by Judy Joy Jones
Several years ago when I was on a Bay Area Ecumenical Peace Walk, a loud voice screamed, “Please, please listen to me. Instead of going to all your meetings and just talking about helping the homeless of Oakland, California, come with me. Please come with me.”
The intense sincerity and authority in her voice made all of the peace walkers stop in their tracks and listen to the woman who seemingly appeared from nowhere.
“I am Mother Mary Ann Wright,” she explained, “and I feed the homeless in Oakland. Last night, I held a teenage girl as she died from an overdose right here in this park. All of your meetings and paperwork cannot do anything for people that are starving and the youth that are homeless and addicted to drugs.
“Please, if you want to really see and know what needs to be done to help the poor of Oakland, come and help me feed the homeless in my soup kitchen. Or come to my warehouse and help me hand out clothing to the people in need. Love is just another word until it is put into action. The time you spend talking in meetings about reaching out to those in need, might be the difference between life and death for someone.”
As I listened, I remembered that Mother Teresa’s catalyst for opening her first shelter for the homeless in Calcutta, India, was very similar to Mother Mary Ann Wright’s.
While walking up a flight of stairs to attend a meeting about how to help the poor in the city and nearly tripping over a dying person, Mother Teresa looked down at the malnourished man with his worm-eaten body and decided at that moment she no longer wanted to just talk about helping the poor.
The other people hurrying up the stairs to the meeting did not realize the dying homeless man they were walking over was what their meeting was all about.
Mother Teresa found someone to help her carry the gravely ill man to the street at the bottom of the stairs and then started knocking on doors until a stranger offered her a room to put the man in so that he could die with peace and dignity.
Hearing Mother Mary Ann Wright’s urgent message changed my life forever. I immediately started volunteering with her, feeding the poor in Old Man’s Park in Oakland, helping fill bags with donated clothing for the poor in her warehouse, as well as helping in her soup kitchen.
Mother Wright told me her mission started one night, when God called her by name and told her to go and take blankets, food and love to the homeless people living under the freeways and in the parks.
“I started sleeping sitting up in a chair all night after witnessing first-hand the poor sleeping under bridges and on the streets all over the city,” she said. “I wanted to share their suffering and bond completely with them. Sleeping in a comfortable bed while so many had nothing but the cold ground to lay their head on, was something I would never do again.”
At that moment, I knew I was with a saint. Mother Mary Ann Wright of Oakland was a non-denominational saint.
For the next two years, I volunteered with Mother Wright whenever I could. Anywhere in the world there was great suffering, if Mary Ann Wright could find the money to get there, she went. After the Oklahoma bombing, someone donated the funds needed for her to go there. She sat by the bedsides of the victims and their families, sharing in their suffering.
Mother Wright would take food, clothes, and medicines to the people that live and die on the garbage dumps in Mexico City whenever she could get the necessary funds to get there.
At her Oakland warehouse, Mother left food, donated from local grocery stores, outside by the street, for people to take. Sometimes they drove up in large expensive cars to get the donated items. I asked Mary Ann why they would take food for the poor when it appeared they were not in need. She answered: “Never, ever judge anyone. It is not for you and I to decide who is worthy and deserves the donations. This is none of our business. We are here simply to offer God’s love. The rest is between each individual and God, not us.”
The number of people touched by Mother Wright will never be known, but the ripple effect of her unconditional love continues to be felt by the suffering everywhere. They know there was a woman named Mary Ann Wright who gave her life for them.
Saints have mysterious ways of accomplishing God’s will and often live and die unnoticed. But the love they put out raises the vibrations of the whole universe. It resonates into the ether and all on earth benefit from it.
Mother was very strict with volunteers. She made certain they filled the plates for the homeless people waiting in the soup kitchen line as they would for their own families. She gently scolded them if the plates of food were not thoughtfully filled.
She threw away bags of donated clothes that she felt weren’t good enough for the poor she served. Mother refused to give anything but the best. The needy on earth were her family and she treated each one as if they were her own son or daughter.
I remember a young, homeless, teenage girl who walked up to Mother in the park and said: “Mother I am going to die soon. I have AIDS. Would you like to hear a song I wrote for the babies being born with AIDS?”
Mother gently hugged her and said, “Of course.”
I was crying so much I couldn’t even hear her song, but I remember her face glowed and she never stopped smiling. I wondered how a young teenager dying of AIDS, homeless in Oakland, could be so gracious.
Some day, there will be a huge statue of Mother Mary Ann Wright of Oakland, with the homeless men, women and children gathered in her arms. When people visit the statue, they will remember that in the darkest nights, God sends a light to spread healing to the suffering and offer hope to those in need.
You and I are that light. We are the ones that dry the tears of the suffering poor and hold the homeless in our arms as they take their last breaths. When we say “yes” to helping a soul in need, God’s smile radiates across the entire universe.
“Honey, when you do this kind of work, you learn to be very patient,” Mother Wright said. “People tell me they are bringing the food to feed the homeless and sometimes they don’t show up, but I’ve learned to remain silent and just keep praying. I know people are good no matter how deeply buried that good may be. It is always there.”
It is the goodness of those that give to the poor that challenges each of us to remember that what we do for those in need today, we are doing for future generations of tomorrow.
Reaching out to help others may be the biggest mountain we will ever climb.
Mother Mary Ann Wright, the saint of Oakland’s homeless people, will be remembered through eternity, because she humbly answered yes to what she felt God was calling her to do. Her works for the poor continue to spread heaven on earth in miraculous ways!
Love is just another word until it is put into action.
Mary Ann Wright — Saint of the Poor
by Judy Joy Jones
Mother Mary Ann Wright
Saint of the Poor
slept sitting up all night
so she could feel
of the homeless
all over earth’s shores
Hearing God’s call
to take blankets
food and clothes
to the homeless
on the streets
in the darkest nights
Mary Ann Wright did go
How many souls
she fed and clothed
the world will never know
but her love for the poor
lives on through eternity
and her saint’s halo
Mother Mary Ann Wright
Saint of the Poor
sheltering the homeless
in her loving arms
she was the mother
they had never known
sent by God alone