don’t help people who help you,” Roy said.

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