Saint Jude is the patron of hopeless cases. As a Catholic, I’ve never much considered asking Saint Jude for intercessions…things have just never been that bad.
But the City of St. Jude in Montgomery was built in the 1930s by a priest from Ireland, Fr. Purcell. And I think he was probably not far off in the choice he made naming the area…it includes a convent, a school, a hospital, a parish, social services…all built on a parcel of land that was and still is predominantly Black and fairly economically depressed.
It’s not hard to imagine that building one of the few havens where Blacks could seek education and medical care in that part of the city in the segregated South seemed a hopeless cause.
When the marchers came in at the end of day four, just across the Lowndes County line on the outskirts of Montgomery, their ranks had swelled. They needed a safe, comfortable place to sleep, eat, and stage for the next day’s march on the capitol.
Fr. Purcell finally got permission from the bishop in Mobile, and the marchers came to sleep on St. Jude property, eat food served from the school cafeteria, and listen to a world-class concert put on by Joan Baez, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, and other artists involved in the movement. This safe haven gave the marchers the final push into face Governor Wallace.
In talking to a life-long parishoner today, we learned that St. Jude paid for its role. Once merely a social justice Catholic community, they’d crossed the line in to organizing. Disobedience, Stirring things up. Discipline was meted out.
Donations went down, religious staff dwindled, the hospital closed, and this past year the school finally closed. It’s situated in a neighborhood known for violence, for poverty, for poor infrastructure. The City of St. Jude needs her patron even more than ever.
Tonight, driving back from eating BBQ in Selma, along that dark stretch of Highway 80, where yesterday we learned about Viola Liuzzo, We greeted her in the darkness. Today is 49 years and 364 days after her death.
Then, my rental car’s gas tank light came on.
The gas tank light came on just as we crested the hill with the monument honoring Viola Liuzzo.
With my sleeping baby in the back, running out of gas on the road where Viola was killed was not an option I relished. And the creepy factor of the 50th anniversary of her death made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
“Ok, St. Jude.” I figured he was a better plan than AAA. “Please intercede to get us to the gas station. All we need are fumes.”
A few tense prayers, a few requests from Viola. And there was the BP station, the one we’d walked into at the end of a long stretch of hill the day before.
Everyone’s got to find their Selma. And every Selma needs a patron.