L.A. Street Stories

Martin Sheen and Cathy Minhoto, R.S.H.M., read from Jeff Dietrich's "Broken and Shared" at a Marymount Institute book-signing in December.

L.A.’s Skid Row, with its poor, jobless, hungry and homeless people, is the primary setting of the fifth book published by LMU’s Marymount Institute Press, “Broken and Shared: Food, Dignity, and the Poor on Los Angeles’ Skid Row,” by Jeff Dietrich.

Jeff Dietrich has lived and worked with L.A.’s outcasts for four decades as a leader of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, a community of Catholics who provide food and housing to Skid Row residents.

“ ‘Broken and Shared’ contains theological reflections,” Dietrich recently told Theresia de Vroom, director of the Marymount Institute and professor of English. “But it also contains reflections on poverty and economics and the people that we serve. I think that the most important thing about the book, and the most important thing my writing, is it is grounded in the day-to-day experience of being with and serving the poor and homeless. … We have to be present on a regular basis to those who are suffering. If we forget that, then we forget our humanity.”

Taken together, the essays in “Broken and Shared,” drawn from the group’s newspaper The Catholic Agitator, may seem a panorama of poverty that is far removed from LMU’s bluffs and the Marymount Institute for Faith, Culture, and the Arts, but not if you speak to de Vroom.

“The book is about social justice and the poor and taking care of the least among us,” says de Vroom, “and those are the founding principles of Father Jean Gailhac and Mother St. Jean, who took care of women and children, amputees, soldiers, the downtrodden, prostitutes and the homeless. The book is very much in keeping with the tradition of the R.S.H.M sisters.” A gift from the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary also helped produce the book.

This past December, when the Marymount Institute hosted an author reading and book-signing, another connection to the institute’s work in the arts was evident: Joining the panel of readers Dietrich, de Vroom and Cathy Minhoto, R.S.H.M., was actor Martin Sheen.

“Martin has been a good friend of Jeff and the Catholic Worker for a long time,” de Vroom said. “He wrote the book’s preface and came to the reading to support Jeff. He read beautifully. He was very generous with his time: He arrived early, sat with us over coffee, and talked about performing Shakespeare in his early acting days. Then he stayed till the end of the reception, having his photo taken and signing books.”

When introduced, Sheen said his involvement with the Catholic Worker goes back to his youth as a struggling actor in New York, where he met Dorothy Day, founder of the first Worker house in Manhattan.

Although the Marymount Institute Press is still young, founded in 2008, de Vroom believes “Broken and Shared” may be one of its most important publications yet.

“This book is an opportunity to preserve a historical document with moving and brilliant writing from a movement that is important and vital in Catholicism,” she said. “We feel very deeply that we’re changing the world one book at a time.”


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