Spring Veninga Lectures Series: Bishop Wolf speaks on homelessness

At the spring 2017 Veninga Lecture on Religion and Society series on March 21, the audience heard a unique take on what it’s like to live as a homeless person. Bishop Geralyn Wolf told her story – not from behind a podium spouting statistics and bar charts – but front and center stage – having a candid conversation about homelessness in America.

Bishop Wolf shared experiences and insights from her book, “Down and Out in Providence: Memoirs of a Homeless Bishop,” and challenged the Veninga Lecture attendees to examine their own reactions to the more vulnerable members of society.

Only the second woman in U.S. Episcopal Church history to be ordained a bishop, she also was the first bishop to let her hair down – literally – by giving up the trappings of comfort and security and living as homeless person “Aly.” She survived 30 days on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island during a wintry cold snap.

Bishop Wolf outlined in vivid detail, not only the day-to-day struggles of a homeless person, but also the fact that homeless people are a community who look out for one another and, contrary to public perception, many are not mentally ill.

Many have part-time jobs, some work full time. But with housing costs high, there is not enough in the monthly budget for a rent check, Bishop Wolf said. Families with small children, single moms who can’t afford day care and rent, handicapped individuals on SSI unable to afford housing and food were all part of the homeless community Bishop Wolf interacted with during her 30-day experience.

When she visited churches for worship, she was struck by the reactions she got, calling them “moments of grace and moments of deep disappointment.” Some churches welcomed her, offering help and a hot cup of coffee and conversation. Other congregations, including one she was particularly fond of, refused to give her a full breakfast when she only had enough money for a continental – refusing to give her even a small portion of fruit.

Bishop Wolf acknowledges that it is a lifetime journey to live the passages of Scripture with regard to helping the poor and disadvantaged. “I want people to realize that the poor really do have a gift to offer us. It is a wealth of wisdom, generosity and love, even in the midst of the vices that none of us are immune to,” she said.

Sponsors for the Veninga Spring Lecture Series were B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation, Bremer &Trollop Law Offices and the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County.

About the Veninga Lecture Series: James F. Veninga, former dean of the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, helped establish the UW Center for Civic Engagement, Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) and the UW Colleges Religious Studies Program. The intent of the lecture series is to honor Veninga’s work in finding innovative ways of connecting university resources to meet community needs, interests and issues.


For the past 10 years, WIPPS has been succeeding in its mission to spur civic engagement through public scholarship, nonpartisan public dialogue, student learning and service, and community-building initiatives.

Our outreach to communities results in a better-educated citizenry who is more engaged in the issues of the day, and all the while, we’re educating tomorrow’s leaders with our actions of today.

With your help, we can continue to bring events, information, education, and leadership principles to the great people of Wisconsin.

Support WIPPS