Celebrating World Mission Sunday: Lay Missioners Adapt to Changing Needs in Ministry
by Eileen Connelly, OSU
Their faith initially brought Brian and Kathleen DeRouen together as graduate students at the University of Dayton and ultimately let the couple to a hilltop house in West Virginia where all are welcomed with compassion and open arms. Brian originally hails from the San Francisco Bay area; Kathleen grew up at St. Ann Parish in Hamilton. At UD, both were active in campus ministry, shared many classes and attended the same meetings. “
Since 2009, they have served as directors of Alderson Hospitality House (AHH), which supports the women of FPC Alderson, a minimum-security prison, and their friends and families. Originally established as a Catholic Worker House, the AHH opened in 1977. The residence provides a place for self-surrendering inmates to spend the night prior to going to Alderson FPC, and temporary lodging for visitors. Guests are not charged for the lodging, meals, transportation, assistance and other services provided at the hospitality house. Their visitors run the gamut, from the wealthy and well educated to those who never graduated from high school. Many surrendering inmates arrive alone, completely without support; others are accompanied by members of their church, praying and offering support.
“When people arrive here, they are met with love, understanding, listening ears and information,” Brian said. “Christ’s presence is in the this house. There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met.”
He admits that the summer of 2020 was a challenging one. Alderson’s location in a river valley means it is prone to flooding from the Green Briar River. While this season’s floods were not as severe as those in 2016, there was still “fear and trauma having the flood waters in our neighborhood again. We spent countless in neighbors’ basements, helping with clean up,” Brian said. “The main thing is that everyone is safe.”
Adding to the stress was son Micah’s emergency appendectomy at a small-town hospital with no pediatric surgeon, and death of Brian’s good friend and mentor.
Committed to those they serve, the DeRouens have continued their ministry while adapting to COVID-19. Although visitation has been suspended at the prison for now, cutting down on their number of guests, there are still women turning themselves in and being released. While the DeRouen family normally embraces the opportunity to build community with their guests, including sharing meals, the pandemic has meant little to no contact with visitors to the house.
“We have guests from every state in the country,” Brian explained. “The Health Department determined that we can stay open, though, so we spend a lot of time cleaning and sanitizing.”
In the absence of direct contact with guests, he and Kathleen have turned to phone ministry, spending countless hours answering questions, hearing peoples’ heartache, and counseling families through the challenges of incarceration. “All of the uncertainty has everyone off kilter,” Brian said. “We’re just doing our best to talk people through a time when they’re hurting. For husbands not to be able to visit their wives, and children not able to see their moms, that’s different than the normal struggle associated with loving an incarcerated person. Our faith allows us to dive in with people and walk with them in their struggles.”
Along with Micah, and their other son, Vitale, the DeRouens have also turned their attention to helping the local community, working at the food pantry, delivering meals and groceries to their high-risk neighbors, and using their home office to make face masks.
Brian expressed the family’s gratitude from the prayers and support they have received from home: “Thank you to the Mission Office and people in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Just knowing that people know we exist and are praying for us is a wonderful, wonderful blessing and a reminder that we can work through all of this together.”
For more information about their ministry, visit https://aldersonhospitalityhouse.org.