By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
CrossRoads Ministry, a retreat ministry sponsored by St. William Church, expects to serve about 1,700 people this year, treating them to a host of retreats tailored to people of all ages.
The ministry, centered in urban West Louisville at 12th and Oak streets, began 15 years ago — a milestone the ministry intends to mark with a gathering of former retreat participants on Sept. 21.
“Fifteen years ago, I wonder how many people thought CrossRoads would be around as a sustainable ministry,” said Dawn Dones, director of CrossRoads Ministry. She noted that, for the sake of affordability, the retreat fees don’t cover the cost of retreats, so the ministry’s donors are crucial. “It’s a really counterintuitive way of operating, but this is what we’re called to do. We’re really reliant on the generosity of so many people.”
Everything about CrossRoads may seem a bit counterintuitive by society’s standards. It aims to build relationships between those on retreat and the people they encounter at various social service agencies around Louisville. Retreat participants don’t necessarily volunteer in the usual sense — they’re not there to work so much as to meet people and break down barriers constructed by education, economics, geography and other circumstances.
According to its mission statement, the goal of participants is “to be transformed through building relationships at the margins, engaging in prayer and integrating the Gospel vision of peace and justice into their lives.”
Despite its unconventional business model, the ministry, at present, is holding its own.
CrossRoads expanded its staff recently, hiring a retreat director and house manager. The staff also will increase this summer with the help of four young-adult interns. They’ll have a two-fold role — serving as companions for summer retreat participants and receiving their own formation in the process.
“This is really new for us and really exciting,” said Dones. “The interns will accompany young people to the social service agencies (where high school students volunteer during the week-long CrossWalk retreat). They’ll simultaneously ask themselves questions that are being asked of young people and model the willingness to be vulnerable.”
Vulnerability is central to the mission of CrossRoads, Dones noted. Vulnerability and “openness of heart,” she said, open the individual to the capacity for change.
“My corny way of saying it is: We want people who come to CrossRoads to live differently. Our hope is to change the world by being changed by it,” Dones explained.
She hopes the ministry’s interns find themselves “deeply impacted” by their experiences this summer. She also noted that, in an effort to provide a just wage, the interns will receive stipends this summer funded by grants from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the Sisters of Loretto.
The interns — who have had some level of experience with CrossRoads or other encounters with people on the margins — had a retreat of their own last week. It was a week-long immersion designed to help them prepare for a summer of accompanying other young people on similar retreats.
Sarah Nash, a 2012 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy who attended CrossRoads retreats in high school, and Laura Stearman, a 2012 graduate of Assumption High School who volunteers with an urban youth ministry, are both college juniors. Nash attends St. Louis University and Stearman attends Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Andrew Porter, the eldest intern, recently graduated from Harvard University with a master of divinity degree. He’s also a graduate of Trinity High School and Bellarmine University.
This is his second summer working at CrossRoads.
Matthew Lohr, who graduated from St. Xavier High School in 2010, just graduated from Centre College, where he took a class on poverty and homelessness this past semester. It opened up a new world to him — one riddled with injustices, he said.
Last Tuesday, during a late afternoon visit to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Open Hand Kitchen, he became emotional when he found a man named Kenny whom he met on a previous visit in January. Kenny had shared many of the details of his path that led him to homelessness and hunger during their first encounter. At the time, Kenny was trying to stay sober. The stories moved Lohr and stuck in his memory, he said.
“I know that he had a dark, dark childhood and that he wanted to turn his life around,” Lohr said. “I was overjoyed to see he was still there” and still sober.