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

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

February Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

This time last year I was sure we were going to be closing our homeless shelter in the near future due to it no longer being needed.  Government efforts to house long-term homeless folks in our county combined with the imminent opening of a large new Navigation Center in Redwood City for the homeless with shelter and wrap-around services led me to believe that, by
the end of the year, our little homeless shelter would no longer be needed.

For most of the 26 years we have been operating our homeless shelter at Catholic Worker Hospitality House we were regularly inundated with many more people requesting shelter space than we had availability.  It has always been hard turning away more people than we accept.  Covid changed all that as there was a concerted effort by the government to prevent the spread of Covid by housing homeless people in local motels.  Almost overnight we saw a large drop in the number of people eating at our dining room and seeking shelter.

Further lessening the demand on our shelter has been San Mateo County’s commitment over the past few years to actively creating more permanent affordable housing for long-term homeless individuals. It has been so nice to see people getting housed who I thought would never get housing. We have been doing our part by providing a wide range of household goods to furnish their apartments once they move in.  It’s always the high point of my day, week, month when I help to furnish the apartment of a former guest and see how happy and thankful they are.  After years of being homeless, with the resulting precarity and humiliations, they now have the security and dignity of their own home.  Beautiful!

Now a year later, I have been proven wrong regarding the imminent demise of our little homeless shelter. The numbers of people seeking shelter has admittedly reduced, but we are still regularly at capacity, especially during the wet and cold season, and routinely, regrettably, turn people away due to lack of space. Clearly, our shelter is still a valued asset for those in
need in our community.

One thing we have noticed lately is the people now seeking to stay at our shelter are a more challenging population. In the past we had the luxury of cherry picking who we thought would be the easiest, least difficult guests. But that is no longer the case.  This makes sense as most of the “easy” homeless population are getting housed, leaving these “more challenging” people for us to serve.  Those who can complete a cumbersome and overly bureaucratic application process get housing, those who can’t—or won’t—don’t get housing.  What makes someone “more challenging” to have as a guest in our shelter?  It can be mental illness or sub- stance abuse or being just plain cantankerous or a combination of the three.  These conditions vary on a spectrum from one individual to another and aren’t always initially recognizable. These folks, while definitely in need of our services, can be very challenging to serve as their behavior is often disruptive to the other guests.  It is so frustrating seeing folks miss out on the possibility of obtaining permanent affordable housing with a resultant better quality of life because they are unable or unwilling to work the process. I want to scream out: “If you would just follow their process you WILL get permanent housing.”  I think of Greg who fits this category perfectly.  He either couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the process and ended up dying in his campsite.  Might he have lived longer if housed?

Another reason we have seen for the continued operation of our shelter is that the county is now rigorously enforcing a policy of no services to people who have not been verifiable residents of the county for less than 90 days.  At Catholic Worker Hospitality House we do not have that policy.  There is no lengthy verification process to determine eligibility for our shelter or dining room. We see people in need and react immediately, as best we can. Our extreme anti-bureaucratic stance, and refusal to accept government funding, means we serve people immediately.

While the rationale behind the county’s policy is understandable, it does leave some people in a very difficult situation.  We have had several shelter guests lately who could only stay at our place because they were new to the area. In December we had a man from Salinas stay with us for a couple of nights who had been dropped off in the area and spoke no English. What was he to do? What were we to do? We made space for him.  We are often the way station where people can stay until they have the requisite residency status to qualify for county run or funded facilities. We will be here to continue meeting that need.  So, the good news is, we will not be closing our shelter. But I guess the bad news is we will not be closing our shelter.  Nothing would make us happier than to close our shelter because there was no longer a need for it. Sadly, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

While Catholic Workers have historically made a career out of justifiably criticizing the government for a variety of reasons, not the least its not prioritizing the creation of affordable housing, we must now applaud all levels of government for devoting resources to providing permanent affordable housing to those most in need in our community. It is definitely making a difference in the lives of those we serve.  That said, I did read in the paper recently that upcoming state budget cuts will disproportionately affect the poorest residents by reducing funds for affordable housing, no surprise there.

There are still people, and probably always will be, who are in crisis or relocating and need the services our shelter provides.  We are committed to keeping our shelter open for these folks.  And whether housed or homeless there is a sizable number of people who need the resources our dining room provides.  We are committed to keeping our dining room open for these folks.  We are able to follow through on these commitments through your generous support.  We are thankful for your past support and plead for your continued generosity to enable us to continue serving those in need in our community.


In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker
Hospitality House

Christmas 2023

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

“All you need is love. Love is all you really need.” —The Beatles

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love, not just for some but for everyone.”
—Burt Bacharach

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov

A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:34-35

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. – Rom 12:9-10

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. –1st John 4:7-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest is love. –1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13

A pharisee asked Jesus. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:34-40


Dear Friends,

You are probably wondering, “What is with all the “love” quotes? Isn’t this a Christmas newsletter? Shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus in a manger, shepherds, and the Magi?” Good question. I’ve been writing that type of Christmas letter for over twenty-five years, so I thought this year I would do something different and maybe get to the root of what I think the season is all about, hence all the “love” quotes.

Advent and Christmas seasons are the time when we prepare for and celebrate the coming of love into the world in a special way with the birth of Jesus. As a follower of Jesus I feel called to be a person of love. The challenge is how to enflesh this love in my daily life. Too often I think of love as something sweet and easy, but as the above quote from The Brother’s Karamazov states: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” If I want to commit my life to the Way of God, then I must embrace that harsh and dreadful love.

Indeed, the love that Mary and Joseph showed in the nativity story was a love of action. Nothing that Joseph and Mary did was easy. Joseph chose to care for and protect Mary and raise Jesus as his son, even though he was ridiculed and mocked by those around him. Mary was not given a dignified place to give birth and had to give birth in a manger. The story of Jesus’ entrance into
this world is harsh and dreadful, because it is not easy to birth love into a world that so continuously rejects it.

I like to think that love is what our work is all about at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. Whether it’s providing hot and hearty meals at our dining room or a safe and welcoming bed at our homeless shelter, or permanent affordable housing at one of our boarding houses, these actions are our attempts at loving God through loving our neighbors. I’ll be the first to admit that we aren’t always loving, sometimes far from it, but we keep on trying.

But we don’t do this alone. We know that your generous support of our work is one way that you too love God and neighbor. We are so thankful for your past support and hope that you will continue helping us provide loving service to those in need.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House


Can you help us host our annual Christmas dinner for our guests by cooking part of the meal? We need:

  • Ham, cooked and carved, enough for 10 people
  • Potato dishes
  • Milk or juice
  • Cookies, pie, or cake

Please bring food donations between 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Friday, December 22. We will be serving the meal between 11:00 – 12:00 p.m. that day. Food can be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave. in San Bruno. Please call us at (650) 827-0706 if you can bring anything or if you have any questions. Thank You!



If you’re interested in providing a gift for one of our guests, may we suggest gift cards as the ideal gift for this COVID impacted
Christmas? They would provide Christmas cheer for our guests and enable them to purchase the items they need and want. It would also limit your exposure to crowds this holiday season. We suggest gift cards to grocery stores, Target, and coffee houses. If you still want to purchase a tangible gift, may we suggest one of the following: sweatshirt, thermal underwear, hat and gloves, socks, or underwear. We thank you for your generosity in helping to make this holiday season special for our guests.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2023

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us and Catholic Worker Hospitality House will once again host a Thanksgiving Dinner for all our guests. We once again turn to you to make this special meal possible. In the past you have brought food to share with all of our guests for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Can you help us again this year? Can you bring one or more of the following:

  • Turkey, cooked and carved to serve ten
  • Pie, cake or cookies
  • Mashed potatoes or stuffing for ten
  • Apple cider or milk
  • Vegetable dish for ten
  • Paper plates, napkins, to go containers

If you can provide any of these items please call us at (650) 827-0706.

Food is to be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave., between 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 23). The meal will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.. PLEASE call to tell us what you can bring so we can plan accordingly.

Please consider yourself invited to our Thanksgiving Dinner. We know many of you are far from family or perhaps without family. Thanksgiving is the time we remember that we are all part of God’s family: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you all are one in Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Thank you so much for your continued generosity.


Peter Stiehler
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

June Appeal

Dear Friends,

When I sit down to write our newsletters I normally try to share the exciting developments and accomplishments of our work, such as last year when I was regularly writing about the building of new affordable housing at the Second Ave House, or the comings and goings of various residents of our houses. Other times I write about moving events such as last month’s letter telling of long-time guests passing away. These are the easy letters to write, they almost write themselves. Not this month. For the past several weeks, I’ve been racking my brain to find something exciting or interesting to talk about in this letter, but I finally had to admit that there’s nothing exciting going on right now.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I often say that when we are doing our job well, nobody notices. The place is clean, we open on time, we have plenty of food, the plumbing works, and the bills are paid. A well-run program can be “boring” at times. And that IS a good thing. I think of being a parent; one of the most important things parents can do for their children is provide a stable loving environment. Heck, we all want a stable loving environment. We want to know we will be safe, accepted, and that our needs will be provided for.

I have to admit that I’m proud of the stable loving environment we have created at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. And I emphasize the “WE.” Too often I get too much of the credit for the work we do. But I know I’m only responsible for part of it. I – we – are blessed with stable and loving co-workers, probably the best we’ve had in our twenty-seven years of service. Pat, Debbie, and Mike S. do a great job of staffing the shelter; and Mike D. works the dining room one day a week (and covers for me when I’m sick or away). They do a great job and treat our guests with dignity and respect – and that makes my job so much easier.

There is a further reason why our work is so stable – you, our supporters. Why are we able to always have plenty of good food, make needed repairs and upgrades on our buildings, and ensure our bills get paid on time? It’s because of your ongoing generous support, whether it is financial contributions, donations of food or other supplies, or volunteering at the dining room. Your kindness enables us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House to daily serve those in need in our community. We can’t underestimate how thankful we are of all you do to make our work possible. You are the heart that keeps the body working. We thank you for all your past support and hope that you will continue helping us serve those in need in both boring and exciting ways.


In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House


I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
— Philippians 1:3-5

April Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

On a Monday morning in early February I returned to our Second Ave house to find Mike waiting for me on the front porch. “I think we have a problem inside,” Mike said. “Oh, no, is it Roger?” I responded. It was an obvious deduction as Roger had recently returned home after a stint in the hospital and rehab (I wrote about him in our last newsletter) and wasn’t doing well. “No, it’s Howard.” So I quickly went into Howard’s room to check on his condition and found he was dead. Apparently, he had died of a stroke or heart failure over the weekend.

Howard was a beloved figure at the house. He lived at the house for close to five years and had been a shelter guest off and on for a couple of years before that. Shortly after moving into the house he took over the job of washing the two to four loads of towels from the dining room and shelter every day. The last two years he was part of the shelter staff, working the overnight shift one night a week and covering other shifts as needed. There were times I felt like we were taking advantage of an elderly man (Howard was 81 when he died), but in talking with his daughters they told me how much he loved working at the shelter and doing the laundry as it gave meaning and structure to his life. And as a retired electrician we regularly turned to Howard when we needed help with an electrical issue. Despite all he did around the house and the shelter, Howard was not beloved for the work he did, but because of the person he was: kind, generous, easy-going, and a pleasure to be around. He embodied all the stereotypes of the Jamaican immigrant that he was: hard working, joyful, and possessing a hard to understand accent.

While Howard’s death is obviously sad and we continue to mourn his loss, we are able to joyfully reflect on his time with us. At Catholic Worker Hospitality House he found a stable home and a community of friends; he had a meaningful life in the service he provided at the shelter; the stability he found also made it easier for him to reconnect with his family; and in the end he had a quick and peaceful passing. Clearly this is “successful” hospitality if there ever was.

At the heart of the Catholic Worker Movement is the daily practice of the Works of Mercy. We daily “feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and give drink to the hungry” at our dining room, shelter, and affordable housing units. But we don’t often have the opportunity to “bury the dead,” but with the passing of Howard we had that opportunity. Since Howard’s death I’ve been reflecting on the question of what it means to “bury the dead?” The most literal meaning is to put the dead body in the ground and have a funeral service. But in practice it means so much more.

After finding Howard’s body I called 911. Over the next few hours, I was present to answer questions as the police arrived, followed by fire department EMTs, the coroner, and finally representatives from a funeral home. Later in the day I started receiving calls from his daughters. They wanted to know what had happened and started making funeral plans. A week later his daughter Shelley came into town (she lives in New York City) to gather meaningful personal effects of her father and help with cleaning the room. While Howard had contact with his family, there had been periods with little to no contact between them. So she also wanted to talk with me about her father – his health before he died and what his life had been like at the house. I realized this was another aspect of “burying the dead.” The family seeks comfort in photos, possessions, and stories of their loved ones; and that is something we are able to provide.

While the family had plans for a funeral service in New York, where most of them live, we wanted to memorialize him as well. So a couple of weeks later we held our own memorial service for him at the house that included shelter guests and residents of the house. We all enjoyed sharing stories about Howard, reading scripture, and afterwards sharing a pizza lunch. It helped to bring closure and to bring us closer together.

But “burying the dead” didn’t end there. While the family took some valued possessions of Howard’s and started the process of cleaning his room, it was left to me to finish clearing and cleaning his room in preparation of a new person moving into the room. Usually when someone moves out it’s a fairly simple process: clear and clean the room, then move in the next resident. this time it was a bit more complicated. I felt it important to move Roger into Howard’s old room, as it was closer to the bathroom and smoking porch and, more importantly, didn’t have any steps asRoger can barely walk. So after clearing and cleaning Howard’s room we had the “joy” of also moving, clearing, cleaning, and painting Roger’s old room. After moving Roger we then moved Jane and Bill, a couple that lived upstairs, into Roger’s old room as it gave them more space. Finally, I could move a new resident into their old room. PHEW!

As this story shows the practice of the Works of Mercy, while usually listed separately, are in reality often combined. Not only were we “burying the dead” (Howard), but caring for the sick (Roger), and housing the homeless (maintaining and preparing rooms for old and new residents).

We are so blessed at Catholic Worker Hospitality House in our work of daily practicing the Works of Mercy. We touch other people’s lives and they touch ours. Even in death there is much life. And in the process we are able to live out and spread the Love of God in the world, not with words but by our actions. But we do not do this alone, we thank you for all your help in making this possible and hope that you will continue helping and joining us in the daily practice of the Works of Mercy.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House


As I was about to mail out this letter we experienced another death at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. On a Thursday evening Gary, a long-time dining room guest died just outside the shelter. Debbie, who was working the shelter that night, had been informed by another guest that Gary was sitting in the plaza of St. Bruno’s Church and looking quite ill. She went out to check on him. He refused her offer to call an ambulance, but did ask for food, which she brought. When I stopped by 20 minutes later to check on him he was dead. The above letter talked about what a “nice” death Howard had; Gary’s on the other hand was tragic. He was over thirty years younger than Howard, had clearly just been released from the hospital (he was wearing scrubs and had a hospital wristband), and there was an empty vodka bottle next to him. Gary had long struggled with his alcohol use and it finally caught up to him. Please join us in keeping Gary in our prayers.