The Logistics of Showing Up

2023-2024 Precious Blood Volunteer, Anna Nowalk

Anna Nowalk, Precious Blood Volunteer

When I heard that the general stipend for Precious Blood Volunteers was $250 per month, plus an additional food stipend, I was confident in my ability to spend within that budget. Sure, my coffee beans might get a little pricey, but my food and housing were already covered, so really, what else was there?

In my volunteer covenant, I wrote that I would not spend over the provided amount, figuring it was a fairly low bar. What I didn’t sufficiently consider was the cost of travel: a single round trip to see my family at Thanksgiving was over my monthly budget. My parents have kindly agreed to sponsor my holiday flights to Pittsburgh, but without being able to rely on their resources or my own sav- ings, seeing my family during the holidays would be in a far more precarious position.

Transportation may not be considered a “need” like food, water, shelter, or air, but I’ve gained an increased understanding of its importance during my time as a Volunteer. This is the first time that I’ve lived far enough from home that a plane ride is my only real travel option. I actually purchased multiple tickets within the same month in an attempt to avoid the higher prices I (correctly) feared I’d come across if I waited. However, I recognize that not everyone has the means to drop hundreds of dollars at once on multiple flights, especially if they’re living paycheck-to-pay-check. I’m privileged enough that attempting to live on a Volunteer stipend can be an experiment, rather than a necessity; on solely a Volunteer budget, it’s possible that price increases may have continuously put a trip out of my reach, even if I eventually saved enough to have purchased the original flights together.

Anna Nowalk, far left, at PBMR with Sr. Carolyn Hoying, Diana Rubio and Sr. Pauline Siesegh

The cost of long-distance travel and the way it can impact the time we spend with our loved ones isn’t the only realization I’ve had. I didn’t bring a car with me when I moved, and after having attended a university in New York City for four years, I frankly don’t trust my driving skills enough to get on the road. As such, I have to rely on one of my housemates for a ride to and from Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), my Volunteer placement, putting me at the mercy of their schedules. When I get home late, it’s often because I’m being driven home by someone who is transporting participants. Sometimes this takes five minutes; sometimes it takes 30. Taking people home is a time-consuming task.

When this means getting home at 7:30 pm, the loss of personal time can be frustrating. And yet, a person’s ability to simply get to PBMR is the foundation upon which many of our activities rest. Participants can’t participate in certain activities without being at the locations in which they’re happening.

The importance of location extends beyond mere logistics. PBMR strives to create a safe space for participants, a place where community members can feel at peace and at home. Even in the pandemic, the organization continued to provide in-person services.

The center on S. Elizabeth Street and The Front Porch nearby are spaces where community can grow. Togetherness in physical space underlies one of our core values: radical hospitality. When I think of radical hospitality, I imagine people welcoming others into a space. When I think of accompaniment, I visualize a person walking alongside someone else. These tenets of PBMR conjure images of care made tangible by the presence of a loving person. The phrase “ministry of presence” is an apt way to describe what PBMR aims to provide: relationship comes before programming. We’re here for people. We show up.

Transportation determines our interactions with space, and consequently, with our work and with others. The availability of safe, convenient and affordable transportation shapes whether we can hug the people we love, as well as our access a safe space, whether we desire to find healing there ourselves or want to accompany others. Transportation governs our ability to literally show up.

There’s a strong argument to be made that sometimes, the destination is more important than the journey, especially when the destination is a place like PBMR and the journey is an hour-long bus ride. Nevertheless, arrival at the destination cannot happen without an accessible and functional mode of transportation. While it may not be a “need” in the proper sense, it is certainly a necessity.

Anna is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Holding on to Joy

2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Raechel Kiesel

By Raechel Kiesel, Precious Blood Volunteer alumnus

On August 13, we celebrated the annual Bud Billiken Parade here on the south side of Chicago. Not only is it an incredible show of dance, creativity and talent, but it is the largest African American parade in the United States! For generations, families from around the country have participated in this celebration of Black joy, youth and education.

As I watched clips from the parade, I was once again struck by the radiant and powerful resilience of our Black community here in Back of the Yards and Englewood, and communities far beyond. As I watched generations dancing together—young people alongside elders—I thought of their ancestors, whose dance of hope and resilience paved the way to this dance of today. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow, these elders were able to hold onto the bright light of joy, and fan it enough to pass that light along.

To fan the light of the families in our PBMR community today, we recently started a new career navigation program to walk with men and women as they pursue their career goals. For years, we have worked with individuals through our workforce development team, whether that meant starting out as an apprentice in our wood shop or finding a first job with one of our supportive employers.

Raechel (far back right hand corner) with other people at PBMR’s art program

The men and women who completed those steps have been so successful that they are now looking for opportunities to grow and use all of their gifts and talents in a career, and we want to help them realize those goals.

As part of this new program, we accompany participants through the discernment process. Many are so busy working multiple jobs, taking care of kids, and staying on top of bills that they have little time to explore and decide on a long-term career path. So we ask the questions, “What are your talents? Where does the world need what you have to offer? What unique gifts do you bring to our beloved community?”

In asking those questions recently, it came out that one of our participants is interested in dance. She used to dance when she was a little girl and was very talented, but she set her dreams of dancing aside when bills, kids and responsibilities kicked in. Personally, I have very little dancing knowledge (and no dancing skill), so we went to our local expert. One of our friends at PBMR is a Zumba instructor and has even come to the center to dance with our young women. We all met up for coffee and chatted about turning dance from a passion into a career.

Our Zumba instructor friend talked about how important it is to find one’s joy and hold onto it. She spoke about being a Black woman, going through the process of identifying and processing trauma, and how much of a toll that has taken on her mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Dance brought her back into her body and allowed her to express herself in music and movement. Even in those toughest times, it was her joy.

As I listened to their conversation, I was awed by the strength of these two women sharing the pain of their trauma and how they had learned to find healing. In the light of this new friend, I witnessed a grieving mother see the hope of a new path forward that she had not imagined before. Not only could she make a career out of sharing her talent with others, but this new pursuit could be a way for her to find her joy and share it with others—a way of healing in the midst of great pain, a way of hope.

The incredible resilience of these Black women was illuminated through a simple conversation. As I spend more time at PBMR, I continue to learn what faith looks like: to have hope in the face of suffering, to dance to heal one’s pain, and to find strength in sharing joy.

My hope is that the children of these amazing women and their children’s children will have the chance to celebrate the dances that their mothers pass along. As a career coach now by trade, I also hope that they get to celebrate the wealth built up and passed onto future generations, thanks to the financial stability that a steady career can provide. But especially, as we celebrate the resilient joy that makes our community so beautiful, I hope that we dance in the hope of a bright future because of those who promote healing now to pass along to future generations.


Raechel served last year as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. She now works for PBMR in their career navigation program. Go to to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers. Go to to support PBMR. 

Turning to One Another

by Fr. David Kelly, C.PP.S., Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, Chicago

picture of Fr. Dave KellyIt was a Saturday afternoon and I just finished doing some lawn work around pbmr. As I was walking from the Center to the Mother Brunner Home, I noticed Michael sitting alone on one of the benches near the basketball court. His phone was by his side, book bag on the floor, and head buried in his hands. I could sense that something was bothering him and, so, I walked over to see if he was ok.

Michael is a real quiet kid, tall and thin, around 15 years old and loves basketball. Even while he wasn’t quick to share much, I did get a little something out of him. When I asked about who he lived with, he told me his 23-year-old brother. I asked about his mother, and he said he didn’t know where she was. She left some time ago. We talked some more, and he said that he wanted more hours, meaning he wanted to earn more money. He is part of one of our programs and earns a little money, but, apparently not enough for his needs.  

It would be easy to fall into judgement or condemnation. What kind of mother could leave her child? But of course the underlying reality is much more complicated, and the only way to know the answers is to sit and listen to the child, to listen to the mother, and to seek to understand. I have found  that when you begin to untangle the story, when you hear people’s experiences of homelessness, trauma, poverty, etc., those initial judgements are quieted and understanding begins to set in. Judgement always impedes my ability to understand.

There is a poem that has helped us in these uncertain times.  It is by Margaret Wheatley, entitled “Turning to One Another.” Here is just a bit of it:

There is no power greater than a community
discovering what it cares about.
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”
Keep asking.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear…
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

For me the poem calls us to not fixate or simply cast judgement on the problems we see in others, but to seek solutions, paths of healing for their flourishing. Michael doesn’t need people judging him or his mother; he needs a world that cares. He needs people to hear his story without judgement, to listen with understanding, and to accompany him toward solutions that meet his and his family’s needs.

Both in the church and in society we have become polarized; we have become a society of judgement and exclusion. Richard Rohr says Jesus was never about exclusion or expelling or isolating people. Quite the opposite, for him that was the problem. Jesus was about transforming and integrating. He was always sending the lepers and those healed back into the city, back to the priests (Rohr, Hope Against Darkness).

PBMR was founded almost 20 years ago because we were confronted by a system that only knew punishment. There was no healing or transformation for people experiencing brokenness, only punishment and expulsion. And so we set out on a journey to focus on healing, reconciliation, and understanding.

Isn’t that what the world needs? To be listened to? To listen? I dream of a world where more people are willing to listen to those they know, those they don’t know, those they never talk to, and rather than being offended by or afraid of the differences we hear, to be intrigued and compelled. I long for a time where instead of casting judgement about “What’s wrong,” we can come together in relationship and begin to ask, “What’s possible?” 

Now, because of that short conversation with Michael, when I see him in the parking lot or in the neighborhood, he stops, reaches out to shake my hand, and says hello. “Creative solutions come from new connections” (Margaret Wheatley).

For Means With

Thomas, center, working with others to set up a recording studio in a former bathroom at PBMR

by Thomas Weiss, Precious Blood Volunteer

I’m getting better at this. Summarizing, synthesizing, selecting particularly poignant moments laden with “spiritual significance.” My parents ask me to do this when I visit home. We sit around the kitchen table fidgeting with our coffee mugs and they, God bless them, ask me questions as if I’m returning from overseas. My friends on Chicago’s north side hush their voices when they ask me about my work day, like we are passing notes in the back row of middle school algebra. I hope Ms. Hopewell doesn’t catch us! Or, put on the individual level, it’s like a child flipping through the pages of forbidden fiction beneath the bedsheets, flashlight in a vice grip between incisors. The (mostly white) circle into which I was born is undeniably fascinated with my work, just a minute fraction of the labor Precious Blood clergy, lay workers, and Companions devote toward the ultimate renewal of the world. Needless to say, I am gladdened by their fascination. Many are even fascinated enough to offer generous donations, and for this, of course, I am delighted.

And yet, there’s a nagging dissatisfaction when the evening ends and I am alone. At the end of it all, I do not want your money: I want your allegiance.

The most outspokenly Catholic kid in my class at college proudly toted a MAGA hat around campus. His sweaters were Burberry, his shoes Sperry’s, his parka made from goose feathers. I believe he is now discerning the priesthood. After the shooting in Kenosha, another young lady from my college made sure to let me know that Jacob Blake was a rapist, and that Black Lives Matter’s founders were Marxists not to be trusted. She later invited me to Mass the following evening.

Let me be clear: I am not exempt from my own criticism. My parents gave me a car, debt free, on my sixteenth birthday. I attended highly privileged high school and university, never having to work a job outside of class to keep myself afloat. I went to summer church camps with water slides and power boats.

I’ve been to Europe on four different occasions. My family has vacationed in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Alaska. My story bears the indelible mark of unapologetic privilege.

I suppose that’s why I felt I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus last month, walking down Michigan Avenue.

A few of the boys I mentor at PBMR wanted to drive downtown to Millennium Park to see the Christmas lights. As we walked toward the park, we saw an old man, homeless, sitting on the sidewalk, his back curled up against the concrete retaining wall that runs along Michigan Avenue. The man was singing, wailing, head tilted up into the yellow street lights, colored intermittently with the red beams of brake lights. He jingled the coins in his Big Gulp like a tambourine.

One of the young men raced ahead of the group and dropped half of what he had in his pocket into the man’s cup. Another of the young men droped in a few bucks as we passed. They told him to stay safe and we walked on toward the Christmas tree. “Man, I just hate to see people like that,” one of them said to me. “If I make it to college, I’m going to open a homeless shelter. I hate to see people like that.”

I was dumbstruck by the unbridled Catholicism of these young men, neither of whom were religious. Both boys would be considered “poor” as we commonly understand the label. Yet, there they were, giving away their few and precious resources to a man they have never met before. I saw a mixture of the Good Samaritan and Mary Magdalene, anointing Jesus’ feet with her precious perfume.

Jesus was for the poor; this much is obvious. What I find to be often forgotten is that Jesus was poor. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus tells those of us with two tunics to give one away to those who have none. As if this were not explicit enough, he says to do the same with food. Fundamentally, Jesus means that to be for the poor is to break bread with the poor. It means giving beyond what makes us comfortable. It means giving $10 to a homeless man on Michigan Ave when you have $20 in your pocket. I ask myself daily what it means for me, and I ask the same of you.

To give a sizable amount of cash can change lives. It ferries resources into resource-scare areas. It opens doors which were formerly closed. But the real act of service stems from the realization of equivalence: just as Christ “emptied himself ” and took on the flesh of us sinners, we must realize our kinship with the beaten, hungry, weary, and alienated. Though we are not Christ, together we might become like Christ through allegiance to one another. This is the call of Christ, not toward judgment, skepticism, and cowardice, but toward radical hope, healing, and hospitality.

We—the privileged, the well-fed, the comfortable—risk the fate of the Pharisees if we do not soon recognize that Jesus’ teaching explicitly commands us to eradicate the existence of privilege. The ball is in our court, and the stakes are high. I pray that we, stirred by courage and humility, may sift through the distractions and delusions which obscure the substance of the Gospel: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This reflection originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of the “New Wine Press.”

Thomas is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Is There Any Hope?

by Sr. Donna Liette, ASC, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation

The other day, after the murder of two of our youth, the realization that a dedicated pbmr donor is critically ill with brain cancer, several center break-ins, and violent outbursts among participants, I asked Fr. Dave Kelly, “Is there any hope?” In his gentle way, he reminded me of our mission of being agents of hospitality, hope, and healing and allowing the chaos of our ministry to transform us.

A few hours later we had our weekly staff meeting and we read the passage about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The people had gathered to hear and see Jesus, but also to be healed. Many were healed, but the even greater miracle was within the crowd. As the food was shared and hospitality offered, there was abundance and the people began to see each other differently. A community of trust, of love and hope began to emerge.

Then Fr. Kelly asked us, “Where have you seen hope in this pbmr community?” The stories we told brought tears to our eyes and bursts of laughter—had we only thought to record those stories.

Angelica told the joy of helping one of our participants move into his own place with his mother. He had worked hard in the Woodshop to earn the money, and there they stood, proud in their new home with furniture and all. hopes were fulfilled.

Fred told of talking to the mother of one of his participants, one of our youngest. The mother is so happy about the change in her son; she sees the hopes she had for her son coming alive at home.

Dave told of one of our youth, Joe, presently incarcerated, calling because he was feeling down. After talking to a few staff as the phone was passed around, he said, “I feel so much better.” Connection made—hope.

Fr. Denny shared the joy and hope he experiences when guys from years past come back and tell how their lives have changed—jobs and housing found, the positive lifestyles—and they are so deeply grateful for their time at pbmr.

Artrice, Sr. Janet, and I work with the mothers and see their joy as they grow in their healing, in their desire to further their education and to grow spiritually.

Many stories were told of the hope that our “Hospitality House” for men returning from prison after 20+ years has brought, not only to the three men now living there but to all of us.

Hector had a great hope story. He described the evening a pottery class joined the pbmr screen printing business in the Mother Brunner basement, a tight space already shared with laundry facilities. Then one of Hector’s pbmr youth got a little agitated with the intrusion of these “younger” boys. The story ends with this agitated youth showing a younger potter the skill he has learned. Well now, agitation turns to pride and he was all in and happy to be sharing space, talent, and “big brother” stuff! Hope.

There were many more stories. Some you can read in our monthly e-newsletter along with wonderful photos of hope and healing.

Today, as I prayed with the Jesuit and companion Martyrs of El Salvador, there was a reading from Jon Sobrino. (Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador). He writes, “It is not easy to keep on hoping…it seems that everything is against hope…but together with the great love Jesus showed and these martyrs had, there are the faces of the poor, in which God is hidden but nevertheless present, asking us to keep going, a request we cannot ignore.”

So, during this coming season of Advent—this season of hope and waiting—let us look for hope, for love, and create in our own homes, workplaces, and churches a spirit of hope and love. Where there is great love, there is hope. It is the call of the blood of Christ. Ω