By PJ Williams
In the spring of 1988, Fred Enman was a Jesuit in formation preparing for his ordination in June. While he would have to continue his theology studies after ordination, there was one class that would influence the rest of his life in the Society. “Our class read True Church and the Poor by Jon Sobrino, which talked about how Christians needed to make the gospels concrete,” explains the now, Fr. Enman, who took the message to heart.
“Before becoming a Jesuit, I was a legal aid lawyer and had a background in legal services work. A problem that I had seen frequently was housing. You can really help people when they have stable housing and they have no fear of losing it,” said Fr. Enman. It was an unconventional idea for a school project. He started a non-profit to buy uninhabitable homes and transform them into single- and multi-family homes for people in need.
When it came time to name the non-profit, Fr. Enman went back to the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In it, Jesus explains to his followers that whatever they do (or fail to do) for the poor, hungry and naked, they do for him. “I had read that passage before, but that time it struck me hard. I wanted to make those words concrete,” said Fr. Enman. And so, Matthew 25 was born.
By raising money from friends and family, as well as high school classmates and Holy Cross alumni, Fr. Enman was eventually able to save up enough to purchase the first house. Matthew 25 started work on it in 1994 and finished it in 1995. In the 30 years since the founding of Matthew 25, Fr. Enman and his volunteers have successfully transformed 10 houses in the Boston and Worchester areas, and are already working on the 11th.
Unlike a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity, which gives a house to a family, Matthew 25 still owns the house. This allows it to make the cost of rent accessible for families living in a restored house. The rent for tenants is 25% of their income. “As long as people need to stay, they can. The average stay is 8-10 years, but most tenants have moved on,” says Fr. Enman.
While some might think that running a non-profit like this is a full-time job, Fr. Enman only serves as executive director of Matthew 25 part-time. His primary role is serving as the assistant to dean for students at the Boston College law school. His jobs in academia at Boston College (and Holy Cross before that) helped his work in social justice, thanks to students willing to help with demolition work. By his estimate, hundreds of Jesuit-educated students have helped Matthew 25 in its mission.
Additionally, he has established relationships with nearby vocational schools, which have helped supply carpentry, electrical, and plumbing students, along with their teachers to supervise. Every member of Matthew 25 works as a volunteer, aside from one paid employee, a licensed construction supervisor.
When asked about his plans going forward, Fr. Enman can only think about the next project. “The process of restoring a house can take anywhere between two to three years,” he explains. “Once we finish the construction of house 11, we’ll start working on 12, and keep going forward from there.”