Today: “Father Dollar Bill:” Father Maury Chase, who was a beacon of hope to Los Angeles’ destitute.
Every Sunday, and on Thanksgiving and on Christmas Day, a gray haired kind and gentle man stepped out of a modest small white Toyota in front of the Fred Jordan Mission in Los Angeles' skid row. This man, a priest, wore his black clerical collar and under a red sweater, a crucifix. He wore dark slacks and a white Notre Dame Baseball cap and would stand on the sidewalk in front of a line that at times stretched four blocks as he handed out crisp new green dollar bills.
But this man, Father Maury Chase, some called “Father Dollar Bill,” did far more than hand out money. Until his recent death from cancer at the age of 92, he greeted each person, shook their hand, looked them in the eye and offered them a few kind words. He would then listen to what they had to say and offer a blessing for them, before handing them a dollar bill or occasionally, much more than that to help them in their time of crisis.
These people included penniless mothers and children, people in wheelchairs, the drug addicted and ex-cons, nearly all of whom lived on the often litter strewn, urine stained streets or in rescue missions. Father Maury didn’t pass judgment, leaving that in God’s hands.
Who was Father Maury and where did he get the money he donated to the destitute? Originally, Maury planned to be a lawyer like his dad. He graduating from UCLA and attended UC Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Hall law school for two years but left to enter the priesthood. He was ordained in 1953. After seminary, he selected Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert, CA where he met former U.S. president Eisenhower and other famous retirees, and he learned to effectively interact with them. In the mid-1960’s he moved to Los Angeles and worked in various ministries and schools.
Father Maury’s life’s work changed sharply when he became a fund raiser for Loyola Marymount University president, Father Donald P. Merrifield in 1985.* Soliciting donations from the wealthy, he met Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Vin Scully, Jackie (Gene) Autry and other generous donors, as actress Irene Dunne brought him in to the Hollywood party circuit. With Father Merrifield’s permission he asked these people to also donate to help the poor and many of them did after learning of his non-profit ministry on skid row.
Each year, Father Maury raised and handed out over $100,000. But while praising his devotion for the poor, some professional aid workers were critical of giving them money for in many cases it helped them buy drugs. But the money was not the point, the point was offering them love and compassion. “I’m trying to give them hope, to give them a sense of dignity.” he told The New York Times in 2002.
After Father Maury died on November 20th, 2011 The New York Times interviewed people on skid row, where the word of his death had spread quickly. One response they received was from 60 year old James Rory, who said his discussions with Father Maury have encouraged him to try to stop living on the street. “A lot of people down here don’t want any more than what the mission has to offer,” he said. “I had something before and I’d like to get it back,” adding, “He’s definitely going to be missed. Not because of the dollar (but) because of what he offered me spiritually.”
Father Maury made his weekly Skid Row visits until shortly before he died. “I love it,” he told The New York Times. “God has given me the happiest part of my life at the end.”
Success Tip of the Week:
You too could help the destitute by donating some clothing to your local rescue mission, or if you prefer make a financial donation. Either would be greatly appreciated.
*Also in1985, Father Maury’s life was profoundly changed when he met Mother Teresa who urged him to “touch” the poor. To see Father Maury in action, please click on a 4 ½ minute NPR Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K_PZ-GG5E8. To see The New York Times or Los Angeles Times obits about him, please click on http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/us/the-rev-maurice-chase-father-dollar-bill-of-skid-row-dies.html or http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/22/local/la-mew-maurice-chase-obit-20111122
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