Ivy League Catholic: Hospitality Soup

Author: Fr. Peter Walsh, C.S.C.

Wednesday Soup Kitchen volunteers

With this second Friday comes our regular post from Fr. Peter Walsh, C.S.C., who is working in Campus Ministry at Yale University. Today he shares with us about the Wednesday soup kitchen at Yale started by a Holy Cross priest 27 years ago. It is chicken soup for the soul not to miss …

On Wednesday, I spent the morning up to my elbows in chili. Friday of last week, Yale Dining Services had their annual Chili Throwdown, a competition between the dining halls of the twelve residential colleges for the best chili on campus. The proceeds went to the United Way.

This morning, all the leftover chili was scooped into trays and bags by student volunteers and transported across campus to our kitchen, where the chaplains and more student volunteers warmed it up for lunch in our Wednesday Soup Kitchen. Between the hours of 11:30am and 1pm, we served 235 first meals and 60 take out containers of seconds. And we had much more than chili on the menu. We always make homemade chicken soup, baked ziti, and salad to complement what we get from Yale Dining Services. Sometimes we are serving filet mignon a couple of days after a party for major donors. Other days, we are trying to doctor up a vegan special called "tofu apple crisp" to make it a bit more palatable.

Yale students prepping potatoes

Our soup kitchen is in its twenty-seventh year. In the fall of 1983, Fr. Gerry Cohen, CSC, a fellow Holy Cross priest who was an assistant chaplain at Saint Thomas More Chapel in the mid-1980s, was approached by a local Episcopal Church looking for help providing lunch to New Haven's hungry. The Episcopalians could cover every weekday but Wednesday, when they needed their hall for committee and staff meetings. Along with a group of Yale Catholic faculty who would form the core volunteers, Fr. Cohen agreed to take on the Wednesday meal. Not only was it the charitable thing to do, especially during the recession years of the early 1980s, the soup kitchen was seen as important to a campus ministry program. Yale students would benefit from an opportunity to serve the needy both as an expression of their faith and for the ways it would bring Catholic Social Teaching to their immediate experience. 

A proud volunteer cook

I'm always amazed at the how varied are the students who stop in to help at Soup Kitchen. This morning, I was scooping chili and cutting potatoes with a third year law student, a Ph.D. student in Italian literature, a member of the heavyweight crew team and a graduate of Notre Dame who is now studying architecture. The kitchen is a great place to interact with students and the banter includes questions about dogma—last week, the topic of conversation was the hypostatic union—or the funniest thing on YouTube (Double Rainbow or Baby Monkey?). Our guests often comment on the high quality of the food but also on the hospitality offered by the volunteers who serve the meal. Students and regular guests get to know one another, trading opinions on the upcoming Yale-Harvard football game (Bulldogs, of course!) or asking about family members. Having just celebrated the canonization of Br. André, I have been musing on the strong tradition of hospitality in Holy Cross, and I wonder if Fr. Gerry Cohen infused a bit of that charism into the ethos of the soup kitchen at Saint Thomas More a quarter-century ago.

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