The Catholic Worker model of helping the homeless is not one I agree with as it tends to support the homeless lifestyle rather than working towards a path out of homelessness; but the story of the founders of Sacramento’s largest homeless service organization (modeled on Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker program) is most definitely a story of great dedication and love, well worth a read, from Sacramento News & Review.
A collage hangs on the wall next to Chris Delany’s desk in the Sacramento Loaves & Fishes Welcome Center. It evokes the classic “American Gothic” painting—man with pitchfork, woman, farmhouse in the background—but with a few differences.
Instead of surly Midwestern farmers, it’s a decade-old photo of Chris and her late husband Dan. She’s sporting sunglasses and a half-smile. He’s wearing overalls under a black sweater and a pin that reads “Housing Now!” Smiling cut-outs of homeless guests, volunteers and staffers peek out from the background. Instead of a pitchfork, Dan holds a protest sign.
“OUR GOV’T LIES,” it reads.
It’s not the message you’d expect to see in the welcoming center of Sacramento’s largest provider to the homeless community, but one in line for a couple who built its legacy serving the region’s most vulnerable.
Chris is an 83-year-old anarchist. She’s radical, a purist. Her principles honed and unyielding.
Over the years, she’s been arrested a dozen times protesting the nuclear arms race. She’s served AIDS patients, prisoners and the mentally ill. Teamed with Dan, this couple has been responsible for some 7 million meals served to the region’s homeless over the span of three decades.
Dan died last October following a long battle with dementia. He’d been with Chris for 48 years, married for 47 and had two children, John and Rebecca.
The Delanys founded Loaves & Fishes—Sacramento’s now-massive nonprofit serving the many needs of the region’s legions of homeless men, women and children—in 1983. For three decades, they were the standard-bearers for a population the government could not or would not help. Dan was the visionary, the one who cooked up lofty ideas and spoke eloquently and loudly for the homeless. Chris was both the engine and soul of the organization, making the impossible happen daily while setting an example on what it means to take homeless guests in without judgment.
Humble, caring and joyful, Chris is still the heart of Loaves & Fishes. She’s white-haired, with a sharp wit and a grandmother’s smile. She spends her mornings in the Visitor Center hugging homeless guests, answering calls from desperate folks looking for a place to go and writing thank-you notes to donors.
“She’s right in the center in this army of workers,” says Gerrie Baskerville, co-director of Loaves’ Jail Visitation program.
Baskerville first met the Delanys in 1980 at their memorial for the activist Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement that inspired many—the Delanys included—to dedicate their lives to service and activism.
But before all of this, Chris was a nun. Dan was a priest. And when they met that fateful 1967 summer in southern California, their lives changed forever.
“Dan used to say, ’There is no path. The walker makes the path,’” Delany says.
And the one she’s blazed is remarkable.