GIVING THANKS: A homeless man shows Mary McAnena his appreciation for the Thanksgiving meal at Mary's Kitchen in 2001.
HOLIDAYS PAST: In 2001, Mary McAnena, 98, served up Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless with the help of volunteers at Mary's Kitchen. On Wednesday, there were tears and silence before an afternoon meal at the soup kitchen.
REACHING OUT: At Mary's Kitchen, worker Jim Martin hands a bagged lunch Wednesday to Ana Maria Cameron. Mary McAnena moved into a few small buildings in 1994 in what is now known as Mary's Kitchen. Volunteers promise to carry on her work.
• Born: March 10, 1903, in Roscommon, Ireland
• Died: Dec. 16, 2003, Orange
• Survivors: Sons, Jim and Peter McAnena, and daughter, Mary Josephine Guiffra
• Services: Public viewing noon-5 p.m. Friday at Shannon Bryan Mortuary in Orange. Vigil at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. Funeral Mass at noon Saturday also at the cathedral.
In lieu of flowers, family requests donations to be sent to Mary's Kitchen, 517 W. Struck Ave., Orange, CA 92867
• Occupation: Founder of soup kitchen Mary's Kitchen. Formerly a nurse in New York and English teacher
• Favorite song: “The Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
• Favorite phrases: “I see God in everybody. God doesn't make junk”; “We are only spending our stewardship here”; “He breathes soul into each one of us. That soul will go back to God.”
A poem by Brenda Morris, 48, of Anaheim Hills, whose homeless sister, Connie, was helped by Mary McAnena:
Dear Mother Mary,
we loved you so much.
We'll miss your sweet charm
and your sweet loving touch.
You helped us all
from the meek to the poor,
and you, Mother Mary, we'll always adore.
You're in the sweet arms of Jesus,
it's you he adores.
May you rest in peace.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
The Orange County Register

Community loses its 'Mother Teresa of Orange'

Mary Ellen McAnena was known for her kindness to the homeless.

ORANGE -- Mary Ellen McAnena, who for 20 years fed and clothed hundreds of Orange County's homeless with an eye toward setting them on the path to a productive life, died in her sleep Tuesday night. She was 100.

From the day she saw a homeless woman eating pork and beans with her fingers and invited her to move into her home, McAnena never lost sight of the needs of the homeless.

Recently, some Wells Fargo officials dining with McAnena gave her accolades for her work and a $1,000 check.

But McAnena wasn't through with them yet.

The woman, with a thick head of blond hair, thanked them. And then, in sweet brogue, she slipped this in: "Each of you probably have a jacket in the closet that you won't be needing this winter that my boys could use."

On top of the money she got, bank officials sent her 37 jackets, which went to "Mary's boys," the homeless she fed.

Her action at the breakfast meeting with the bankers just a month ago was typical Mary.

"In her cute little Irish way" she touched so many hearts, recalled Helen Anderson, 81, of Tustin, who started helping her just weeks after McAnena started cooking for the needy from her kitchen in Orange. "People just loved her. They were attracted to her. She's a friend who I'll miss forever.

"She set such an example and made such an impact in Orange County that we had so many businesses that wanted to take care of Mary's boys," said Anderson, who took McAnena to the recent breakfast meeting. The Irish immigrant, who came to be known as Mother Mary to some and St. Mary to others in Orange County, arrived in New York in 1922.

In her living room is the manifest from the ship that carried her from Ireland. She married Jim McAnena on a later visit to Ireland before returning, and they had three children. For 30 years, she worked as a registered nurse. They moved to Orange County in 1979. Within five months, Jim died. And within the next five years, McAnena would encounter the woman eating pork and beans on the curb.

At 81, McAnena began to simmer stockpots of chicken soup in her small kitchen and take them to the transients in Hart Park. Others offered to help. The operation grew.

In 1994, she moved into a few small buildings called Mary's Kitchen today and staffed by more than 40 volunteers, with donations from dozens of companies, Boy Scout troops, churches and others. The volunteers on Wednesday promised to carry on her work.

At the kitchen, where the word Mary's is painted in red, there was silence and tears before the afternoon meal of chicken pot pie, fried fish, cottage cheese with fruit, spinach, salad and hard-boiled eggs.

"She's gonna be missed, not because of the things she did for us, (but) because of her heart. Mary had a beautiful heart," said Connie Morris, 49, who lives in her van.

"Last time I seen her, I said, 'You know, Mother Mary, I love you for all the things you did for me. You kept me warm, you kept me from starving to death, made sure we had showers every day. I don't have nothing I can offer to you,' " Morris said. "And she tell me, 'You know what, sweetie, offer me love.' So, I'd always give her love, hug her and kiss her."

Said volunteer Oralie Enos, 74, of Orange: "Some of them never really had a mother's love. This is where they got it."

Along with motherly love, McAnena dished out motherly toughness in portions to match her servings.

The Struck Avenue facility near the railroad tracks is nothing if not clean. The smell of Pine-Sol wafted through the air after a scrubbing Wednesday. McAnena wouldn't have had it any other way.

There were stories of what happened when she was short on volunteers and asked for others to help sweep and hose down the lunch tables. She would chase down people who were climbing over the fence and literally grab them by the seat of their pants and hand them a broom.

Orange Councilwoman Joanne Coontz says what she admired most about McAnena was her directness and determination.

She recalls the day when McAnena, using a walker, traversed several city blocks from her home to Coontz's City Hall office to discuss the needs of the homeless.

"I was really startled, given her age," Coontz said of the meeting in 2000.

Coontz, who called Mc Anena the Mother Teresa of Orange, said McAnena had the knack to attract people from all levels of society to help. At one Orange City Council meeting, McAnena was honored with a crystal memento from the Red Cross, and she told Coontz she wished it were money. Every penny was used for the homeless.

"She got up and said we send money all over the world, but we have people right here in this community that need help," Coontz said. "She could say it with a lot of strength."

The $1,000 from Wells Fargo went toward 82 sleeping bags, which were handed out to the homeless this Thanksgiving, the first in 20 years that McAnena missed because she was under the weather. For the past few months, her visits to Mary's Kitchen were limited.

When she did come, McAnena would bring boxloads of socks, underwear, toothbrushes, everyday essentials for the needy.

"She's a saint in heaven. She'll have Christmas in heaven," said volunteer Jean Cowan, 72, of Orange.

Mary's Kitchen Keeps Cooking Up Charity

Refuge for the hungry and homeless carries on in Orange despite the death this week of its founder, who spent her life aiding others.

By Stanley Allison
Times Staff Writer

December 19, 2003, Los Angeles Times

Despite the death of the woman who started Mary's Kitchen, a refuge for hungry and homeless people, her mission and vision live on.

Mary McAnena, who was 100 when she died in her sleep Tuesday, was a legend in the community for her tenacious fundraising and devotion to helping people in need, and those people will not go wanting, said Gloria Suess, McAnena's assistant.

"Nobody will ever take Mary's place," Suess said, "but we will do what she wanted us to do. We will feed people every day."

And McAnena's dream of a permanent shelter that would provide beds and some social services is very much alive, she added.

Bob Guiffra, one of her six grandchildren, said her charitable work began long ago on the west coast of Ireland. In the early part of the 20th century, Guiffra said, there was a lot of hunger in Ireland, and even then her family would take in people less fortunate.

Soon after she came to America in 1921 in search of a better life, she went into training as a nurse and worked as one in Manhattan for 30 years.

"During the Depression," Guiffra said, "my grandfather and grandmother would take people off the street and have them stay with them."

When they moved to Orange in 1977, Mary -- then 74 -- worked as a wedding coordinator at Holy Family Cathedral and taught English to newly arrived Vietnamese children.

"There are a lot of Vietnamese who speak English with an Irish brogue" as a result, he said.

Thursday at Mary's Kitchen, on a city-owned parcel surrounded by industrial buildings and adjoining the Orange Police Department, men and women took showers and poked among piles of donated clothes while volunteers prepared the afternoon meal of soup, salad, fresh ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, carrots, fruit salad and milk. And at the end of the line, they were given a sack lunch to take with them.

Suess, 64, a real estate broker who met McAnena when she was showing a house two doors from McAnena's home in Orange, buzzed through the kitchen and around the small compound, shouting directions and asking questions. All the while, memories of her close friend of 18 years danced across her mind.

Like when they first met. True to her style, McAnena walked up to Suess while she was showing the house and said, "My name is Mary, and you should help me feed my boys."

That was her no-nonsense style. She was known for requesting -- and getting -- four- and five-figure checks from institutions and businessmen, and then saying, "Now I know you have some jackets in your closet that you don't use anymore. My boys could use those jackets."

She was a primal force who could not and would not be ignored. Mary's Kitchen, a nonprofit corporation, has a board of seven directors. "But the only vote that counted was Mary's," Suess said.

Even the city property used by the kitchen has a special connection to McAnena. The kitchen gets a renewable lease to the maintenance yard every few years.

"When Mary was alive they would never kick us out," Suess said, "and I doubt that they will now."

And as generous as she was with those she helped, she was stingy when it came to spending the money she collected. As much as possible, it went into an account for the shelter she dreamed of. Suess wouldn't say how much is in the account, but it will take about $1 million to make McAnena's dream come true. And it will, Suess promises.

"Mary will come and get us if we don't go forward and get her shelter. That was her dream."

Like her friend, Suess directs the conversation away from herself and focuses on what is needed for the unfortunate.

"We need socks, backpacks, men's underwear … and razors," she says.

"We could really use some stainless steel serving tables," she says, watching as the food is handed out.

Every day, about 80 people come to the compound and are fed, get some clothes if they need them and take a shower. Each weekday, a separate crew takes charge of the cooking, distribution and cleanup. On weekends, McAnena's church, Holy Family Cathedral, takes over.

On Saturday at noon, there will be a funeral service at Holy Family for McAnena with the Mass said by Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown. A vigil in McAnena's honor will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m., also at the cathedral.

Life of giving honored
Centenarian is remembered for her decades of selfless devotion to the destitute.

REMEMBERING: Cecil Wyatt, left, looks to the heavens during funeral services Saturday for homeless advocate Mary Ellen McAnena, who died Tuesday at age 100. Wyatt, who says he was suicidal at one time, credits McAnena for saving his life.
The founder of Mary's Kitchen was also a nurse in New York and an English teacher.
FAMILY: Alessandra Diaz, 5, peers over the casket of her great-grandmother Mary Ellen McAnena during services at Holy Family Church in Orange on Saturday. At left is daughter Mary Josephine Giuffra and son-in-law Robert Giuffra.

The Orange County Register Sunday, December 21, 2003

ORANGE -- A bagpiper strode down the aisle of Holy Family Cathedral, leading a procession of priests and pallbearers, playing "Amazing Grace" as churchgoers sang the lyrics.

Some sang the hymn with tears in their eyes, others with solemn smiles and all with "Mother Mary" in their hearts.

More than 500 community leaders, friends and relatives appeared Saturday to honor Mary Ellen McAnena, a tenacious volunteer who devoted most of her century on Earth to aiding the poor.

Those who spoke at the memorial service recalled how relentless McAnena was to her mission: feeding and clothing hundreds of Orange County's homeless through Mary's Kitchen, a nonprofit corporation that started in her home 20 years ago.

The 100-year-old died in her sleep Tuesday.

"Even in her last days she never complained and never forgot the homeless," said Robert J. Giuffra Jr., one of her six grandchildren.

"I can't imagine a world without her," said Ethel Rezner, a friend who volunteered at the kitchen.

McAnena's devotion to those in need was matched perhaps only by her love of God.

Sometimes called St. Mary or Mother Teresa of Orange, she always attended daily morning mass and sat at her front-pew seat - even if it meant strolling several blocks with a walker from her home.

"There was just an aura about her," said fellow parishioner Donna Garza. "I just knew I was in the presence of someone holy."

During Saturday's service, Monsignor John Urell said McAnena's selfless acts were not unlike the altruism provided by Mary of Nazareth.

"The same miracle has happened in Mary's Kitchen in Orange," he said. "It's there where people are clothed, fed and cared for."

McAnena's good will was developed early in her life.

Growing up in western Ireland, McAnena and her family opened their doors to improvised residents, Giuffra said.

After arriving at Ellis Island in 1922, she helped heal the ill for 30 years as a registered nurse. In 1979, McAnena and her husband, Jim, moved to Orange County, where she worked as a wedding coordinator at Holy Family Cathedral and taught English to young Vietnamese immigrants.

"I'm told there are dozens of Vietnamese-Americans who speak with an Irish brogue," Giuffra said.

In 1984, McAnena spotted a homeless woman eating pork and beans with her fingers. At 81, McAnena handed her house keys to the woman and invited her to move in.

And so sparked her new mission.

McAnena began cooking up chicken soup in her small kitchen and gave them to transients in Hart Park. When others offered to help, the operation expanded until it moved into a few small buildings on Struck Avenue, where today more than 40 volunteers take donations from dozens of corporations and distribute food, sleeping bags and jackets.

"She built Mary's Kitchen one donation, one volunteer at a time," Giuffra said.

After the ceremony, Giuffra and those close to Mary's Kitchen pledged to continue McAnena's work. Giuffra also urged people to help complete his grandmother's vision of building a shelter.

"If Mary could speak to you now," Giuffra told the mourners, "I know she would say, 'I have but one wish: Please finish my mission. Please build a shelter.'"

Before leaving as part of the procession that ended at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Giuffra repeated one of the phrases his grandmother always told the family: "We enter this world with nothing. We leave this world with nothing. It's the good we do in between that counts."

A Memorial for 'Mother Teresa of Orange'

Mary McAnena, who died Tuesday at 100, 'built Mary's Kitchen one donation, one volunteer, at a time,' says her grandson.

By Claire Luna
Times Staff Writer

December 21, 2003

With laughter, tears and references to Mary McAnena as the Mother Teresa of Orange, nearly 400 mourners gathered Saturday to remember the woman whose soup kitchen and giving spirit helped and inspired thousands.

Dozens of relatives and 12 priests were among those who attended the service at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange to celebrate the life of McAnena, who died Tuesday in her sleep at 100.

"Everyone I've spoken to since she passed has said, 'Well, if anyone's gone to heaven, Mary has,' " Msgr. John Urell said during the homily. "At an advanced age, when some just sit back and say, 'Take care of me,' Mary went out and did even more to help others."

McAnena opened Mary's Kitchen when she was 81, after seeing a woman and her two children eating pork and beans from a can. The former nurse, who moved from Ireland to Manhattan at 19, soon was serving 10,000 meals each year to the homeless who flocked to the Orange facility.

Tod D. Brown, Bishop of Orange, led the funeral Mass, which began with a bagpipe playing "Amazing Grace" as pallbearers carried McAnena's coffin into the cathedral. As others wiped away tears, one woman paused from singing to blow kisses at the casket.

Centuries ago, Brown said, local communities could canonize as saints people they knew were holy.

"I have no doubt that if we lived in a different century, everyone in here would have wanted Mary to be one of those people," he said. "She was for all of us an incredible example of selfless love and service."

Among those at the funeral were people McAnena met at the soup kitchen. Ron Iverson, 57, said after the service that she helped him find a job and stability.

"She got me off the streets and into the mainstream of society," said Iverson, a construction worker who now lives in Cypress and volunteers at the soup kitchen. "She's one of those people who helps you so much you want to pass that on and help others."

McAnena was legendary for never missing an opportunity to ask others for help, always asking donors for extra coats or blankets after they gave her checks.

During her last lunch out with her family a few days before her death, her grandson said during his eulogy, McAnena recognized two men from a charity organization and asked them for sleeping bags for the homeless.

"That was Mary," said Robert J. Giuffra Jr., one of her six grandchildren. "She built Mary's Kitchen one donation, one volunteer, at a time."

His grandmother collected many awards for her work and her speeches advocating charity, including one made before a rock concert at Chapman University, Giuffra said. But most of the awards ended up under a bed in her guest room. "The success of her speech was measured in what she collected in donations," he said.

Her grandson drew chuckles when he said that although McAnena was a saint, she did have one weakness: designer clothing.

"In Orange County at least," Giuffra said, "Mother Teresa wore St. John Knits suits."

Standing in a cold drizzle after the service, McAnena's daughter, Mary Giuffra, said her mother would have loved seeing all the people and the priests who came to her funeral.

"She would have wanted to put her arms around the whole congregation and hug them," Giuffra said, "saying, 'Good job, thank you; now go keep up my work.' "