Meet the former director of Grace Place Catholic Worker

Meet the former director of Grace Place Catholic Worker

by H. Lee Bowen
Lee Bowen with Joyce Asfour Photo: Grace Place Catholic Worker

On Sunday, the 28th day of February, I sat in the congregation of St. Francis-St. George when the finest human being I personally know announced that she is leaving Cincinnati and moving to Columbus to be near her daughter and family. She, Joyce Asfour, is leaving this parish where she has been a member for over 45 years because her Alzheimer has progressed to the point where she needs additional family support and this is best option and Nadia lives the closest of her daughters. I don’t know about anyone else, but I fought back a few tears.  I have refused to think about her leaving and the effect that it will have on my life. Joyce is my best friend and has been a constant source of support and love that I cannot measure, nor replace. I know no one who laughs as much, takes my jokes as well and has a 1,000-watt smile. I cannot claim to have met her in her prime, but she was an amazingly dynamic and tireless worker when I first came to dinner at Grace Place Catholic Worker House many years ago. “Bubba A” (I am “Bubba B”) created a model for a transitional living facility that few ministries could or have matched. Joyce gave of herself in the true catholic tradition by sharing her time, her talent and quite a bit of her treasure.

She did so quietly and without fanfare. I believe without a doubt that Grace Place was the best kept secret in the city as far as ministries and agencies go. Joyce operated Grace Place in the Catholic Worker tradition. While GP was a non-profit, it was not, during her tenure a 5O1© (3). In short, it neither sought government funding, foundation grants nor offered tax write offs to its generous donors. Donors gave because it was the right thing to do. So did Joyce.

Joyce was and is a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum. She has the unique ability to be very generous and frugal (a nice word for cheap) at the same time.  I love her. What amazes me is that she loves me. Joyce sees the best in me when everyone else sees the worst. I have spent so much time with her over these years, and I have watched the changes caused by age and that damn disease. I talk to her usually twice a day. She is a creature of habit, but struggles staying on point as the disease progresses. When I call her in the evening, I always ask what she had for dinner. Frequently she doesn’t remember, and simply states that it must have been good because she ate it all. Joyce does not believe in wasting food. At Grace Place she would fix herself a lunch of the oldest leftovers, and I would fix myself a lunch of the best leftovers. She was happy and so was I. She would see that every after- dinner cleaning task was done, even if she had to do it herself. Personally, I wanted those spoiled females to get up and do it themselves. She was an indulgent “surrogate mother or grandmother”.

Joyce was an operational genius. I am still amazed by my memory of all the little internal systems that she created for the day to day operation of GP. Her attention to detail was almost anal retentive. It was an amazing example of planning and execution. Everything had a place and every tool or gadget needed was there and accessible.  From time to time a guest or family would try to take advantage of her or flaunt the rules. When enough got to be enough, Joyce could flip the switch.  Joyce hated putting out the children and there were guests who took advantage of that fact. I remember guest who if they had not had those BAKs, (bad ass kids) would have been out on their butts. She loved kids. The Christmas production (a mini-play, gift giving and French toast) was a joy that no one loved more than she, and she wasn’t getting the gifts. Personally, I appreciated my annual gift of a new pair of long johns. She gave all the staff a new set. Joyce is still a very practical person.

Joyce was a member of three parishes. Simultaneously. St. Francis-St. George the 45-year relationship, with St. Clare probably a 15 year or more relationship, where she and I would attend mass primarily during the week. Then there was the small inner city predominantly black parish Mother of Christ. She loved the singing and spirit.

Before you start measuring Joyce for her Angel’s wings, I should mention her few foibles. She has a quick temper and occasionally a sharp tongue. She does remember a few of the words her mother taught her not to use, and she occasionally uses them. She is quick to forgive and forget. She made me a better person though frequently you can’t tell. It has been said, that saints are people who make others believe there is a God. Joyce is a Saint. Saint Bubba A. Goodbye Joyce. I will visit. So will Cincinnati but it really doesn’t know it.