By: Brooklyn Vetter

Brooklyn (front row, first on the left) with her St. Joseph Worker community in 2014.I am Brooklyn Vetter, Associate Director of the St. Joseph Worker Program in Queens, New York and a member of the St. Joseph Worker community. I was drawn to the St. Joseph Worker Program by the values: community, leadership, justice, and spirituality. I had never seen all those words together before. I probably read about the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph: moving towards love of god and neighbor without distinction, which I could not fully comprehend at the time. I had seen images of sisters participating in justice movements, advocating for change, and caring for community. I had been hurt by my church and the sisters revealed to me a church as an embracing community space, with a seat at the table for everyone.

My placement site was at The Lift Garage, a garage repairing cars at low cost for Minnesotans with low income. There I met Sister Char Madigan, CSJ, who is full of wisdom, joy, and a passion for justice that includes all. She is one of the many sisters who showed me what love of god and neighbor without distinction meant. She saw goodness in every dear neighbor — no exceptions, no qualifiers. She tells a story, which I reflect on often, of when she was a young girl and her neighbor had fallen on hard times. Her father gathered food to bring to the family and brought Sr. Char to help deliver it. On the way home Sr. Char exclaimed to her dad “what great charity we just did for our neighbor!” To which her dad replied, “it is not charity to give our neighbors food, it is justice.” She inspired me to become even more inclusive in my idea of justice. She allowed me to see god not only in my St. Joseph Worker community members, but also in my neighbors on the street, in the garage I worked at, and in neighbors in places of hurt and struggle because of various structures of institutional oppression. Through her action and words, I saw justice as a spiritual practice.

Brooklyn Vetter and the current group of St. Joseph Workers of New York pictured with Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

My community during my St. Joseph Worker year was full of incredible women, who are still in my life today. These women and the program taught me skills I didn’t even know I desperately desired, like vulnerability. Every week my intentional community would gather for Sharing of the Heart, with a little reluctance. It is hard work to be vulnerable! However, after every Sharing of the Heart, even when tough emotions were exposed, our community was filled with gratitude for each other and for the many, many sisters who came before us willing to bring vulnerability into the world. Even when we felt hopeless in the structures of injustice, the act of sharing vulnerability made us feel connected. I feel so grateful for the foundation of community that the sisters have given me, which sparks in me the strength to continue to work for justice.

Now, as an associate director of the St. Joseph Worker Program, I get to see the ripples of justice in a new way. Talking with young folks interested in service, growing alongside new St. Joseph Workers, and connecting with St. Joseph Workers from previous years who are still professionally or personally committed to justice allows me to see the mission spreading in beautiful ways. It is through community we are able to hold each other accountable and celebrate our different skills as we continue moving ever toward the hope of justice on earth and love of god and neighbor without distinction.

[Brooklyn Vetter is associate director of the St. Joseph Worker Program in Queens, New York and formerly volunteered with the St. Joseph Worker Program in St. Paul, Minnesota]