March 8, 2019

Keeping alive a legacy of hope: Once homeless, woman helps to serve up Irish celebration that feeds people in need

Linda Clodfelter and Father Christopher Wadelton are all smiles as they pose for a photo near a Celtic cross on the grounds of the former Holy Cross Parish in Indianapolis. Both are involved in the 29th annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the Holy Cross Central School gymnasium on March 10—a celebration that helps feed the homeless, shut-ins and other people in need throughout the year. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Linda Clodfelter and Father Christopher Wadelton are all smiles as they pose for a photo near a Celtic cross on the grounds of the former Holy Cross Parish in Indianapolis. Both are involved in the 29th annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the Holy Cross Central School gymnasium on March 10—a celebration that helps feed the homeless, shut-ins and other people in need throughout the year. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Even being of Dutch descent, Linda Clodfelter embraces the saying that “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Still, the native of South Africa smiles in amusement when she is asked what it’s like for her to join two Italian brothers in being the main cooks for one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the archdiocese—a celebration that not only feeds the usual 400 or so revelers who come to the event, but also helps to feed the homeless, shut‑ins and other people in need throughout the year.

“I love it,” Clodfelter says about the annual celebration at the Holy Cross Central School gymnasium in Indianapolis that will be on March 10 this year.

She loves how people enjoy the 200 pounds of corned beef, 100 pounds of cabbage and 100 pounds of small potatoes that the kitchen crew prepares.

She loves the Irish music and the arrival of the bagpipers that bring her out of the kitchen, clapping and cheering.

And she loves the stories that people tell, rejoicing in the laughter that fills the gym.

Of course, she could tell her own captivating story, a story that is as haunting in its heartbreak as it is inspiring in her efforts to make sure that no one is forgotten, no one is abandoned.

To set the stage for that story, it helps to know some of the history of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Holy Cross—a celebration that helped provide funding for food and clothing for about 465 families this past Thanksgiving and Christmas, a celebration that also helps fund the daily hot meals that Clodfelter cooks for about 10 shut-ins throughout the year.

Mary Berry started the celebration 29 years ago as a salute to her love for her Irish heritage, her Catholic faith and the former Holy Cross Parish where she grew up and attended school. Before her death in 2014, she always viewed the celebration as a way to help people who struggled in the neighborhood known as “Irish Hill” and the overall east side Indianapolis area.

“She was very passionate about the event and caring for others,” says Therese Reckley, who worked closely with Berry on the celebration for years. “I continue to help in her spirit.”

Ron and Mike Frazee joined Berry and Reckley in that effort 18 years ago when the brothers volunteered to cook the corned beef, cabbage and potatoes for the celebration.

“We’re Italian,” Ron says with a smile. “I don’t think I have any Irish in me. But we’re all one big family down here. Everybody likes to do it for a good cause.”

Clodfelter was in need of a good cause herself when she first encountered the Holy Cross community in 2012.

“My 40-year-old daughter Theresa was in a car accident that left her critically ill, with uncontrollable seizures,” she recalls.

Her daughter’s health status also left her in need of medicines that “were about $2,000 a month”—money that Clodfelter couldn’t afford. When she sought help from different agencies to help pay for her daughter’s medicine, she says she was told she couldn’t get assistance because she owned a home and a car.

“I sold my house, my car, everything,” she says. “Then we could get her medicine. We were homeless for a short period of time. We were in a tent on the street, then in a shelter.

“During that time, we were invited to come to church at Holy Cross. Have you ever been in a place where you felt you needed to be? That’s how I felt when I came here.

“Eventually we got back in a home—a nice apartment—before Theresa had to go into a nursing facility.”

The Holy Cross community was there for Clodfelter when her daughter died on Nov. 22, 2015. The memory of her daughter still lives with Clodfelter.

So does the experience of being homeless.

‘It’s like you’re invisible’

“The worst part was being so cold, and the feeling of being abandoned,” she says. “It’s like you’re invisible. The only ones who see you are other homeless people or people on the edge. Middle-class people don’t see you or they see you with contempt. That’s why I’m still working for the homeless. I know what’s it’s like. I need to speak for my brothers and sisters who are still out there.”

She does that as the director of the homeless ministry for the Indianapolis council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She also extends that concern when she feeds the shut-ins and organizes the food and clothing drives at Thanksgiving and Christmas at Holy Cross.

That’s why Father Christopher Wadelton was initially reluctant about asking Clodfelter to take over the leadership of the cooking for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The Frazee brothers, both in their late 70s, were looking for someone to take over the reins.

“I know how busy she keeps herself, but I couldn’t think of a better person to take charge and make it a success,” says Father Wadelton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis that Holy Cross Parish merged into in 2014.

“Linda is one of those people who really ‘walks the talk.’ She is passionate about helping people, especially our homeless friends and neighbors, and does much of the heavy lifting herself.”

Father Wadelton notes how Clodfelter started an after-school meal program for students at Holy Cross Central School a few years ago.

“Once it was up and running, the program was taken over by the school and continues until today,” he says. “The thing I appreciate about Linda is that the ministries are never about her. She invites others to help her—oftentimes our homeless friends—which not only gets the job done more easily, it gives a great sense of satisfaction and purpose to the volunteers.”

He also notes that St. Philip Neri Parish “remains dedicated to the people of Holy Cross and the neighborhood,” including supporting its ministries and its celebrations.

‘This is the foundation of our faith’

“For almost 30 years, the St. Patrick’s celebration has been an important event to support the community of Holy Cross, and it has been an important event for the larger community of Indianapolis,” he says.

“Even though not all of the Holy Cross community has found a worshiping home at St. Philip Neri, we hope that through events like the St. Patrick’s celebration and the outreach ministries begun at Holy Cross, people continue to feel connected, and we are able to keep the wonderful legacy of Holy Cross alive.”

With the help of the Frazee brothers, Clodfelter will do her best to keep that legacy alive this year.

“The thing that’s most important to me about the St. Patrick’s celebration is the continuation of the relationships,” she says.

“These traditions that started here need to stay here and need to continue. I think our traditions hold us steady in the course of our lives. If you’re going to have an Irish celebration, what better place than on Irish Hill. And the money funds so much of what the community is still doing. This is the foundation of our faith—to serve our fellow man.”

Plus, the sight and sound of the bagpipers marching through the gym still thrills this woman of Dutch descent.

“It always is a celebration,” she says with a smile. “It’s a fun time and a happy time.”

The 29th annual St. Patrick’s Day party of the Holy Cross community

When: March 10, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Holy Cross Gym, 125 N. Oriental St., Indianapolis

Why: To celebrate the Irish heritage and raise funds to support Holy Cross ministries on the east side of Indianapolis, and to provide meals for shut-ins throughout the year and food baskets for people in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What: Irish music will be performed. Food and drink will be available for purchase (not covered by admission cost).

Admission: $5 per person. †

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