By Robert Lucke
Havre's poor and helpless beat a path to Sister Judith's door. If the city and this part of Montana ever had someone they could call a true good neighbor, it is Sister Judith whose mission is those whose fortunes are not good.
The only sister right now at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Havre, Sister Judith Maender points to the Bible as the reason for her mission.
"I have met some of the most wonderful people in helping the poor," said Sister. "You know people who are very poor are close to God, and he lived with them when he was on the earth."
In her office at the St. Jude's Parish house, she has a basement full of clothes for those who need them and a list of gas vouchers for those who need to get somewhere. Not only that, but her telephone is especially for those who need to make long distance calls but cannot afford to pay for them.
She doesn't think much of today's government entitlement programs.
"I think we are worse off since entitlements went out and were replaced by block grants," related Sister. "People who are asked to look for work, they can't find work and then can't go to school sometimes. But maybe some of that is changing."
Sister Judith is in contact with representatives from Washington and Helena every single week, just to be a listened to voice and advocate for the poor.
Around Havre, the plight of the poor can be summed up in one word.
"Jobs!" said Sister. "People need jobs most. We don't have jobs with 40 hours a week or above minimum wage. I talk daily with a family with seven children and the father's back went out. The kids are in school, but there is not enough to put food on the table."
There are places for poor people to get a meal or food. But just in case, Sister Judith keeps food around as well.
There is always the problem of something happening to the family auto. Lots of people have to go to Rocky Boy or Fort Belknap for medical needs from Havre.
"I give out a lot of gas vouchers," said Sister. "I get lots of donations from the parish. That is how I am funded. My gas voucher bill is $400 to $500 a month. That is hard to pay sometimes!"
There are a lot of transients around the area this time of year. It is not uncommon for Sister Judith to get a call from the police in the middle of the night wondering if she has a motel that can give someone a bed for the night.
She always does, and goes down the next morning and pays for the room.
"There is just no where for them to stay at night," Sister said. "I am just glad that I can do something. If they are hitchhiking, I will drive them out to Highway 87 so they can get a ride to Great Falls where there is a rescue mission."
One of the major needs for Havre is a homeless shelter, Sister Judith related.
"As it is, I have probably 50 people come in my office a week looking for food, clothing and transportation, mostly to go to a clinic or hospital," continued Sister. "Often they will rent an apartment and have not one single thing in it. Not a dish. Not a chair. One of my jobs is to try to connect people who have, with people who need."
So how did this all get started anyway?
"I am from St. Louis. I entered the convent in 1940 and taught school for 47 years," related Sister, laughing. "I had a good friend, Sister Kathleen Kane who always wanted to work with Native Americans so she came to Montana and started working at Lodgepole. She told me I should come out too, so I did ten years ago. I have always been interested in poor people because when I taught history, it was so much to do with them."
Sister Judith has been in Havre ever since. And that brings her back to her mission.
"I just love Havre and I love the work and it is so different from what I have ever done," Sister said.
People who are very poor are close to God, she says. Sister Judith walks the streets and byways of Havre with them daily. She's very close to God too. You can see it in her face!