By Sara Kraft
After 33 years of service, 93 year old Marie Lederer is retiring from the House of Bread, a food pantry located at St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Thirty-five years ago, Deacon (now Father) Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., answered the phone at the St. Francis Xavier rectory. The woman on the other end of the line was hungry and didn’t have any food. After bringing her some groceries, he realized there was a great need for a food pantry to serve the greater St. Joseph area. Two thousand seven hundred forty-seven dollars and seventeen cents were collected from parishioners to begin the food pantry in the St. Francis Xavier rectory basement in 1981.
In 1982, Marie Lederer was asked to volunteer at the House of Bread due to her previous experience working in a local grocery store. “I lived in the deep depression days,” explained Marie Lederer. “I know what it is like to go without.” Eventually, Marie convinced St. Francis Xavier Parish to begin to offer utility, rent, and transportation assistance through the House of Bread.
In 1988, St. Francis Xavier Parish built a new parish center. Marie’s husband Fred, a retired home builder, finished the basement of the new center to make it suitable for the House of Bread. He worked six days a week for 13 months with the help of St. Francis Xavier parishioners Harold Kolega, John Burns, and Mark Werner. Their work was a labor of love as they didn’t charge the parish for their labor or expertise. Fred passed away in 2011. In 1989, Marie and Jack Switzer became co-coordinators of the House of Bread until 2009, when Jack Switzer retired before his death in 2012. In 2007, the House of Bread relocated to the Xavier House, an old convent building on the St. Francis Xavier campus, so an early childhood center could be housed in the basement of the parish center.
When Marie initially started volunteering, the House of Bread served 20-25 families a month. Under Marie’s leadership, the House of Bread has greatly grown. The facility now requires 3 large industrial freezers, 1 three door refrigerator, and 2 two door refrigerators to store donated food and typically feeds 375-400 families each month.
“We have fed a lot of people over the years,” said Marie. “With every face that came in the House of Bread, I saw Jesus. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The third time, Peter told Jesus that he knew he loved him. Jesus then told him to ‘feed my sheep,’” stated Marie. “That’s just what we did. We never took no pay for nothing.”
Marie graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart in St. Joseph (demolished in 1960) in 1939. She was quick to credit the sisters for her generosity. “They taught me everything I know,” she explained. One of her most prized possessions is a painting of Joan of Arc that previously hung in her alma mater.
Her favorite part of volunteering at the House of Bread has been “Being with the people and helping the poor,” Marie said.
Marie’s service to the House of Bread has impacted more than just those receiving assistance, explained Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish.
“The mission of St. Francis Xavier Parish is to encounter Jesus Christ and bring Him to all through vibrant liturgy, lifelong Christian formation, and social outreach,” explained Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S. “Our House of Bread is one of the ways that we bring Christ to all through social outreach. The House of Bread has offered a channel through which many, many parishioners have served Christ over the years. Some actually volunteer to serve in the House of Bread when it is open, some bring food to church which is taken to the House of Bread, some pick up donated food from grocery stores, etc. The ministry of the House of Bread is a source of pride for parishioners.”
“Marie really believes that she is serving Christ when she gives out food to the hungry. ‘When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat’ (Matthew 25:35) are the words of Jesus that Marie has taken literally. She serves with enthusiasm. She has drawn many others into working alongside her over the years and allowed them to minister to Christ in disguise.”
The House of Bread has formed a team to continue Marie’s leadership and legacy to the poor. For more information on the House of Bread, call 816-671-9473.