When protests following the death of George Floyd turned violent Thursday night, a small Catholic parish in Minneapolis became a refuge for neighbors who didn’t feel safe in their homes.
St. Albert the Great Parish, located in the Longfellow neighborhood, sheltered 34 neighbors as riots destroyed surrounding businesses and damaged homes the night of May 28. Less than a mile from the church, thousands of protesters gathered to burn the Minneapolis Third Police Precinct, many of them inflicting violence on the surrounding area as well.
Father Joe Gillespie, pastor of St. Albert the Great, said the church’s neighbors feared fire and burglary, and asked the church for shelter. After receiving a call from the Volunteers of America asking for assistance, the church welcomed its neighbors into the church social hall, asking them to provide their own blankets and mats to sleep on.
“It wasn’t a Hilton,” Gillespie told CNA, while adding that the church basement provided running water and plenty of bathrooms.
The church is a back-up site for the Volunteers of America, which houses former inmates transitioning back into the workforce in Minneapolis. In case of floods or power-outages, residents can seek refuge in St. Albert the Great.
Although the parish’s partnership with Volunteers of America has been in place for over 10 years, the church had not been thus-utilized until this crisis.
St. Albert the Great office and communications manager Erin Sim received the call from the Volunteers of America the morning of May 28, and immediately made the church basement available to them.
“You can’t just help your own, you have to be available to help everybody,” she said.
As violence once again escalated that night, some of the residents who sought shelter in the church took the building’s safety into their own hands. They took shifts to keep watch over the building, joining a group of Native Americans who kept watch over the attached Native American immersion charter school.
“We have been miraculously spared from the devastation around the Church,” said Sim.