Friendship House

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Friendship House is a missionary movement founded in the early 1930s by Catholic social justice activist Catherine de Hueck Doherty, one of the leading proponents of interracial justice in pre-Martin Luther King, Jr. America.


Friendship House was founded in the early 1930s in Toronto as a Catholic interracial apostolate, which grew from a charitable and anti-communism effort. The movement spread, with a second Friendship House opening in Ottawa in 1936, and another shortly after in Hamilton, Ontario, (which later became a Catholic Worker Movement House). Friendship House received formal ecclesiastical approval on September 14, 1934, but because Catherine's approach to interracial justice was so different from what was being done at the time, she encountered much persecution and resistance. The Toronto Friendship House was forced to close in 1936.

Soon, however, a Catholic Interracial Council invited her to open Friendship House in Harlem (1938)[1] — and this U.S.-based interracial ministry led to the foundation of Friendship Houses in Chicago, Illinois (1942), Washington, D.C. (1948), Portland, Oregon (1951), Shreveport, Louisiana (1953), and farms in Marathon, Wisconsin, Montgomery, New York, and Burnley, Virginia.

The staff of Friendship House faced constant threat and physical assaults from anti-integration racists and bigots.

From the late 1940s through 1950s, Friendship House was a beneficiary of the fame of Thomas Merton, who described his two weeks of volunteering at the Harlem Friendship House (during August 1941) in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Many came to know Friendship House and volunteer through his writings.

In the early days, the lay apostolate required staff members to attend daily Mass, morning and evening prayers, take regular retreats, and practice poverty, chastity and obedience. Thus the staff were shocked when their foundress suddenly married the famed American journalist Eddie Doherty, and many personal and philosophical rifts began between the staff and Catherine. When these could not be resolved, Catherine moved back to Canada and founded a new apostolate named Madonna House in 1947.

Despite the departure of the foundress, Friendship House continued to grow nationally until the late 1950s, when the last remaining house in Chicago changed from being a religious community to a volunteer organization staffed by persons hired and paid a small salary. Friendship House Chicago ran a day shelter for the homeless from 1980 to 2000 on West Division Street. This site closed on March 31, 2000, after neighborhood gentrification, and the apostolate no longer maintains a facility.

Friendship House (Washington, D.C.), a completely different Friendship House from the movement founded by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, was before a bankruptcy judge after the Friendship that separate organization vacated the property in 2008, after more than 70 years providing childcare and social services to families in need. The property was sold in 2010, to a private developer.

A completely separate Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service in the Northside neighborhood of Peoria IL, unrelated to the Friendship House movement founded by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, continues "to serve the poor, homeless, unemployed, addicted, alcoholic, racially diversified, and all cultures."[2]


Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Friendship House, along with the Catholic Interracial Councils, provided some of the few sites where Catholics could publicly devote their full-time efforts to interracial justice, and where white Catholics, for the first time, could converse face to face with African Americans in a non-threatening setting.

The main instrument of change employed by Friendship House was public education — personal contact, public speaking, and articles published in both the Catholic and secular press. Friendship House also itself published Harlem Friendship House News, The Catholic Interracialist, and Community Magazine from 1941 to 1983.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


Community Magazine, 40th Anniversary Issue, Vol. 37, #3, 1978 [1]

Schorsch, Albert, III. "Uncommon Women and Others: Memoirs and Lessons from Radical Catholics at Friendship House". U.S. Catholic Historian, Fall 1990 — 9(4):371-386.