Fr. Dave Staszak 1925 - 1998
Memories of His Mission

Picture THE frigid Chicago winter of 1981 left southside Pilsen neighborhood's homeless hard-pressed to find shelter. With no adequate facility in the area, men and women, wrapped in newspapers, slept under sidewalks, in abandoned buildings, or in the hallways of occupied homes. Deeply troubled by the sight of so many homeless people ill from exposure and suffering severe frostbite, Dominican Fr. David Staszak, decided to take action. On March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Fr. David established the San Jose Obrero (St. Joseph the Worker) Mission for homeless men.

ORIGINALLY the mission was located in a two-room apartment. The need for more space quickly emerged. Fr. David rented an old YMCA building, but soon it was destroyed by fire. With the help of area business people and a gift of $50,000, Fr. David purchased the building located at 1856 S. Loomis. After considerable setbacks, but with much conviction and effort, the San Jose Obrero Mission came to be. Fr. David often refers to it as the "Pilsen Hilton."

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WHEN asked for a statement about success stories, Fr. David replied: "Well, no one to date has become president of General Motors! But when a former shelter resident, dressed in a business suit and selling merchandise in a fashionable department store, smiles and says, "Thanks, Father, for giving me a boost in life,' I feel pretty satisfied. That's a success story!"

AS the number of homeless people has increased, the need to provide for them has grown. Responding to the plight of homeless women and children, Fr. David established The San Jose Obrero Family Mission in 1987 under the sponsorship of the San Jose Obrero Mission. At present,the two-story house, located at 2128 S. May, can shelter, feed, and clothe up to 13 women and children in need. San Jose Obrero Family Mission provides meals three times a day and supplies medicine to the sick. The mission provides bus tokens for mothers in search of work or who must travel considerable distances to apply for welfare, and maintains contact with nearby schools so children can continue their education.

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THE FAMILY MISSION is an emergency shelter. Social service agencies and churches refer homeless women and children to the shelter. Most guests stay for a period of two weeks only. Through counseling and the help of other social service agencies, the mission tries to re-establish some structure in the lives of the women and children who come to it. Its aim is to help them become independent once again so they can return to the mainstream of society with some stability. In the last year alone, San Jose Obrero Family Mission has served over 4,000 women and children.

SAN JOSE OBRERO can house 50 men. The door opens each evening at 8:00 to welcome homeless men, who receive a hot meal and a single bed for the night. Promptly at 5:30 each morning, the men are awakened, given breakfast, and sent out for the day in search of employment. Only in the case of bad storms or exceptionally cold weather are the men permitted to remain at the mission during the day. San Jose Obrero Mission, open every day of the year since March 1981, has sheltered, fed, and aided approximately 13,000 homeless men.

In addition to providing shelter and food, the mission sponsors the St. Joe's Job Program to help the men find employment. Over 1,000 men have received some type of employment through this program, including factory work, sales, housecleaning, carpentry and painting. Many have even found permanent jobs through the St. Joe's Job Program and are now able to take care of themselves.

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Ministry among the poor is becoming more and more urgent in today's world. We are a experiencing the financial crunch of hard economic times. And if we are feeling the burden, imagine how difficult it is for the homeless and those without work.

The Province of St. Albert the Great enthusiastically supports Fr. David Staszak in his work for homeless men, women, and children. It requires approximately $145,000 a year to run the San Jose Obrero Mission, St. Joe's Job Program, an San Jose Obrero Family Mission for women and children. Only half the needed funds come from city and federal agencies. For the remainder, Fr. David depends on grants, contributions from local businesses, and private donations. The Province also plays a significant role in helping to subsidize Fr. David and supports other Dominican ministries among the poor.

These are hard times for all of us, yet the need to help the poor has never been greater. I ask you during this holiday season to please remember us with a special gift. Remember Fr. David and the work of these shelters. Remember men, women, and children who are on the streets and looking to us for help. Remember the words of one very grateful woman: "The shelter has made me feel wanted as a person. Without this shelter I would have no place to live and wouldn't know what to do."


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