Catholic Charities dedicates Deacon Martin J. Goedken Memorial Center

From left:  Sunny Jones, Catholic Charities Interim Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Hilliard, Executive Director Catholic Charities Foundation, Amy Ward, Catholic Charities Program Manager in Community Housing in the St. Joseph office, Charlotte Chunn, St. Joseph Advisory Board Member, Lisa Goedken, widow of Deacon Goedken, and Doug Evenson, Chair of the Catholic Charities Board of Directors. (Sara Kraft photo)

By Sara Kraft

Everyone who had met Deacon Martin J. Goedken had a story of his unparalleled generosity and his unwavering commitment to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and live out his baptismal call of holiness. Deacon Goedken led the St. Joseph office of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph for over twelve years. During his time there, he was quick to offer assistance in any way possible. Stories recounted included Deacon Goedken buying a bus ticket home to Georgia for a client when no Catholic Charities funds could be found, giving his own grown children’s beds away to a client when needed (so the children no longer had a place to sleep when they visited until a neighbor gave them different ones) and donating vegetables to Second Harvest to feed the hungry. Deacon Goedken died in 2015.

“If Martin thought you needed his shirt off his back more than he needed it, he would take it off and give it to you,” explained Amy Ward, Program Manager in Community Housing who worked with Deacon Goedken. If someone receiving housing needed something moved from storage, Martin was quick to bring his truck the next day. “He always had time for anything any of us needed.”

Due to his generosity and inspiration to the community, the new St. Joseph Catholic Charities building, located at 1123 South 10th Street, was named the Deacon Martin J. Goedken Memorial Center and was dedicated March 4. Although Catholic Charities has had a St. Joseph office since 1979, the building is the first owned by Catholic Charities in St. Joseph. The original building project for the Center experienced a major setback from a fire on December 27, 2015 which occurred as Catholic Charities was beginning renovations on the building. Fire damage included roof, smoke, and water damage following the firefighters’ efforts and necessitated replacing the HVAC system, windows, and rebuilding walls. The building opened to the public in December 2016, nearly nine months later than anticipated.

Staff and Catholic Charities board members were quick to praise the generosity of the St. Joseph community for support allowing them to operate. “It was humbling for the community to support us (during this time),” Interim Chief Executive Officer Sunny Jones said. Due to the generosity of the community which provided temporary locations from which to operate, the St. Joseph Catholic Charities office was still able to serve over 1500 individuals despite having no permanent home. Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living (MERIL), St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and Community Missions Corporation were very generous in allowing the use of their space. Mosaic Life Care and United Way of St. Joseph are also very generous partners of Catholic Charities.

Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Vicar General and Chancellor Fr. Ken Riley, JCL, a native son of St. Joseph, came as Bishop Johnston’s representative for the dedication. Fr. Riley has known Martin and wife Lisa for many years and recalled being given vegetables out of the Goedken garden. “Bishop Johnston always says that Catholic Charities is our faith lived out in love,” explained Fr. Riley. “When a human being is touched by generosity, they are set upon a journey.”

Fr. Riley quoted Pope Francis’ October 2014 address to Catholic Charities USA. “You are the engine of the Church that organizes love — Caritas — for all believers to work together to respond through the corporal works of mercy. You set the pace for the Church to be in the world each day. You help others change the course of their own lives. You are the salt, leaven and light that provides a beacon of hope to those in need. You as Catholic Charities USA help to change the course of your local communities, your states, your country and the world by your witness to that encounter with the Lord Jesus, who gives us abundant life and joy. The joy of serving and advocating for the good of all continues that call of the early Church to make sure that all needs are met.”

The new center will allow Catholic Charities to better serve their clientele. The location was chosen for its proximity to both the bus line and Health Services building. Staff and volunteers are trained to see Christ’s face in each person they see. For the first time, Catholic Charities in St. Joseph is able to offer a welcome center, complete with children’s play area and free coffee and water. They are now able to offer expanded work force development and life skills classes with a dedicated room so more clients can participate. Catholic Charities provides help obtaining benefits, hygiene needs and food pantry locations, and one-on-one coaching and support. Additionally, they offer assistance with health and housing needs. The new building also provides necessary space for the Catholic Charities staff. The second floor of the building includes staff office space, a conference room, and a break area and brainstorming area for the staff.

“We view our work as an expression of our faith,” explained Executive Director of the Catholic Charities Foundation Stephen Hilliard. “Our job is to recognize Christ in our clientele each day. We seek to help our clients break the cycle of poverty.”

“I see myself in the faces of the people who come through the door,” explained Amy. “I’ve been there. I understand what it is like to be hungry. We look for the needs of everyone that comes in the front door. We dig until we can find something we can help with. We’re just really happy to be in this building. We feel extremely blessed. We love it. It’s amazing.”

“Matthew 25 (‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’), to me is how he (Deacon Goedken) had lived out his life,” explained widow Lisa Goedken. “He always felt like it was such a privilege to work for Catholic Charities. He often told me how thankful he was for his staff. I think they inspired him. I hope this center can inspire the people who knew and worked with him to continue in the legacy of caring for the clients. Marty is not really gone, I am sure he is praying for Catholic Charities harder than ever.”


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October 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph