Mother Wright of Oakland: Love in Action

The ripple effect of her love continues to be felt by the suffering everywhere. They know there was a woman named Mary Ann Wright who gave her life for them.

Mother Wright talks to three-year-old Michael Adams at her warehouse in Oakland in 1998. Photo: Mary F. Calvert, East Bay Times


by Judy Joy Jones

Several years ago when I was on a Bay Area Ecumenical Peace Walk, a loud voice screamed, “Please, please listen to me. Instead of going to all your meetings and just talking about helping the homeless of Oakland, California, come with me. Please come with me.”

The intense sincerity and authority in her voice made all of the peace walkers stop in their tracks and listen to the woman who seemingly appeared from nowhere.

“I am Mother Mary Ann Wright,” she explained, “and I feed the homeless in Oakland. Last night, I held a teenage girl as she died from an overdose right here in this park. All of your meetings and paperwork cannot do anything for people that are starving and the youth that are homeless and addicted to drugs.

“Please, if you want to really see and know what needs to be done to help the poor of Oakland, come and help me feed the homeless in my soup kitchen. Or come to my warehouse and help me hand out clothing to the people in need. Love is just another word until it is put into action. The time you spend talking in meetings about reaching out to those in need, might be the difference between life and death for someone.”

As I listened, I remembered that Mother Teresa’s catalyst for opening her first shelter for the homeless in Calcutta, India, was very similar to Mother Mary Ann Wright’s.

While walking up a flight of stairs to attend a meeting about how to help the poor in the city and nearly tripping over a dying person, Mother Teresa looked down at the malnourished man with his worm-eaten body and decided at that moment she no longer wanted to just talk about helping the poor.

The other people hurrying up the stairs to the meeting did not realize the dying homeless man they were walking over was what their meeting was all about.

Mother Teresa found someone to help her carry the gravely ill man to the street at the bottom of the stairs and then started knocking on doors until a stranger offered her a room to put the man in so that he could die with peace and dignity.

Hearing Mother Mary Ann Wright’s urgent message changed my life forever. I immediately started volunteering with her, feeding the poor in Old Man’s Park in Oakland, helping fill bags with donated clothing for the poor in her warehouse, as well as helping in her soup kitchen.

Mother Wright told me her mission started one night, when God called her by name and told her to go and take blankets, food and love to the homeless people living under the freeways and in the parks.

“I started sleeping sitting up in a chair all night after witnessing first-hand the poor sleeping under bridges and on the streets all over the city,” she said. “I wanted to share their suffering and bond completely with them. Sleeping in a comfortable bed while so many had nothing but the cold ground to lay their head on, was something I would never do again.”

At that moment, I knew I was with a saint. Mother Mary Ann Wright of Oakland was a non-denominational saint.

For the next two years, I volunteered with Mother Wright whenever I could. Anywhere in the world there was great suffering, if Mary Ann Wright could find the money to get there, she went. After the Oklahoma bombing, someone donated the funds needed for her to go there. She sat by the bedsides of the victims and their families, sharing in their suffering.

Mother Wright would take food, clothes, and medicines to the people that live and die on the garbage dumps in Mexico City whenever she could get the necessary funds to get there.

At her Oakland warehouse, Mother left food, donated from local grocery stores, outside by the street, for people to take. Sometimes they drove up in large expensive cars to get the donated items. I asked Mary Ann why they would take food for the poor when it appeared they were not in need. She answered: “Never, ever judge anyone. It is not for you and I to decide who is worthy and deserves the donations. This is none of our business. We are here simply to offer God’s love. The rest is between each individual and God, not us.”

The number of people touched by Mother Wright will never be known, but the ripple effect of her unconditional love continues to be felt by the suffering everywhere. They know there was a woman named Mary Ann Wright who gave her life for them.

Saints have mysterious ways of accomplishing God’s will and often live and die unnoticed. But the love they put out raises the vibrations of the whole universe. It resonates into the ether and all on earth benefit from it.

Mother was very strict with volunteers. She made certain they filled the plates for the homeless people waiting in the soup kitchen line as they would for their own families. She gently scolded them if the plates of food were not thoughtfully filled.

She threw away bags of donated clothes that she felt weren’t good enough for the poor she served. Mother refused to give anything but the best. The needy on earth were her family and she treated each one as if they were her own son or daughter.

I remember a young, homeless, teenage girl who walked up to Mother in the park and said: “Mother I am going to die soon. I have AIDS. Would you like to hear a song I wrote for the babies being born with AIDS?”

Mother Mary Ann Wright, July 11, 1921 to May 7, 2009, was honored as a local heroine in this mural by the Community Rejuvenation Project. The mural is displayed in a raised bed garden at the California Hotel. Photo by Eric Arnold


Mother gently hugged her and said, “Of course.”

I was crying so much I couldn’t even hear her song, but I remember her face glowed and she never stopped smiling. I wondered how a young teenager dying of AIDS, homeless in Oakland, could be so gracious.

Some day, there will be a huge statue of Mother Mary Ann Wright of Oakland, with the homeless men, women and children gathered in her arms. When people visit the statue, they will remember that in the darkest nights, God sends a light to spread healing to the suffering and offer hope to those in need.

You and I are that light. We are the ones that dry the tears of the suffering poor and hold the homeless in our arms as they take their last breaths. When we say “yes” to helping a soul in need, God’s smile radiates across the entire universe.

“Honey, when you do this kind of work, you learn to be very patient,” Mother Wright said. “People tell me they are bringing the food to feed the homeless and sometimes they don’t show up, but I’ve learned to remain silent and just keep praying. I know people are good no matter how deeply buried that good may be. It is always there.”

It is the goodness of those that give to the poor that challenges each of us to remember that what we do for those in need today, we are doing for future generations of tomorrow.

Reaching out to help others may be the biggest mountain we will ever climb.

Mother Mary Ann Wright, the saint of Oakland’s homeless people, will be remembered through eternity, because she humbly answered yes to what she felt God was calling her to do. Her works for the poor continue to spread heaven on earth in miraculous ways!

Love is just another word until it is put into action.


Mary Ann Wright — Saint of the Poor

by Judy Joy Jones

Mother Mary Ann Wright

Saint of the Poor

slept sitting up all night

so she could feel

the suffering

of the homeless

all over earth’s shores


Hearing God’s call

to take blankets

food and clothes

to the homeless

on the streets

in the darkest nights

Mary Ann Wright did go


How many souls

she fed and clothed

the world will never know

but her love for the poor

lives on through eternity

and her saint’s halo

forever glows


Mother Mary Ann Wright

Saint of the Poor

sheltering the homeless

in her loving arms

she was the mother

they had never known

sent by God alone


Inmates Forced to Tear Down Camps of Homeless

Prisoners are paid a dollar a day to clear the homeless camps where they once lived. Some officials call this penal labor “a vestige of slavery.”

Boycotts Close Restaurants Owned by Duke Supporters

One way to fight back against the hate being spread around by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists is by exposing the supporters of hate and violence in the United States. Carson’s stories have led to boycotts and closures of restaurants owned by Duke supporters.

Four Decades of Resistance to Duke’s Racism

The hatred and violent racism of white supremacist groups is written plainly for everyone to see. It is inexcusable that Trump has been unwilling to take a stand against right-wing extremists. And it is heartening to see widespread repudiation of everything the KKK and neo-Nazis stand for.

Considering the Best Ways to “Kick Nazi Ass”

SNCC members in the Bay Area are capable of telling their stories of personal sacrifice and nonviolent organizing — undeniably one of the greatest American stories ever told. Their insights into nonviolence can be shared with those who wonder what might be more powerful than makeshift shields from Home Depot.

Hidden Crisis of Homelessness on Tribal Lands

Large U.S. cities are known for high rates of homelessness. The housing emergency on tribal lands is hidden, but just as devastating. Housing shortages and evictions have created a quiet crisis of homelessness for Native Americans. The Trump administration plans to slash housing funding to Native American tribes.

Easy to Be Hard, Easy to Say No

Imagine the hurt and pain I felt when my own brother refused to let me stay in a spare room at his house after I had become homeless. Multiply that pain by 15, when, one by one, my closest friends and family told me I could not stay with them.