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Sisters open 'house of hospitality' for asylum seekers and refugees

Ruth Gledhill - The Tablet - Mon, Dec 6th 2021

Sisters open 'house of hospitality' for asylum seekers and refugees

The Sisters of St Joseph of Peace have opened their first UK house of hospitality for asylum seekers and refugees in Nottingham, just a few miles from where the congregation was founded in 1884. 

St Joseph’s House of Hospitality, built within a renovated church and presbytery dating from the late 19th century, will be home to three sisters, as well as short and long-term guests referred by the Nottingham charity Host. The house is also the congregation novitiate.

The house was opened formally yesterday, the anniversary of Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker network of Houses of Hospitality, at an event for sisters and associates in the UK region. The event began with a liturgy of welcome in the converted church hall, followed by a procession and blessing of the rooms and a liturgy of thanksgiving.

Sister Katrina Alton CSJP, who helped discern and steer the project and who is a member of the founding community, speaking after 27 people drowned trying to cross the English Channel, said: “This house feels needed now more than ever, particularly given the failure of COP26. Everyone has the right to migrate, but we’re dealing at the moment with people who are forced to migrate – and they’re forced to migrate because of British foreign policy and because of the climate emergency.

“But it’s not a migrant crisis, it’s a crisis of hospitality. We have a sacred duty as Christians to welcome the stranger. In the early Church every home had a ‘Christ room’, a space to welcome the stranger – if you were rich enough to have a room, it was a room; if you were poor, it was a mat to sleep on. For me, this house is about returning to that sacred duty of hospitality, and it’s about cutting through the narrative that there’s a migrant ‘crisis’.

I think it's important that we actually stop talking in some ways about refugees and asylum seekers: these are our brothers and sisters, and somebody’s daughter, mother, father, brother and sister. The deaths in the channel are individual tragedies.” 

Speaking at the event one of St Joseph’s community members, Sr Margaret Byrne CSJP, pictured above, said: “When we began work on renovating the house we discovered that the foundation stone had been blessed by our Congregation’s co-founder, Oratorian Bishop Edwin Bagshawe of Nottingham, just a year before he co-founded our Congregation. And we are just a short walk from our Congregation’s first novitiate. So we are returning to our roots.

We are also returning to the roots of our charism of peace through justice. Bishop Bagshawe saw a kindred spirit in our founder, Margaret Anna Cusack. Like her he was greatly concerned about justice for the poor. The local coal mines and industrial development had brought a huge influx of people to this part of Nottingham; you can imagine the overcrowding, unjust wages, poor treatment and living conditions for the miners in particular.”

The congregation discerned the call to open houses of hospitality following a commitment at its 2014 Chapter to practise “radical hospitality”. The Sisters have also opened a house of hospitality in New Jersey, USA.

“We are called to a deeper and wider living of community for mission in company with poor and marginalised people,” that chapter call read.

“Our contemplative discernment pushes us, individually and as a congregation, to action; deeper mutual support enables us to take risks for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.”

The sisters expect to start taking guests in 2022.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, founded in 1884 in Nottingham, England by Mother Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack) and Mother Evangelista (Honoria Gaffney), are an international community built on a rich heritage of promoting social justice as a way to peace. Sisters and Associates minister in education, health care, religious education, parish ministry, social justice, spiritual direction and peace ministry in the US, UK, Haiti, and El Salvador. For more information, visit the Congregation website at

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