U. Utah Phillips

May 15, 1935 – May 23, 2008

Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips, one of the founders of Hospitality House, died May 23rd of heart failure. The beloved folk musician and activist will be missed by legions of supporters, friends and colleagues and remembered as an ardent fighter for labor and peace issues, as well as for the rights of the homeless. In his music, actions and words, he described the plight of the underdog, the struggles of labor unions and the power of direct action.

It was Bruce’s tenure as an activist, musician, humanitarian and follower of the Catholic Worker movement’s leaders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin that helped launch the community shelter we now know as Hospitality House in 2005.

Along with Cindy Maple, Don Lee, Phillips’ wife Joanna Robinson and Margaret Little, Bruce helped guide plans for a compassionate shelter for the homeless during meetings in late-2004 in Nevada City and Grass Valley.

As a former guest and worker in shelters, he brought to the group his experience with the Catholic Worker shelter model based on “Houses of Hospitality developed by Phillips’ mentor Ammon Hennacy in Salt Lake City during the 1960s.

He envisioned the same model for Grass Valley’s community shelter, in which a respect for voluntary poverty and a passion to help the poor would guide policy.

As plans evolved, the group opted for a slightly different example, using a nomadic faith community model, incorporating Bruce’s compassionate respect for the homeless and the practicalities of operating in a quasi-rural area.

As his widow Joanna says: “Bruce always came at ideas, decisions, and thoughts about the homeless from the viewpoint of the homeless.

Many’s the time at board meetings when he was able to enlighten his fellow board members about the authentic needs of those they served.

She says her husband always maintained a constancy of vision for the board that harkened back to the purity of the Catholic Worker ideal that he continued to love. His favorite aspects of the House were always the guests who stayed there, she adds…

“There’s a phrase we all know: ‘the soul of compassion.’ Hospitality House is a place of compassion and with his pure vision, steadiness of purpose and sincere love for the poor, Bruce will always be a part of its soul and will forever guide its policies.”

Prayer at the Joe Hill House

by U. Utah Phillips

In my years at the Joe Hill House
I never heard a grace, or supplication, or blessing of any kind.
The getting of food was part of our prayer.
The fixing of food was part of our prayer.
The gathering of wood for our fire was part of our prayer.
There was nothing we did that was separate from our prayer.
And the answer to our prayer was feeling good and hopeful about what we were doing.
The answer to our prayer was a stomach that was full instead of empty,
A body that was warm instead of out in the cold,
Someone with an arm around the shoulder instead of being alone.
Our prayer was in the deed.