Rosie’s Place founder Kip Tiernan fought poverty and injustice in words and deeds, using her command of language to open people’s eyes to the suffering of the poor and society’s duty to heal it.
Some of her most enduring remarks have now been etched in stainless steel on a memorial dedicated Saturday afternoon in the Back Bay. Tiernan, who established the country’s first homeless shelter for women in 1974, died of cancer seven years ago at age 85.
Before the ceremony, Melissa Saunders, 29, who gets meals and other services at the South End shelter, stood under the arched memorial holding a book coauthored by Tiernan.
“All of the inscriptions are at eye level,” said Saunders, a Dorchester resident. “It gives you something to think about between shopping on Newbury Street and [going] on your way to Copley Place. . . . The writings are really impactful, too.”
The memorial is composed of three arches that pedestrians can walk through on Dartmouth Street, near Tiernan’s former office at Old South Church. Rosie’s Place celebrated the dedication with a block party featuring food trucks, bubbles, and jazz music performed by the Aardvark Jazztet.
The memorial cost about $150,000 and was paid for with donations and in-kind contributions, according to Sue Marsh, the president of Rosie’s Place. At the ceremony, she read remarks from Larry Fish, cofounder of the Fish Family Foundation, which donated most of the money.
“It’s a memorial that hopefully inspires action,” Marsh said Friday in a telephone interview. “I’m inspired and moved and comforted by Kip’s words, and it’s a privilege to see them in a permanent place in Boston.”
Fran Froehlich, who established the Poor People’s United Fund with Tiernan in 1980, said many quotations engraved on the memorial were taken from “Urban Meditations,” the book they wrote. Put together, they touch on a range of themes, including love, compassion, focus, and rage, she said.
One quote is a question Tiernan often posed in Latin during debates about government spending and policies for the homeless.
“Cui bono?” she asked, which translates to “who benefits?”
“She was saying to all of us, ‘Look. Look. Don’t close your eyes to the suffering around you,’ ” Froehlich said.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he met Tiernan in 1988 at a meeting in Dorchester at which she discussed plans to buy homes to help women of color with AIDS. He said he was inspired by her unconventional path, abandoning a successful advertising career to devote herself to the poor.
“Kip’s passion was to lift people up,” Walsh said. “We knew her as an advocate and a friend for our city’s most vulnerable populations.”
He said the city’s approach to homelessness is modeled after Tiernan’s vision.
“It’s not simply providing a bed. It’s not simply providing a cup of soup. It’s not simply providing a blanket. It’s not simply sitting down and talking to somebody and hearing their issues and their problems. It’s not simply giving somebody a hug. It’s all of those approaches together,” Walsh said.
Tiernan’s wife, Donna Pomponio, said her “love for the women of Rosie’s was unconditional.”
“I’m not sure how she would have responded to the attention today, but if the commemorative sculpture helps keep the needs of the underserved in people’s hearts and minds, then I know she’s smiling on all of us today,” she said.
Saunders, the Dorchester resident who goes to Rosie’s Place, said she sees Tiernan’s influence in the compassion she’s known at the shelter. Many people don’t see that side of helping the poor, she said.
“It’s important work that they do, but it’s the messy work that no one wants to think about,” she said.
Sue McGarrahan, an Arlington resident, said she knew Tiernan for about 30 years.
“If you meet her and you talk to her, you never forget her,” she said. “She’s so committed. And there’s nothing phony about her.”
Marion Ercolini, another friend, said Tiernan made her friendlier.
“She got me talking to everybody,” said Ercolini, who also lives in Arlington. “I can go anywhere and I’m never alone as long as there’s people around.”
Isabelle Stillger, who serves on the board of directors for Rosie’s Place, said Tiernan was “the constant gardener for humanity.”
“She literally saw a flower in each and every one of us,” she said. “I hope that this memorial will help each of us find that flower in everyone we meet.”