Category Archives: Community

Sayonara to Joe Byrne

By Joe Byrne

As some of you know by now, I’ve left Jonah House. At the beginning of April, I moved down to Pinehurst, North Carolina, to live with, and take care of, my 90-year-old mother. My mom is at the point where she needs to either move into assisted living, or live with one of her kids. She’s chosen the latter course. And my siblings and I, as well as my mom and I, decided that I was the one most available to make the move, having no family of my own. That said, I did have a community I was leaving behind in Baltimore, and many friends, so my leaving was a challenge in that regard.

I moved to Jonah House in October 2015. I joined the community anchored by the Parr-Brown family–Tucker and Emily and little Auggie, then a year-and-a-half old. Within a year, we welcomed a new member into the community, little Evie, Tucker and Emily’s second child. Also part of Jonah House at that time were the “emeritus” members living separately in the cottage: Liz McAlister, Sr. Ardeth Platte, and Sr. Carol Gilbert.

The Parr-Brown family decided to move back west after two years; Liz, Ardeth, and Carol had left Jonah House the year before. I remained behind to form a new community. Joining me in 2017 were Paul Magno, Ausar Amen, Bow Williams, and Jemilla Sequiera.

The past six-and-a-half years at Jonah House have been a very rich time for me. I was able to be part of a tradition that I had admired for almost thirty years before I finally moved to Jonah House. It was also a challenging time in that the community was going through some changes, with long-time community members (including a founder) leaving Jonah House, and remaining members trying to envision a new direction and carrying on.

In my time at Jonah House, I was able to develop strong bonds with other community members, with the folks in the neighborhood who came on Tuesdays for food assistance, with those who attended Jonah House liturgy, and with the land itself. Over the six years I got to know the twenty-two acres of St. Peter’s Cemetery, where Jonah House resides, pretty well. I got to know the trees and flowers (and many, but not all, of their names), and the animals–the flora and fauna. I personally met raccoons, foxes, and deer; as well as barn owls, red-shouldered hawks, and guinea fowl (now no more due to the foxes!). The deer population in the cemetery grew from zero to eight in the time I was at Jonah House. Too many, actually. When I saw the deer (pretty much every day) I would say “Hello deer–and I don’t mean that affectionately.” That’s because they ate or otherwise damaged so many of the things I planted!

I also need to announce that my canine companion, Pema, has also left Jonah House. She is with me in North Carolina. It’s going to take some time for Pema to get used to her new living arrangement. In St. Peter’s Cemetery, I let her roam. And since the main gate was open most of the time, this means I also let her roam the neighborhood surrounding the cemetery. I hope the neighbors were fond of Pema; then again, maybe those who halted behind her and honked their horns when Pema paraded down the middle of Bentalou Street are happy she’s moved on. But at least no one ran her over or called Animal Control.

I will miss Jonah House, where I worked, prayed, and played for six plus years. But Jonah House continues, both as intentional community, and as extended community. There will still be a Jonah House when the community celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. I hope to return then, and will probably return before then, at least once.

For what it’s worth, all those I leave behind have my blessing, as do those who will come after me. I conclude with the phrase used by the early Franciscan friars as a greeting (and likely as a farewell): “Pax et bonum!” That is, “peace and good to you!”

Love One Another

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Jonah House Food Pantry Still Open

Baltimore, and the rest of the state of Maryland, are currently in lock-down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Jonah House Food Pantry, an “essential” enterprise, remains open, with the blessing of the city and state. We hope to remain open during the weeks of the “stay at home” order.

Our hours are 8am to 12pm on Tuesdays. To find us, search for St. Peter’s Cemetery in Google Maps (are mailing address will not help you find us).

We are not in need of volunteers at this time, but we certainly accept donations. Please use our donation page on this website to do so. Because of the pandemic, more people are in need of food (given many of the shelves are empty at the ONLY grocery store in the area), which increases our costs.

As special thanks Sarah Magno, Paul’s daughter, who raised money from her friends for our food pantry. Along with the $300 dollars raised, she also let us use her Costco membership to buy much needed supplies for the pantry. Thanks Sarah!

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Pantry Project

Our pantry upgrade is well in progress. Ausar and Bow are doing the construction work on our new walk-in cooler, with the help of a crew of young men from the neighborhood.

We’ll certainly have it done by summer time, when we’ll need it. But now in the winter, we just have to open the pantry windows!

Here are pics of the work crew in action.

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How Can I Keep From Singing

By Paul Magno

I woke up here in Baltimore this morning and knew it must be raining for a reason
Just a few minutes later a brief text from David Hoovler announced that Lin Romano had died this morning, at age 63 after a 16 month battle with cancer.

Hard not to cry, harder even to cry.

Lin had lived at Jonah House for about a year in the late 1980s, after her participation in the Epiphany Plowshares disarmament action at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in PA in January of 1987. After four trials she was finally convicted and sentenced to two years in federal prison in Lexington KY.

For over a decade before that, she had lived and worked among the poorest people in Washington DC as a member of the Community for Creative Nonviolence.

Throughout the last three decades, she has remained “passionate about creating a just world,” through several jobs here in Baltimore, through her continued association with Jonah House, and with David, to whom she was married since 2005.

Joe Byrne and I had an opportunity to visit her last week at the Gilchrist Center, an inpatient hospice care facility in Towson, and be by her bedside for about an hour. Though her body was weak, she was aware of our presence and tried to sing along with the tunes Joe played on the dulcimer. She was able to smile and open her eyes a few times.

We wait on word from David about any memorial arrangements.

To close, I’ll paraphrase just one of those songs

Her life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation.
We hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails the new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife
We hear the music ringing;
She sounds an echo in our souls
How can we keep from singing?

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Jonah House Pantry

Monday pick up from the Baltimore Food Bank volunteers ready to unload and pack pantry boxes for Tuesdays pantry.
Melissa and her daughter the dynamic duo always here to help on pantry days
Mom, I will sort this box for you!
Rainbow packing up and getting ready for Tuesday’s pantry
When we run out of pantry boxes we have to pack up emergency bags.
Joe on task!!!

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Xavier University Visits Jonah House

Once again, a group from Xavier University graced us with a visit! They came for dinner on Wednesday, which was followed by a reflection session. Paul talked about the history of Jonah House and resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and the fact that community member and co-founder Liz McAlister remains in jail for her participation in the King’s Bay Plowshares action last April. Ausar and Naomi talked about the Jonah House Food Pantry and our partnership with Tubman House, in West Baltimore. And Joe talked about our work on the land in St. Peter’s Cemetery, including gardens, orchards, and forest, describing it as a work of mercy for the Earth.

The group returned on Thursday morning. Joe took them on a tour of the cemetery, after which Ausar took them to Tubman House, to visit some folks who live nearby and to lay mulch on the fruit trees at the urban garden that is attached to Tubman House.

They’ll be headed back to Cincinnati tomorrow. We look forward to their visit next year!

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Jonah House in 2017

2017 was an eventful and adventurous year at Jonah House in Baltimore! During the winter months, we spent some time hibernating. We had to do a lot of splitting and stacking wood for our two wood burning stoves. Later in the winter we were occupied with planning the vegetable and herb gardens, then with planting seeds and cultivating new plants in our greenhouse.

We also had our regular food pantry ministry to keep us busy. Every Monday we went to the Maryland Food Bank to pick up discounted food and free fresh produce, and brought it home in our van to process in the pantry. Then on Tuesdays, from 9am to 12pm, we were in the pantry handing out food boxes to low-income friends in the neighborhood.  Over the year, we gave out almost 4,500 boxes and half as many emergency bags. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more demand in West Baltimore, one of the more impoverished and underserved areas of Baltimore.

We had a few student groups visiting us over the winter and into the spring. A group from Xavier University in Cincinnati came for a day in January. They did some work outside at Jonah House, and at Tubman House, near the Gilmore Homes in West Baltimore, where they helped prepare raised garden beds that have been set up in abandoned lots. In the evening, we had a feast and did some reflection on the work of peace and justice in Baltimore, and the rest of the world. This one day was inspiring for one of the Xavier Students in particular: Josh Menke agreed to come back in the summer as an intern (he ended up staying with us for two months). Later, in early March, a group from Loyola University Chicago came to visit for a week, as part of Loyola’s extensive alternative spring break immersion program. Again, they worked at Jonah House and Tubman House. During the week, we broke bread and reflected on the four roots of Jonah House: community, spirituality, activism, and stewardship. In the evenings, we had fun playing “Fishbowl.” The group also had the opportunity to attend a couple of marches. The first was a Women’s Strike march in Baltimore, to commemorate International Women’s Day. The second was a march on the White House by Sioux water protectors from Standing Rock, North Dakota. Finally, a group from Loras College came for a short visit during Holy Week. The day after their visit, they drove to Washington DC, to take part in the Holy Week Faith and Resistance Retreat sponsored by Dorothy Day House. They witnessed at the Pentagon, and were there as Joe Byrne of Jonah House was arrested protesting for peace!

Tucker, Auggie, Joe, Emily, and Evie at BWI airport last January to protest President Trump’s immigration ban.

Jonah House continued to witness for peace and justice when the students went home. Tucker, Joe, and sometimes Emily did public “sits” in which we would go to City Hall Park, across from the War Memorial, in Baltimore, and do silent sitting meditation, while surrounded with signs that proclaimed our deep desire for peace and justice. During the year, Jonah House was also able to participate in events sponsored by the Atlantic Life Community, including two retreats and Faith and Resistance events during the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Holy Week, and the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The summer, as usual, was a busy time at Jonah House. We had our fruit orchard to attend to, beginning with a “pruning party” in early spring. We also had our extensive garden to look after. Emily did much of the work there, with the help of many volunteers, including some of our Tuesday pantry folks. For a bag of produce, they would come Thursday mornings to plant, weed, and harvest. Meanwhile Tucker, with the help of his dad, built a chicken coop and yard. We now have fourteen hens laying upwards of a dozen eggs a day!

Throughout the summer we were able to bring in quite a bit of produce, preserving some of it, using some of it to feed the Jonah House community, the rest of it going into the food pantry boxes. We did pretty well with our fruit trees as well. The figs in particular were prolific, as were the grapes. We were able to harvest quite a few apples too, but the pear harvest was poor. This was due to the fact that the pears ripened a month early and were attacked by fruit-eating hornets. Last year we brought in five or six bushels; this year a half bushel. This brought home to us the very real threat posed by global warming and climate chaos.

Our community life was quite rich in 2017, including lively meals with the children, Auggie and Evie, often followed by quiet sitting meditation after the kids had been put to bed. But there were some changes in the composition of the community, with more to come in 2018. The three “emeritus” members of the community—Liz McAlister, Ardeth Platte, and Carol Gilbert—left us in 2017. Liz moved to New York City, while Ardeth and Carol went to Dorothy Day House in DC, where they plan to devote themselves to their ministry of “itinerant preaching” for peace. All three spent quite a bit of time at the United Nations in New York City educating and lobbying member nations about the Nuclea

r Weapon Abolition Treaty. This treaty was signed on July 7 by most of the world’s nations (but not, alas, the countries—like the United States—that have nuclear weapon arsenals), and will soon be ratified. The main NGO working for the treaty, ICANW (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, thanks to the dedicated and selfless efforts of people all over the world, including Liz, Ardeth, and Carol.

Meanwhile, after much discernment, Tucker and Emily decided to leave Jonah House. They and their kids will be moving out in May 2018, so that they can be closer to family in the Midwest, and Tucker can pursue an academic career. Like Liz, Ardeth, and Carol, they will be missed mightily! Joe remains to carry on the work of Jonah House and is excited about welcoming in two new members to the community.  Ausur Amen and Ayo Rodan have been an extensive part of our community and work in west Baltimore over the past two years and are thrilled to be joining Joe in May to continue the work here at Jonah House. The community is still recruiting additional members so if you know anyone who would like to do the work of peace and justice in the context of intentional community, please contact Jonah House.

Finally, we are very grateful for all the volunteers who pitched in during 2017, and those who sent us donations to do our work. We couldn’t do it without you! As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Christmas Sermon in 1967, “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, woven into a single garment of destiny. . . . We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” Thanks for joining us in our work and play! We hope and pray you will continue to do so in the years to come.

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Holy Week Visit of Loras College Students

By Joe Byrne

During Holy Week, we had a very full and fulfilling one-day visit from Loras College students. Loras College has been sending a delegation for Holy Week for many years now. We’re so glad to have the tradition continue.

Here is the crew who helped Tucker remove leaves and trash from the south-east corner of the cemetery:

Meanwhile, Emily and a student collected wood chips for Mulch. Auggie helped too!

Here’s the crew helping Emily plow, plant, and mulch the garden:

These lettuce and cooking greens survived the winter and have been replanted so they can flourish over the summer:

Pema in her favorite garden/doggy bed:

And here is the two person crew who helped Joe prepare the food boxes for next week’s food pantry day:

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