St. Joseph House of Hospitality marks 75 years
Paul Dvorchak retires after a quarter-century of service as director
Paul Dvorchak loved many facets of his job during his 25 years at St. Joseph House of Hospitality in Pittsburgh's Hill District, but most of all he enjoyed it because it was close to the Gospel message.
"It wasn't all roses, the challenges of the Gospel were also there," he said. "But there was such a wide variety of men who were served there."
Dvorchak, director of the facility since 2001, recently announced his retirement. He was honored during an Aug. 25 picnic at the home. The occasion also marked the rededication of the property.
Founded in 1937 by Father Charles Owen Rice, the St. Joseph House of Hospitality delivers outreach to homeless men 50 and older. It gives them their own room, three meals a day and supportive services.
Dvorchak's strongest memories involve the stories of the men. He recalled the reaction of one when he showed him the room he would live in. The man got down on his knees and thanked God because he had been living under a bridge.
While he noted that some of the stereotypes about homeless men do fit, he spoke of some of the misconceptions that surround the men. They include their educational levels and emotional depth.
Among those who have found a place at the home, he said, have been physicians, Ivy League graduates and businessmen who have hit hard times.
"There, but for the grace of God go I," he said.
Dvorchak pointed out that "success" at the home often isn't measured in the traditional sense. Sometimes it just means getting off the street and staying off of it, or getting out of jail and staying out of it.
He noted the movie "The Soloist," in which a Los Angeles journalist helps a former concert cellist get off the street. The "happy" ending was that he was able to stay off the street, even though he didn't return to the symphony.
"St. Joseph's provides that," Dvorchak said. "Where people have a place to just live a normal life."
Dvorchak also noted that he will always remember the generosity of those who have supported the facility. It operates mainly on private and corporate donations.
Prior to coming to St. Joseph House of Hospitality, Dvorchak taught for six years at his parish school of Word of God in Swissvale. During that time, the parish started a justice committee to respond to the large number of people who were being dropped from welfare programs at the time.
His participation in the committee led him to explore ways in which he could be more proactive in social justice issues. He soon learned that Father James Garvey, director of the home at the time, was looking for an assistant director.
Dvorchak knew of St. Joseph's connection to both Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Movement and Msgr. Rice. He interviewed for the job and was hired.
When he started, the home was under the auspices of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In the early 1990s, it became a subsidiary of Catholic Charities. The St. Joseph House of Hospitality became a direct program of Catholic Charities when Dvorchak took over as director. He spoke of the "strong ongoing partnership" with Catholic Charities.
Dvorchak will still be involved with the home's annual bluegrass festival that he started. He has performed at the fund-raising event for a number of years. He also will continue to attend the Friday afternoon Bible studies at the facility.
"I still want to be involved and keep in touch with those guys," he said.
Dvorchak has been succeeded by Tom Kneier, former deputy director of Catholic Charities.
Kneier is handed the House keys
He looks forward to serving "a household of new brothers"
Tom Kneier sees his new position as director of St. Joseph House of Hospitality as an invitation from the Holy Spirit to interact more closely with people who are at the heart of the mission of Catholic Charities.
"Every morning when I go to work now, I walk into a household of new brothers -- almost 60 of them," he said.
Kneier pointed out that when Paul Dvorchak, the former director, handed him "the keys" to the home in August, he entrusted Kneier with the fruit of 25 years of his life.
"It also made me the fifth director of this 75-year-long mission that was built on the ideals of the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day," he said. "I'm going to try not to think about the weight of that legacy, but focus instead on the perspective of Mother Teresa: 'We can't all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.'"
Kneier noted that he has ideas and goals for the next phase of the life of St. Joseph, but he first wants to consult with his staff and the residents. He also will dialogue with the Sisters of Charity, who lease the facility and partner in the mission.
Some of the ideas, he said, involve improvements to the physical plant, while others focus on more in-house programming and increased collaborations with other service providers in the community.
While Kneier's primary responsibility will be as director of St. Joseph House of Hospitality, he will serve in a new role as director of resident and family services for Catholic Charities.
He also has asked Dvorchak to continue his role in the annual bluegrass benefit concert.
"Paul has touched the lives of countless men with his compassionate heart and gentle spirit," he said. "He has offered his handshake and smile to dozens of men who have walked out the doors of St. Joe's to a new place of their own. He has even been the sole support to men who have had no other family in their time of deepest need. Paul will be missed for embodying the Gospel spirit of hospitality."
Kneier and his wife, Madeline, are members of St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park. They have seven children and five grandchildren.
He leads a contemporary music group for Sunday liturgies at the parish.