Deacon Rick Birkel
Deacon Rick Birkel
The story “Everyone belongs at the table” (Nov. 1, Page 19) described Catholic Charities’ plans to develop Germaine’s Café as a job-training site for young men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Due to reader interest, I want to provide some additional background and explain how you can help us bring this project to fruition.

First, who exactly is St. Germaine? Not well known to American Catholics, St. Germaine Cousins is the patroness of abandoned and neglected people, abuse victims, child abuse victims, poor people and disabled, handicapped or physically challenged people. Her life and hundreds of confirmed miracles attributed to her intercession demonstrate how fully God embraces those who are often rejected, overlooked and scorned by the world.

Born in 1579 at Pibrac, a village in France, she died at 22. From her birth, Germaine seemed marked for suffering. She came into the world a sickly, unwanted child with a deformed hand and the disease of scrofula which caused disfigurement. While still an infant, she lost her mother. Her father’s second wife treated Germaine cruelly and forced her to live away from the homestead, and at age 9 Germaine became a shepherdess — left alone in the mountains with her sheep and her handmade rosary. When she returned at night, her bed was in the stable or on a straw mat under the stairs. She was fed scraps from the household table.

The single consolation in this otherwise bleak existence was that every week Germaine was allowed to attend Mass across the river in the dilapidated village church of St. Mary Magdalen. It was here that our Lord planted the seed of faith in her heart. She feasted on the Eucharist, listened eagerly to the readings and sermons at Mass, and drank in the catechetical instructions given to the village children. For Germaine, life began to make sense and to have meaning beneath the gaze of our crucified and disfigured Lord on the cross. She came to understand that God does not only come to strengthen us, but to weaken us too — “For in our weakness, his strength is perfected” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Germaine was filled with God’s grace and miraculous wonders began to surround her. People from the village witnessed her, on several occasions, parting the roaring spring waters of the Courbet, which she had to cross to get to Mass in the morning. Village children sought her out and she told them about the great love and consolation that God provided her. To the people and the children of the village, she became “the holy shepherdess” and “the devout one.”

After her death, devotion to Germaine grew and the influence of her life spread to such an extent that, in 1789, almost 200 years after her death, the strength of the Catholic faith in that region of France became a major obstacle to the French revolution that was intent on destroying Catholicism. No threat or abuse was able to prevent the devotion of the people for this simple, uneducated and disabled orphan. Soldiers entered the village church, forcibly removed the incorrupt and pliant body of Germaine and then threw it into an open pit and covered it with quicklime to speed the process of decomposition. But their efforts were futile. Her body remained uncorrupted.

At Catholic Charities, as we are making plans to open a new onsite and badly needed social enterprise and job-training program, we feel it fitting to hold up the memory of St. Germaine. Germaine’s Café will occupy a major portion of the first level of the Clark Family Center at 2470 SE Powell Blvd. and extend the current waiting area. This space, which includes a full industrial kitchen and dining room, was originally developed to serve as a cafeteria for seniors but the location proved inconvenient and the program relocated. The now vacant kitchen/ dining room will be developed as Germaine’s Café to serve three critical needs:

1) A place in the Clark Family Center that prepares and serves good food (not only to the 100 employees who work there, but our many visitors, clients, Cleveland High students, and neighbors).

2) It will house a culinary training program that specializes in helping young adults with disabilities develop skills to participate in the restaurant and food preparation/ service business.

3) Germaine’s Cafe will be an honored place in the archdiocese dedicated to celebrating and uplifting the lives of people with disabilities and others who are marginalized in our community.

Ultimately, we want the cafe to be a successful business that engages the community of people with disabilities in leadership and management of the enterprise and generates a double bottom line — profit and social good. To assure we succeed, we are working closely with a national leader in developing social enterprise food services, Catalyst Kitchens in Seattle.

With their help, we have developed business and operational plans and are now in search of startup finances and in-kind resources to convert the kitchen and dining room to the cafe. There is an envelope in this Sentinel for you to donate or you can donate online at: classy.org/campaign/germaines-cafe/c254606

Please help us if you can. To get involved or find out more, you can contact me at rbirkel@ccoregon.org, or Lori Bauman at lbauman@ccoregon.org. We also are accepting donations of kitchen and restaurant equipment, cafe furniture and menu ideas.

St. Germaine, pray for us.

Thank you and God bless you this Thanksgiving.



Deacon Birkel is executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon.