Catholic Worker Hospitality House of San Bruno - Providing meals and shelter in San Bruno, California.

Judy Pena Tribute

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

It is with much sadness that we bid farewell to another long time fixture of the Catholic Worker Hospitality House, Judy Pena. Judy hasn’t died, but her health has deteriorated to the degree that she is no longer able to live on her own and now resides at a care facility in Gilroy. Therefore, we will no longer be seeing her at the dining room.  Sadly because of COVID I will not be able to visit her, although I will be able to stay in touch by phone.


Judy has been a regular at the dining room and shelter for 24 years. Shortly after we opened our dining room we met her at a conference at Saint Bruno’s Church. When she learned about our dining room she said she just had to be part of it. Soon she was a daily volunteer serving food, chatting up our guests, and cleaning up after serving time. A couple of years later when we had a job opening at the shelter she was briefly an overnight staff person. While working at the shelter some of the guests thought Judy would be a pushover, they soon learned otherwise. Judy holds the record for kicking out the most guests in a single night when one Saturday night she told four rowdy guests to leave after repeated warnings to curb their behavior. Even after she stopped working at the shelter she was a regular volunteer at the dining room for another decade until her health prevented her from working. The place was so important to her that even when she could no longer work she would still come every morning just to socialize with the other guests. As her health declined I started giving her a ride home from the dining room every morning, which gave us some nice one-on-one time. She was always pleasant on the drive home, even if we had arguments that morning at the dining room (which was not uncommon).


Like the rest of us, Judy is no saint, and can be quite difficult at times (as many of her fellow volunteers can attest to). But throughout her life she was a person who volunteered her time to serve those in need, whether it was working with the United Farmworkers Movement to improve the lot of laborers in the fields, with the Franciscans at the Poverello center serving the urban poor in San Francisco, or at our little dining room. Judy was always of service and was open and welcoming to all. A humble and giving life covers a multitude of sins.



Judy, thank you for your years of service and loving presence. You are and will be missed.  The place won’t be the same without you.