Father Dempsey's Charities was founded in 1906 in downtown St. Louis as a hotel for working men 55 and older who were traveling for work and would find themselves stranded in cities en route to or from promised opportunities in a nation teeming with new immigrants. Father Tim Dempsey, a charismatic, big-hearted, and energetic priest, was inspired by a simple idea:
"...a decent home for men who want to be decent."
Within a year, Father Dempsey was able to open Saint Patrick's Hotel for working men on 7th Street with 400 beds, and the hotel soon became commonly known as Father Dempsey's. (See the timeline below for more details.)
The 6-foot-plus Irishman from the original Saint Patrick's Parish in downtown St. Louis also began homes for women, children and (in terminology reflecting times of segregation by race) "colored" persons. Father Dempsey invited guests to his simple hotel from soup lines in the immediate area, offering working men a place to call home for three months.
Father Dempsey cultivated good relations with local police, sisters, and nurses. He respected them and admired their dedication. He worked with the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, who helped run Saint Patrick's School and the nursery. The Helpers of the Holy Souls visited families for him and reported back to him on how families were doing. He respected and admired the Little Sisters of the Poor, who took care of the aging, many of them sent by Father Dempsey. The Sisters of Saint Mary, Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Mercy all helped take care of the sick, and Father Dempsey loved them all.
Following his death in 1936, Father Dempsey's Charities were directed by Father Jimmy Johnston and the residence for men became known as Father Jim's Home. To help raise funds to continue operations, he began a rummage store on North Grand Boulevard, for which the home still receives calls. In 1956, the home relocated to 3427 Washington in the Grand Center neighborhood of midtown St. Louis.
Following Father Jim's death in 1979, the agency continued under the direction of Monsignor Charles Mottin. Monsignor Mottin never placed time limits on guests' stays. One deaf and mute gentleman, whose family dropped him off at the home one day, lived there for 25 years. Many other guests have stayed just two or three days. Martie Aboussie became the home's first lay director in 2001.
Father Tim Dempsey established a hotel for workingmen called "The Exiles Rest" on Franklin Street. At the end of the first night, all 53 beds were taken.
Father Dempsey opened Saint Patrick's Hotel for Workingmen on 7th Street. Accommodations were for 400 men. The hotel was later named Father Dempsey's Hotel for Workingmen.
For 10 cents a day, men had available to them the following:
- Clean, comfortable bed with comfort and linen;
- Hot and cold baths;
- Shower or plunge;
- Shoe blacking and brushes;
- Comb and brush;
- Access to all leading newspapers and magazines;
- Towel and soap;
- Ventilated locker and key;
- Piano and music in the recreation room;
- Employment through free labor agency;
- Safe for valuables;
- Telephone service.
At the start of the World War, the price was raised to 15 cents a day.
Father Dempsey started the magazine Father Dempsey’s Hotel Record. The magazine contained an editorial by Father Dempsey, along with articles, poems, jokes, recipes and advertisements. Within a year, the magazine was renamed Father Dempsey’s Hotel Magazine.
Father Dempsey secured a burial lot (Section 15) at Calvary Cemetery for 100 graves. After Section 15 was filled, he secured Section 23. For each interment, a $2 charge was made to help defray expenses. Caskets and hearses were donated free of charge. Father Dempsey titled the burial place "The Exiles Rest."
Father Dempsey had plans for a nursery and emergency home for children of working mothers. The purpose was to preserve that loving heart from the agony of yielding a child or children to the permanent care of some institution or to the hands of some stranger. The cost was 5 cents per day or nothing, in some cases.
Father Dempsey opened “St. Patrick’s Hotel for Workingwomen.” Rooms cost $1 to $1.50 per week. A bed in the dormitory was 75 cents per week. Meal costs were 5, 10 and 15 cents. He also began doing parole work. He saw this as an opportunity.
Father Dempsey started helping in the settlement of industrial disputes. He upheld the rights and explained the duties of working men. He also gave lodging to poor students in the priesthood and helped pay for their training.
After WWI, Father Dempsey paid the first $1,000 of the $20,000 price for the Hogan Street Hotel for Workingwomen. The formal opening was in 1920. There were 200 guests. No one was turned away. Rent was $1 to $1.50 and would serve to keep a woman's self-respect. Meals cost between 5 and 25 cents. After the war, operating expenses continued to rise. During the war, Father Dempsey regretted having to raise the rent at the men's hotel from 10 cents to 15 cents a day.
Prohibition was enacted. Gang wars over liquor (bootlegging) were happening. Father Dempsey did what he could to stop the wars and killings.
Father Dempsey inherited the White Cross Crusade from the pastor at Saint Leo Parish. The purpose of the crusade was to prevent tuberculosis among the poor (hence the white cross). Old papers, magazines, rags, and furniture were gathered. Revenue went to his hotel operations.
Father Dempsey added a convalescent home to the Hotel for Workingwomen.
On November 16, 1931, the free lunch station began service. Coffee and bread were served everyday at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. As the weeks passed, the number of guests increased. So did the donations and foodstuffs. Father Dempsey believed the food station was meeting a need. He had no doubt it would go on. The first year, 1,228,674 meals were served.
Father Dempsey opened the Home for the Colored. When dealing with people, Father Dempsey was color-blind. Negroes, as African-Americans were then called, were looking for new opportunities and freedom from social discrimination. Father Dempsey was there to help them. In October 1933, he lost the space he rented back to the company that leased it to him.
April 16, 1936
Father Dempsey died. He was buried in "The Exiles Rest" in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Section 15, Lot 1232.
April 13, 1936
Father James "Jimmy" Johnston became the successor at Father Dempsey's Charities and Saint Patrick Parish. The residence for men soon became known as Father Jim's Home.
Late 1950s-Early 1960s
To help raise funds to continue operations, Father Johnston began a rummage store on North Grand Boulevard, for which the home still receives calls.
Father Jim's Home, as the agency was then known, relocated to 3427 Washington in midtown St. Louis.
Following Monsignor Johnston's death, the home continued under the direction of Monsignor Charles Mottin. Monsignor Mottin never placed time limits on guests' stays. One deaf and mute gentleman, whose family dropped him off at the home one day, lived there for 25 years. Other guests have stayed as briefly as two or three days.
After a career in public service with the City of St. Louis, Martie Aboussie became the first lay executive director of Father Dempsey's Charities.