Each year, as we celebrate our community at Builder’s Day, we ask for support to make not only the event — but more importantly, our mission — possible.
The Congregation of St. Joseph has been an enormous part of that support from Day 1 of Taller de José’s existence. In fact, the Congregation founded Taller de José in 2008. Today, Taller de José remains a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network and has strong ties to the Congregation and its other supported ministries.
This year, their generous support as our Diamond Sponsor of Builder’s Day (Our most substantial sponsorship level, representing the highest investment) will continue to create a lasting impact for our community, partners, and staff.
Our 2023 Builder’s Day Event Director Cassandra Quinn spoke with Sister Kathy Brazda and Sister Carol Crepeau to celebrate their support and the work that the Congregation of St. Joseph does in the Little Village community.
TDJ: Thank you for being a part of Builder’s Day, and for your support as the event’s Diamond Sponsor. Would each of you share, first of all, who you are and a bit about your relationship to Taller de José?
KB: I’m Sister Kathy Brazda. Along with Carol and Bishop Casey, I was a co-founder of Taller de José and I served as the first Executive Director for about 10 years. Currently I’m serving on the leadership team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.
CC: And I’m Sister Carol Crepeau. I do facilitation and organizational development. I’m a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph with Kathy and I’m currently working on a Hilton grant with Bishop Casey.
[Editor’s note: According to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation website, the Hilton Fund for Sisters “supports the ministries of Sisters worldwide in the areas of education, the environment, health care, and social services.”]
TDJ: And can you share about your experience being a part of this year’s Builders Day event, especially from the perspective of being our Diamond Sponsor?
CC: The most wonderful thing for me about Builder’s Day is the “cross-pollination”: the men and women, young and old, rich and poor, multi-ethnic and multicultural and multi-generational. I think the event reflected what Taller de José stands for. From the little kids that danced from the [Ballet Folklórico program at the] Quinn Center in Maywood, to the “big” people that spoke at the event, it was a wonderful experience.
TDJ: And Sister Kathy, I think you’re one of the few people who has attended every Builder’s Day — did I get that right?
KB: Well, I have been at every Builders Day, but most of the sisters from the Congregation also have been!
For me, this year’s event was really one of the best Builder’s Days, based on — kind of like what Carol said — based on the diversity of those gathered.
To see the organization grow from when it started to where it is now, to hear the stories of the clients, was wonderful.
I felt like a proud mother, really, at one point, which is a funny story because for some of our first Taller de José events, my own mother came to them. She was very proud of me, of course, but she acted like she was hosting this party! She went around to every table and she thanked them.
So going back to this year’s event, there was this sense of generativity I felt, especially as the mission of Accompaniment has extended, because of the circumstances of our culture now, it’s extended broader than I ever really imagined.
And Builder’s Day is like a homecoming for me. So many people come that were either Compañerxes or former donors or partner organizations. And this year’s event, it seemed like it was this big space — not just the event space physically, but big hearts.
CC: “Builder’s Day” is really the perfect name. That diversity of people is really the founding reason for Taller de José. We live in the Chicago area and the services available to people in the metropolitan Chicago area are absolutely extraordinary.
And Bob and Kathy and I, in conversation, began to realize that there are some people who are shy or undocumented or under threat, who are poor, marginalized, who absolutely need the services of the Chicago area, but don’t have anybody to help them connect.
And I know in my heart, if there’s somebody that if I’m scared or sick, or lonely if there’s somebody there, who I know will walk with me, accompany me, makes all the difference in the world. Like even a scary doctor’s appointment. If somebody goes with me, I’m okay. So the three of us began to talk and say, we don’t need to create services. We need to help people connect and use them. And we were it was that was a that was spirit-inspired. Because it’s true. It’s true.
TDJ: Yes! A lot of social justice and social support organizations exist to work themselves out of business, so to speak. The goal is often that there would be no need for those services in the future. And so one thing that’s really beautiful and unique about the work that you created at TDJ, and has continued through that mission of Accompaniment, is that it is the human condition to need someone to walk alongside you.
Even if we solved all of the world’s problems — we’re always going to need people to walk alongside us. Because something that is easy for you may be difficult for me and vice versa.
And Kathy, you mentioned that Taller de José has become something that you couldn’t have imagined in the beginning. Where do you see Taller reflecting your original vision, and in what ways has the organization become something different than you imagined?
KB: Well, I think this idea of networking and partnership and Accompaniment, how broad it became as a result of relationships with our community partners, with other agencies. It’s expanded beyond what I could have imagined.
In our current state of the world being so divisive as far as who should get services or who should not, our work, our Accompaniment saying “we serve the dear neighbor, we serve anyone” is so important, because the divisions have gotten so large, and people don’t have places to go and they’re not accompanied with care.
When we founded Taller de José, we had this idea of inter-generational ministry. We felt that there can be an exchange of wisdom between both the young adults and the retired, the “seasoned” ministers.
And so the way that started was, we had a number of Compañeras who were retired religious sisters. They spoke Spanish and they were able to do the Accompaniment, take the public transportation, work with the clients.
Now, sisters tend to work longer. So when they retire, they going into something less physically taxing. Right now we have one Compañera who is a retired Spanish teacher. But there’s a little less of that right now. Now, the Compañerxes tend to be younger.
But at Builder’s Day, we saw that intergenerational ministry. We saw how it’s happening beyond the religious sisters that started Taller, beyond the physical Accompaniment work.
It’s carrying on in a different way.
TDJ: I would love to see more Compañerxes in that retired age. I have the privilege to work alongside Joan, who is our retired teacher right now. And she’s delightful and just brings such a unique perspective. And I think that’s part of the intentionality of that intergenerational aspect.
And now, there’s so much that the Compañerexes are doing now that’s virtual, or doesn’t require as much physicality — there may be some interesting opportunities there!
KB: That’s a definite shift in the ministry since the pandemic, yeah. So there are other ways to do Accompaniment!
CC: Another element of expansion has been that there are men and women across Chicago, even across the United States who aren’t directly involved in the day-to-day. But they accompany the Taller de José mission with their prayers and their spirit and with their financial generosity.
Even the work that Taller de José’s Executive Director, Anna Mayer Diaz, does with the Chicago Marathon. I mean, she is hell-bent on getting partners to run in the Chicago Marathon. The runners wear the Taller de José logo and they run in front of so many people, all kinds of people. And they raise great money for the Taller de José mission.
“Builder’s Day” is such an extraordinary name for this event that celebrates Accompaniment, in that way, because the Builder’s Day event really connects everybody. No one is left out. And when we all gather for that event, those people who might not be part of the day-to-day, people like those marathon runners, they can really see — ”Oh, THIS is how I’m part of it. This is how I’m helping build this vision.”
And that is very significant.
And then another way we’ve expanded is in the geography we serve. We’ve expanded beyond the neighborhood, even beyond Chicago, with a location in the suburbs, in Maywood.
TDJ: Absolutely. And like you mentioned earlier, everyone benefits from the service of Accompaniment.
The community in Maywood may have a different makeup than the Little Village neighborhood, and we’re seeing that this work is just as essential there — and really, in every community! Our partnership with the Quinn Center in Maywood is a testament to how this model can spread and be so valuable — no matter what the setting is.
And like you were saying, Builder’s Day isn’t just a traditional fundraiser. It’s Taller’s biggest fundraiser of the year, but it’s also a homecoming for the people who have been part of the mission. It’s a community and relationship builder. It’s a celebration!
KB: And, you know, we have granting and giving as part of our Congregation to support ministries that that bring forth our mission.
And Taller obviously holds a special place in my heart. And this idea of Accompaniment, of connecting people, of communion, of union, it’s all part of our ministry. So when I brought it up to the team, this idea of sponsoring Builder’s Day at this level, it was just a natural fit.
TDJ: And we so appreciate that!
Beyond the ways you support Taller de José, tell us — what do you want people to know about the Congregation of St. Joseph and the work you do?
CC: Right now, what’s going on is that there are migrants who are being sent to Chicago from Texas. So we’re in the process of setting up new cooking teams to make meals for them and organization teams to support them in other ways. We have sisters and associates who will be traveling down to the Texas border throughout the summer.
As a Congregation, we’re in seven states and in Japan.
Jesus dreamed that all may be one. We believe that we are all part of a common family, and we’ll do anything to take down divisions and bring people together.
We teach. We nurse. We do social work. We do leadership.
KB: When the Congregation of St. Joseph started in France in 1650, the first sisters there would call it “dividing the city.” And what that meant was, they would look at the most pressing needs and attend to them.
And we continue that tradition of addressing those most pressing needs.
We worked in education and pastoral work and social service. We’ve created new ministries like Taller, like our Seeds of Literacy program in Cleveland and our Dear Neighbor program, which helped women who are survivors of domestic violence with housing in wintertime.
We look at what the needs are and we work to address them. And we’re not out there doing it all by ourselves! We are looking for our associates to be with us and other partners across, well, it started across Chicagoland, but now it extends far beyond that.
TDJ: One of the things I’ve noticed in my time with Taller is that that because the work has been so rooted in the needs of the Little Village community, it’s often centered around the support needs of undocumented people or of Spanish-speaking immigrants.
But there’s also this sense of not wanting to limit the ministry of Accompaniment to a specific community.
How can we help spread the understanding that Accompaniment is for all of us, for anyone, even though it has traditionally been rooted in one kind of community?
Has that always existed in the organization, has it shifted over time?
KB: We’ve always been open to whoever comes through our doors.
But obviously, Taller de José is a Spanish name, it means “Joseph’s Workshop,” and Spanish speakers make up the majority of who we serve.
CC: We’ve been trying to expand the notion of what “workshop” means, with “Taller” being the Spanish word for “workshop.” It’s a very rich image.
And that’s the genius of Taller de José. It never gets stagnant.
KB: I think when Taller de José was founded — and this isn’t exactly answering your question now, but — when Taller was founded, we really wanted the organization to be very accessible to Spanish speakers.
So all of our material, all of our initial phone recordings, they were in Spanish. And if you wanted English, you’d press 2 or something.
We wanted it to be Spanish-friendly, but we also wanted it to be inclusive, which is why we’d include the English also.
That focus on language was really important because some of the reasons that people can’t navigate the social system is because of the language. So that focus on Spanish was intentional, but not exclusive. It was like a heart gesture: “We’ll put this language first so you’ll be comfortable.”
TDJ: I’m curious, too, where do you imagine Taller going next? What do you hope for the future of Taller de José?
KB: I think that it will always be adaptable, malleable to what the needs are. To not be afraid to walk with the most vulnerable.
Pope Francis calls us to be a church of Accompaniment, to Accompaniment accompany the neighbor.
I know that the people who served as Compañerxes, they’re changed! I see them now, 10 years later, and I know that the Congregation, our values, have made an influence in their life.
And there’s always a tension between, where do we expand? Where do we not? Perhaps we could expand to other services, other areas.
CC: What I would hope would be able to happen, and we would need money to do this, but I wish that we could hire some Compañerxes whose total responsibility is to search the city and that they would be free to go where we know people are scared, threatened, new.
If they could they could be there when the bus arrives. And not only just say, “Welcome to Chicago, and we’ll take you to the police station,” but that they could remain with whomever their cadre is right now. That would be a dream.
Another place where I wish Compañerxes could go would be to the homeless people who live under the viaducts, almost like the Night Ministry does, but this would be Day Ministry. To go where people are scared, alone, frightened, sick, young, old, where they don’t know where to find somebody to walk with them, someone they can trust. So the Compañerxes would be like ambassadors at large.
TDJ: I love both of your beautiful visions for the organization. Because there’s barriers even if you’re aware, like when you are in such marginalized groups, there’s so many things that get in the way. So if the Compñerxes could be the ones initiating and going to the people, that would be a next-level kind of growth.
We’ve covered a lot of ground together today. Is there anything else that’s on your heart or mind that you want to share as we’re rounding out our conversation? Anything that you would want people to know or keep in mind?
KB: I’m sitting here at my desk looking at this plaque that I got from Anna when I left. And there’s a great quote on Accompaniment that I’d like to read. It talks about the Accompaniment of Taller and what happens to those accompanied and what happens to those doing the Accompaniment. And if all of us are walking this life’s journey with that vision, it’s creating this more inclusive world that we all hope for.
It says, “Someone good at the art of Accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. She invites others to let themselves be healed. To take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind, and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness, and their readiness to grow.” So a great wish or blessing to Taller de José and really to all of us as we walk this life
TDJ: What a beautiful way to end. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. This has been fantastic. I feel honored that I got to spend this dedicated time with you.