Friendship House

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Friendship House was 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. The first Friendship House was founded in the early 1930s in Toronto as a Catholic interracial apostolate. That facility closed in 1936 when Doherty moved to New York, where she opened a Friendship House in Harlem in 1938. The last remaining house, in Chicago, closed in March 2000 due to financial difficulties.[1]



Friendship House was founded in the early 1930s in Toronto as a Catholic interracial apostolate. 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. 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. However, Doherty provoked stiff opposition among some clergy and laity when she led picketing against an employer for paying what she considered inadequate wages. When Archbishop McGuigan took Doherty to task for this demonstration against an archdiocesan benefactor, Catherine quoted him Quadragesimo Anno. This did not affect their friendship, however, de Heuck's approach made many of her contemporaries uncomfortable.[2] She was accused of mismanagement and of being a communist. At the end of 1936, she closed Friendship House and went to New York to visit Dorothy Day.[3]


In 1938, a Catholic Interracial Council invited her to open Friendship House in Harlem,[4] partly in order to have a Catholic Center as a counter to efforts being made by the Communist Party in the neighborhood. Friendship House ran an employment center, credit union, and co-op. There was also space for the Martin de Porres Library, and rooms to hold cub scout and CYO meetings. Through her speaking engagements de Hueck raised money to keep the center open; she also arranged college scholarships for local students.[5]


In 1942 Bishop Bernard Sheil invited de Hueck to open a Friendship House in Chicago. As de Hueck planned to stay in Harlem, she asked Ann Harrigan and Ellen Tarry to run the Chicago House. It housed a children's center, a Catholic library, and an office. In January 1949 a Friendship House opened in Washington D.C. with the support of then Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle.[6]

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. Other houses were established in Portland, Oregon (1951), Shreveport, Louisiana (1953), and farms in Marathon, Wisconsin, Montgomery, New York, and Burnley, Virginia.

More than any other Catholic interracialist group, Friendship House emphasized the doctrine of the people as the Mystical Body of Christ. A key scripture for them was Matthew 25:35-40, Christ's exhortation on the corporal works of mercy.[2] Friendship House tended to recruit young, idealistic Catholic laypersons. Working at Friendship House meant that one had to embrace a life of voluntary poverty, a luxury only white, middle-class individuals could adopt. Struggling African-American often needed an income to contribute to family support. Consequently, in the early days, most of the staff-members were white.[2] 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.


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.

Others similarly named[edit]

Catherine de Hueck's Friendship House Apostolate should not be confused with the separate Friendship House Association, which was founded in 1904, and operated a settlement house and community center in Washington D.C. until 2008; nor with the Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service in Peoria, Illinois, also an unrelated entity. to the Friendship House movement founded by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, continues "to serve the poor, homeless, unemployed, The name Friendship House has been adopted by a variety of social service organization providing services as varied as assistance to mothers, the homeless, and American-Indians constituencies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Friendship House (Chicago, Ill.) records, 1937-2000.", Chicago History Museum
  2. ^ a b c Johnson, Karen Joy. "Healing the Mystical Body", Christians and the Color Line, (J. Russell Hawkins, Philip Luke Sinitiere, eds.), Oxford University Press, 2014 ISBN 9780199329502
  3. ^ Fay, Terence J., History of Canadian Catholics, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2002 ISBN 9780773523135
  4. ^ "Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Charity Worker, Is Dead at 89", New York Times, December 16, 1985
  5. ^ Tarry, Ellen. The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman, University of Alabama Press, 1955 ISBN 9780817305796
  6. ^ MacGregor, Morris J., Stead fast in the Faith: The Life of Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle, CUA Press, 2006 ISBN 9780813214283
  7. ^ Ui

External links[edit]

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.