For more than a decade, Ed Plaspohl and Mike Grogan have been servant leaders on campus. Invited to participate in the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry to the Homeless a dozen or so years ago, both men were hooked on the Sunday night ministry, which delivers a simple meal and shares friendship with those living on the streets of Cleveland.
As the ministry celebrated its 15th anniversary on Sunday, February 11, it also honored these two remarkable volunteers.
"Mike and Ed have done this for so long and been those bridges for the students, for the friends on the street, going over bridges, going under bridges," said John Gill '97, Director of the Arrupe Neighborhood Partnership. "But most importantly, they are being those bridges to Christ."
Estimates suggest that Plaspohl and Grogan have each participated in 500-600 Sunday evening outings. The most recent Labre outing was No. 791. Both were invited years ago to see what it was all about by Jim Skerl '74, Labre co-founder, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 58 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, a fire was lit.
Grogan first got involved in Labre through the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a program for retirees to actively serve their communities. In addition to his Sunday night work on Labre, he does outreach throughout the week, primarily through St. Augustine Parish in Tremont. For years, he has been the king of the Labre "West Route," which covers Ohio City, Tremont, Clark-Fulton, Stockyards, plus parts of Brooklyn and the Flats. Grogan also shows up weekly with cartons of donuts, generously donated by Becker's Donuts. He leads students through the packaging process and a rigorous taste-test protocol, and always has a big grin on his face.
Plaspohl and his son, Michael (a Saint Ignatius alumnus), participated in Labre in 2004. He juggled work commitments with Sunday evenings for many years before retiring in 2015 after a successful career at SAP America. Plaspohl founded the Labre Ministry at Walsh Jesuit High School down in Akron and so spends both his Sunday and Monday evenings serving the homeless. "Big Ed" arrives on Sundays with pizzas from Santo's Pizza and Pasta, as well as a Jeep full of other food, clothing and various donations. He has become a magnet for just about anything people in need could use. The East Route, which covers downtown Cleveland all the way to East 55th, has been Plaspohl's Sunday night home for many years.
In the immediate weeks and months following Jim Skerl's passing in October 2014, there was a certain uneasiness about what would happen with Labre at Saint Ignatius--not that anyone thought it would disappear, but more concern that it could remain as person-centered and as Christ-centered as Skerl always made it to be.
No one needed to worry. The remarkable selflessness, love and faith that Plaspohl and Grogan had brought to Labre for years would continue, and in fact, grow even deeper. They would provide a light in the darkness and leadership by example that would carry on this young Ignatian tradition. These two men have been instrumental shepherds for Saint Ignatius students learning to serve those in need, as well as for the men and women they visit on the streets.
May God bless Ed Plaspohl and Mike Grogan, and may the Saint Ignatius High School community thank them for their work to give greater glory to God.
"Poor in the eyes of men, but rich in the eyes of God, Saint Benedict Joseph Labre pray for us. Amen."