J.C. volunteer Carolyn Saucier shares compassion with the unhoused and people in prison


Reaching out to those in need is as big a blessing to Carolyn Saucier as it is to those with whom she interacts.

Mrs. Saucier has spent years volunteering with unhoused residents in Jefferson City and ministering to inmates in prison, extending a hand to those who often have nowhere else to turn.

She serves on the board of Housing the Community Jefferson City (HCJC) and volunteers with Jefferson City Room at the Inn, an overnight shelter that runs through the winter where she sees the effects of the services on those who need them.

For Mrs. Saucier, who is a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City, the call to care for others comes from her faith and the Old Testament’s call to “take care of your widows, your orphans and your poor.”

“When you talk with someone in the shelter, when you listen to them and hug them — you’re holding the body of Christ,” she said. “That’s a gift, to you and to them.”

Mrs. Saucier noted an example of the impact reaching out to the homeless can have on them: A man in Jefferson City approached her at the shelter in recent years recalling a time 20 years before, when she had visited him while he was living in a tent outside of the Sacred Heart Church in Eldon. She was there to participate in a teaching workshop and said she often brought banana bread and other treats to share.

“It’s one of my favorite stories, because it shows how one small gift of kindness means so much to the unhoused,” she said. “That was the second night I volunteered at the shelter that year, and we’ve since become great friends.”

Another man she’s gotten to know at the shelter said he was caught in a creek during a storm one day. Despite him flashing his light, no one came to help him, and he had to untangle himself from some vines to survive. The accident nearly cost him his foot, she said.

The image of someone shining a light for help and no one helping resonated with her, she said.

“He told me, ‘I put out my little light, and no one came.’ What did that teach me?” she said. “Compassion is the only way. It must be.”

She said she has seen suffering in those who stay at the shelter, but she’s also seen hope.

In her prison ministry work over nearly 40 years, Mrs. Saucier said she’s worked with residents of the Jefferson City Correctional Center who may be serving life sentences, but still manage to find hope for others’ future, whether it be their children on the outside or their efforts to support their fellow detainees.

She said some residents tell her and other volunteers that their outreach is the only thing that makes them feel human again.

Mrs. Saucier said people’s stories continue to astound her, as people of all backgrounds and histories find themselves homeless or in prison.

“There are so many stories that you hear when you interact with them, stories that move your heart,” she said. “They talk about these transformational gifts that you seldom hear about from other people.”

And Mrs. Saucier has a story of her own.

Originally from Virginia, Mrs. Saucier began learning at St. Mary’s College before joining the convent. After several more years studying chemistry and theology at Notre Dame in Indiana and after leaving the convent, she came to realize religious studies were her true passion.

Around the same time, her roommate introduced her to a man named Mark at the same school. A Taos-born “Vietnam radical” who had spent time doing missionary work in Peru, his heart for service instantly drew Mrs. Saucier to him.

Just shy of 50 years later, the couple share six adult children, 15 grandchildren and a lifetime of memories.

“It was a fire in his soul, a fire for service,” said Mrs. Saucier. “The fire in his soul took me in, and we’ve been together ever since.”

But there were stops on the way before the Sauciers put down permanent roots in the Capital City. They spent time in Taos and then, after their first child was born, headed to Cupertino, California, for two years before the Diocese of Jefferson City offered Mark a communications job.

Mrs. Saucier said the couple intended to stay in Jefferson City for a short time, but it quickly became their home.

She began teaching chemistry and religious classes in the area — at Lincoln University and Helias Catholic High School.

Her involvement with the homeless population and prison ministry was spurred by her mentor, the late Benedictine Sister Ruth Haney of Our Lady of Peace Monastery in Columbia, who reminded her of a Bible verse instructing readers to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Following 24 years working for the diocese, Mrs. Saucier is still involved in groups and discussions around housing in the area, and hopes to continue bringing people’s struggles and stories to light and to show compassion to those in need.

Her priorities include working with other stakeholders interested in making a dent in a lack of housing stock exacerbated by the 2019 tornado that struck Mid-Missouri. She’s also working with advocates to start a day center to provide additional services to unhoused residents in the area.

Mrs. Saucier said the drive to help others also came from a traffic accident that occurred while she was pregnant with her first child, an experience that shaped her passion to reach out to people who don’t have the family or blessings she does in life.

“I look back at six children and 15 grandchildren, and I say, ‘God, thank you’ — but it also makes me realize I must reach out to those who do not have this family, who do not have a home, who are stuck in prison because they made a mistake,” she said.

“We need to see them as unique creations of God who are searching for the same things we are — we’re all hungry for wholeness.”


Mr. Gerber is the business reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune (newstribune.com), which published a version of this story on Feb. 19. This version is published here with permission.