Thursday, October 29, 2009
None of John Hughes’ eight siblings had seen him since 1975.
But for the last 10 years of his life, he had a family in the Pacific Grove church that took him in. On Oct. 20, two of Hughes’ sisters and one of his brothers visited with pastor Dan Paul to learn about their brother.
“For 25 [years after leaving home], he was lost. It was nice to know he had found peace,” says John’s brother Pat, who came down from Seattle. “Most importantly, we’re relieved to know how the end was like for Jack.”
Hughes was wandering homeless before he came upon the Christian Church of Pacific Grove, Disciples of Christ in 1998 through the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program (I-HELP), which brings homeless men and women to different churches and assists them in living situations.
A year later – fresh out of seminary – Dan Paul arrived to pastor the leaderless church. He and John became friends and stayed close until John died in 2007 at 65. He was cremated and buried on the church’s property, near the entrance on the corner of Central and Carmel avenues.
“He was the watchdog here – everyone in the neighborhood knew him,” the pastor says of his late friend, who helped out at every church event. “I don’t know if I could have gotten done as much as I did without him.”
About a month ago, Paul got a phone call from one of Hughes’ sisters, who’d found the church through a Google search while trying to find her brother.
“It was exciting, because it brought my relationship with John back,” Paul says. “But it was bittersweet, because he was estranged from his family.”
Through a social security number and other personal documents, family members had found a digital newsletter announcing a service for the late Hughes. Three of the siblings visited Paul.
“After finding out that he passed away, we did [finally] have closure,” says Hughes’ sister, Mary Manzardo. “It was nice to know that he did have a family [with the church].”
Manzardo says Hughes’ estrangement from his family began around 1975, shortly after his mother’s funeral and 10 months after his father’s passing. As the oldest brother, the siblings revered him, but he’d gone his separate way from the family in Omaha, Neb.
“We realized that he had been lost with alcohol,” she says. “He didn’t want to deal with [us].”
Despite losing contact, the family still tried to find him; the Internet led Manzardo to Pacific Grove.
As the family sat around the church’s kitchen area, Paul recounted stories about John as they shared old photos and letters, including the last picture of all nine children, taken at their mother’s funeral.
Later, Paul talked about his decision to let Hughes live at the church.
“I just felt it was a necessary part of my ministry,” he says. “I had a good, intuitive feeling about him. There are certain times in a church ministry when you need to take risks.”
He’s proud of how church members accepted the situation, reaching out in every way to help Hughes.
“It strengthened my belief in community and affirmed the notion that everyone should be treated with kindness,” he says. “It reminds me that we can trust our instincts, and that’s a big part of spirituality.”
Mary Hickey can see the church from her front door. She was close friends with Hughes, and met his family during their visit. She too was impressed by the community’s willingness to help.
“Many who help the homeless do it impersonally, but this was very personal,” she says. “The church was actually practicing Christianity.”