Matthew 25 Award to Joe Featherston

 On Wednesday, March 13, family and friends joined Divine Word College in honoring Mr. Joe Featherston, for his service in welcoming immigrant families to the area and dedication to bringing comfort to those in need. Featherston is the 2002 recipient of the college’s Matthew 25 Award.

 Featherston is the Associate Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. He joined Catholic Charities in 1977 and served in many capacities before being named associate director in November 2000. In addition to administrative duties, Featherston serves as Director of the Refugee Resettlement Program and as the Archdiocesan Disaster Director.

Featherston is originally from Cascade, Iowa. He is a graduate of Divine Word Seminary High School in East Troy, Wis. and attended Divine Word College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in counseling from Loras College in Dubuque. Featherston and his wife Barb have three grown daughters.

During his time studying with Divine Word Missionaries, Featherston felt a call to missionary life and dreamed of someday working in Papua New Guinea. He says he was intrigued by the thought of working in the mission fields outside the United States. Though he chose not to pursue missionary life as a priest or brother, and has never made it to Papua New Guinea, Featherston has devoted his life to work within the United States that can be considered missionary.

“My family tells me that I didn’t get to go out and see the world, but the Lord has brought the world to me,” says Featherston.

Since the late 1970s, Featherston has welcomed over 300 immigrant families to the Archdiocese of Dubuque. For Featherston, the settlement process begins at the airport—“meeting families entering the country clinging to the few precious belongings they were able to gather before fleeing for their lives.” Local church groups then come together, under Featherston’s guidance, to obtain the necessary goods and services—housing, food, medical care—for the immigrant family to start a new life in this country.

In addition to his work with refugees, Featherston has served as a volunteer mental health counselor with the Red Cross since 1994. Victims of flood, hurricane and most recently the World Trade Center attacks have experienced his caring spirit.

 And how has his work with refugees and disaster victims affected him? Featherston says, “It simply has affirmed for me that the vocation I have is the right place for me. I’ve been blessed to personally experience the resiliency of the human spirit—then to marvel again at how the Lord does provide people with the necessary grace to face the challenges in their lives.”

He adds that, “I didn’t get ordained in terms of the system, but I think the Lord ordained me in another fashion.”

In a congratulatory message, Archbishop Jerome Hanus, O.S.B., writes of Featherston’s work, “Jesus said that we would be judged by our response to those in need. Your life and your work have been inspired by the powerful words of Jesus, ‘What you have done for others you have done for me.’ Thank you for serving Christ in those who are hurting.”

In his acceptance speech, Featherston challenged Divine Word College students to, “Be available for the unexpected! Be willing to risk trying some new thing. You never know when you could be offering refuge to someone in the form of understanding or you may unexpectedly provide the shelter of compassion to a fellow student or a family member or your neighbors back home.”