Mike Grogan’s family celebrated his 80th birthday serving the homeless, following his lead of living faith in action. Mike, an Ignatian Volunteer in Cleveland, says that before he started with IVC ten years ago, “I didn’t know that people lived in the streets; that these levels of poverty existed”. Today, service to the poor, especially those struggling with homelessness, permeates all aspects of his life. It was a natural choice for how to celebrate this milestone birthday with his extended family.
Mike’s family served dinner on Friday with him at St. Augustine’s, his IVC service site, to those living on the streets and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Saturday, they spent time in the homeless camps.
“My friends in the camp invited me to bring my family to visit. They wanted to meet them while they’re in town. These are my friends; it’s awesome for me. This is an experience that my grandchildren, who range from seventh grade to college, won’t soon forget.”
In Mike’s early IVC years, a “fiery nun” at his first placement, St. Procop, “helped me grow to love the poor”. He made acquaintances with those who came to the food pantry and Friday meal. “As I began to have relationships with people, my work kept growing into more and more things,” he says.
Now, Mike runs St. Augustine Church’s weekly Friday meal, coordinates a parish soup kitchen, and provides services to those in the surrounding neighborhood. “Fifty percent of those I work with live on the streets, under bridges, in camps, in cars, in abandoned buildings”. He goes out into the streets during the week and every Sunday night to meet people where they are and connect them with the Ohio Benefits Program. He helps men and women apply for birth certificates, SSI, SSD, and other benefits. He helped start a program to bring people inside during the cold weather. He works with students from St. Ignatius School in street ministry every Sunday night. He involves his family, his friends, and his suburban parish in homeless ministry. The students at his parish create an annual “Cardboard City”, sleep outside overnight, and raise over $5,000 to address homelessness.
Mike is one man making a big difference. And he does it with humility, love, and joy.
“Love is an action word,” Mike says. “Out on the streets with people, you have to have love for them in your heart. I look people in the eye and tell them that I love them.”
“People who live on the streets can be pretty tough. They can be hardened and aren’t always trustful because people have broken promises to then. But when you say, ‘I love you’, it’s amazing that these rough, tough guys look you back in the eye and tell you, ‘I love you too’. It’s the most rewarding thing,” Mike says.
“One thing we have in common is God. In my ten years I have met only one atheist on the streets. Not one, without exception has a grudge against God for their situation. All are thankful for what they have. It’s an eye-opener for me. So often, I feel that they’re the real rich. They give me spiritual gifts.”
“In my IVC spiritual journey, two books written by Jesuits were a major influence on me – Awareness by Anthony De Mello, SJ and Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ. They changed my spiritual attitude. If there’s one thing I do in the street, I have to have love.”
“One of my guiding principles is Matthew 20:28. To paraphrase, Jesus says I came not to be served, but to serve. And we do so with love in our hearts.”
“We who serve with IVC get back so much from our Volunteering,” Mike says. “It almost seems unfair.”