It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since we were shocked into taking action to create
INTERFAITH HOMELESSNESS NETWORK
The history story about Clement on this website tells Clement’s story. Other places tell of the April Shower program that would not exist except for the action of many Churches and Organizations getting concerned for the underserved people in our community.
Please read his story below and join our fight for better service to people like Clement.
A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE
by Michael V. Alberts, Recording Secretary
Others knew him differently, but this is how we knew him. The first time I saw him, he stood at the back of St. Leander's Church. Two or three coats, two or three pairs of paints, a couple of shirts, a pair of shoes so big they couldn't possibly have fit his feet, a scraggly beard, and oily, unwashed hair: another homeless guy. I found out later he was only 50. He looked 80. A lot of the homeless came for the free lunch we offered 5 days aweek, but not many came into the church itself. I was conducting the noon communion service, and I knew I'd have to give him something – too many people were watching, and I couldn't disedify them after preaching to them. Clement gave me a big smile as I came up to him, and held out his hand rather tentatively, I thought, almost shyly. His elbow tight into his side, his forearm parallel to the ground, his hand not completely open. I gave him three dollars. He said, "God bless you!"
Pretty soon, Clement was coming to all the services. He was there at 7 a.m., and 12:15 during the week, at 4:30 on Saturday, all the Sunday Masses, the baptisms, the funerals, the weddings. Sometimes, he'd wait outside; sometimes, he'd stand by the rear doors; sometimes he'd come in and participate in the service with us. His begging was always that same tentative, almost shy, holding out of a half-opened hand, and a big smile. He never actually asked for money; he just stood there smiling with his hand out. If you gave to him, he said, "God bless you!" If you didn't give to him, he said, "God bless you!" and he was so sincere, you knew you were blessed, whether you gave or you didn't.
We get a lot of homeless folks at St. Leander's, being a church, and being so close to BART and the downtown plaza, so I always carry a few singles in my pocket to give to them when they ask. I've heard most of the excuses by now: ran out of gas, need money for a BART ticket, need money for a motel for the night, haven't eaten all day, whatever. Lots of these excuses are true, though some aren't, but the Scripture says, "Give to all who beg from you" (Luke 6: 30); it doesn't say anything about whether we think they have a valid reason to receive or not, so I always had a few dollars handy. Clement was usually the first one to ask me. Pretty soon, I was giving him ten or fifteen dollars a week, but in the course of that asking and receiving Clement and I became acquainted. He would usually come to noon services, whether Mass or communion service, and he always came to the ones I conducted on Fridays. Maybe some would say he wanted the handout I always had ready, but actually, Clement and I were becoming friends.
He told me he was living in Oakland, so once I offered him a ride to wherever that was. He said it was a small bus in a lot under the Interstate 880 overpass at High St. He wouldn't let me take him all the way there. He made up some story about a crazy "roommate" who resented visitors and might become violent. I accepted that face-saving white lie, and dropped him off. As time went by, he told me bits and pieces of his life. He told me he was "evil" and had "done some bad things." He didn't ever say what these "bad things" were, but he did tell me that he won the Bronze Star in Viet Nam. I know you had to kill a man, or several to earn a Bronze Star. I was in the Army, too, and at about the same time. I got sent to Germany, while Clement was sent to Viet Nam. I wonder what I would have been like if I had killed a man, or several. When he told me this, the words of St. Augustine when he saw a drunk lying in the gutter came to mind, and hit me hard almost every time I saw Clement: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
He told me about the business he had, and the beautiful wife he had, but that drinking had caused him to lose both, and the worst day for him was when he drove off a bridge and couldn't remember anything about it. The bottom dropped out of his life, and he became homeless.
With his attending all the Masses and services and funerals and baptisms and weddings, he became a fixture at St. Leander's Church. He may have been a little dirty, and with all those clothes, he looked a little strange, and sometimes he didn't smell too good. (Those times embarrassed, him, too, and he stayed in the back of church then.) But his smile was genuine, and his eyes were bright and warm. He became a loveable, if homeless, member of our parish. If he wasn't out in front after a service, we missed him, and said a prayer that the Lord would take care of him.
Many of us got to know him, and not a few tried to help him with more than a small handout. Cathy got him a room in a kind of half-way house in Oakland once, and he went there one afternoon, sat around for a while, then walked away. We couldn't understand it at the time, but he just couldn't live in a house. I'm no psychologist by any means, but I think that his earning the Bronze Star, killing how many men he had to kill, was at the root of his drinking and his homelessness. He couldn't live with himself, and he couldn't live with anyone else, either. He called himself "evil." Nonetheless, he wanted to get closer to the Lord.
He liked what I had to say when I preached, and he'd wait for me after the service to talk about how what I said applied to him, and he'd share a spiritual insight with me. He was a deeply spiritual man. Then he'd wait for the few dollars I always gave him. I would hand them to him, and he'd smile and say, "God bless you!" We became rather close over time. I don't think anyone but Ursula and I visited him when he went into the hospital because of his feet. He was afraid they would have to be amputated. Oh, my! They were swollen and ugly, and I understood why his shoes were so big. But the doctors treated him, didn't amputate, and let him go.
One day the Lord spoke to me, and said, "Don't give to Clement any more." I was baffled, and protested, "But Lord! Your Word says we are to give to all who ask" The Lord simply told me again, "Don't give to him any more." I had to tell Clement, of course, and he was as baffled as I was, but he said, "If the Lord told you that, I believe it," He said, "God bless you!" and left, sad and bewildered.
The next Friday, it was my turn to conduct the communion service again and preach. I really don't know what I said – something about trusting in the Lord and relying on Him alone – but whatever it was that I said, it was really the Holy Spirit Who spoke to Clement's heart. A great smile broke out on his face, a light of understanding lit up his eyes; he could hardly sit still. The Lord did something to Clement then (and I wish He'd do it to me!). He understood what it meant to trust the Lord completely for everything. He rushed out of the church practically dancing, "God bless you!" ringing from his lips. At Clement's funeral, our pastor told us that Clement had come to him and confessed his sins, just as it says we should do in St. James' epistle. At long last, he was right with the Lord.
There was a construction project going on just two blocks from the church. It was to become an assisted living facility, and many of Clement's friends were hoping – and praying – that he could get a room there and pull out of his homelessness. Somehow, we'd find the money for it. Then one cold morning in late October of 2001, a few days after the Lord had touched him during my preaching, one of the construction workers found Clement's body. He had died of overexposure. The Lord had given him a home all right, the best of all homes, the eternal one with Him.
We were shocked, we were upset, we cried, we hugged one another in grief. Half the parish knew him and loved him. Father Bob Mendonça, our associate pastor, quickly organized a meeting of the community. Not just St. Leander's but the community of Christian churches here in town. From that meeting the Interfaith Homelessness Network was born, and out of that came our chief ministry to the homeless in San Leandro, the April Showers program.
Can you imagine how shocked we were a second time at his funeral to see his mother there, and his brother and his sisters and his nieces and nephews? Who are these people? we asked one another. Why couldn't he live with them?, we asked, when we found out who they were. His heart had been wounded so badly he just couldn't live with himself or others.
But when five of us met to begin the process of forming a group to do something about the homeless in our area, it quickly came out that what the Holy Spirit was telling us to do was to provide a shelter for homeless men dedicated to the memory of Clement. One day, we will build that facility, the Clement McMenemy Memorial Shelter for Men, and above the entry door we will place a sign, on the day it is dedicated, and the sign will carry the words of Clement, our Founder: "God bless you!"
May the plight of the homeless in our neighborhood, our city, our world touch you with pity and compassion, and may you be moved to do something about it, as the death of our brother Clement moved us.
God bless you!
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