July 19, 2014

A big week

This was a big week in the local Catholic world: the 20th annual Lasallian Youth Assembly in Philadelphia, a pilgrimage to Quebec by the Diocese of Manchester, and the Steubenville East Conference in Rhode Island.

As a former and potential future Lasallian school, Trinity has been attending the Lasallian Youth Assembly for the past three years thanks to the generosity of the District of Eastern North America.  I wasn't able to bring a group this year because my wife wasn't able to get the week off from work as she usually is (and we have 3 kids).  But you can look back at the week of events at the Twitter feed @becomingbrother.  This year's assembly was held at Lasalle University in Philadelphia and looks like it was a great week.

In honor of the 350th anniversary of the founding of the first parish in the New World (north of Mexico City), the Diocese of Manchester sponsored a pilgrimage to Quebec City this past week.  Notre Dame Parish was founded in 1647 and is, in a sense, the mother Church of all parishes in the United States and Canada.  New Hampshire has a strong connection to Quebec as many Quebecois migrated to New Hampshire over the years, including Cardinal Gerald Lacroix '75.  Cardinal Lacroix helped lead the pilgrimage with Bishop Libasci and by all accounts it was a great few days.

And this weekend is the annual Steubenville East conference held in Rhode Island.  This is a weekend long youth conference and is considered one of the best Catholic youth events in the country.  My wife has been many times and last year we brought a group of students down.  You can read a reflection by one of the student's here.    

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer.  We report back to school in less than a month so I am going to enjoy what I have left of my summer!  See you soon.

June 28, 2014

Our final Mass

Today was our final Mass with the St. Francis Inn community.  The celebrant was Fr. Pat Seiber, OFM.  Fr. Pat lives at the friary but doesn't work at the inn, his full-time ministry is as a hospital chaplain.  In his homily, he spoke of the times people get angry at God when something goes wrong.  In a sense, he said, people should not be angry with God but rather with other people as God has no hands or legs, we are His hands and legs and make decisions that impact others.

As is customary, the inn presents departing volunteers with Tau crosses at the end of Mass on Saturday.  Fr. Steve Patti, OFM made the presentation and told a story of St. Francis of Assisi's willingness to leave the walls of Assisi and go encounter and minister to the outside world.  Fr. Steve told the group that they have, in a sense, left the walls of New Hampshire to come here and minister for a short period to the people of St. Francis Inn.  It's always very moving to receive these crosses and to receive a final blessing from the group.

Until next year...

Why we came

My job the other night was to dish out the food onto the plates for the servers to bring to the guests.  I was working alongside a woman from a local church who was there for the first time.  She couldn't wrap her head around the idea that we would come all this way to volunteer.  "Do you have soup kitchens in your area?" she asked nicely.  Of course we do and we do a lot with them, namely New Horizons.    We have been coming here for about 10 years after a former parent suggested it to one of my predecessors, Fr. Andrew Nelson.  The parent knew of St. Francis Inn somehow and thought it might be a nice experience for Trinity High School students.  The rest is history.

We come here to experience and live the mission of the inn.  We could (and do) do the same kind of work in Manchester.  However, there is something unique about this place and the community that ministers here.  Time after time, students say their biggest surprise was how close they got to the staff here and how much they loved them.  That's the point - to experience our faith and our Church in a different setting and way of life.  Most of these students have only experienced Church through their parish and/or our school.  I love to expose them to the community here, their faith, their witness, their way of life.  I hope and pray that our students leave here inspired not just to go back and serve the poor but rather to go back and also live lives of faith and witness, to have a deeper relationship with God, and to come to know Christ in a powerful way.  

That's why we come.

June 27, 2014

Our last full day

Alas, today was our last full day in Philadelphia.  We have a pretty big schedule tomorrow but we are leaving right after we serve the meal.  Our day began as it always does, with Mass at 8:30am.  The celebrant was Fr. Steve Patti, OFM, a native of Burlington, MA.  Fr. Steve is rather new here but is being transferred to a Franciscan parish in North Carolina later this summer.

On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays the only meal the inn serves is lunch from 11:30am-1:00pm.  So the work is truncated and you have to get it done quickly.  As such, there aren't desserts other than cookies and the only bread is whatever is left over from the day before.  I went out on pick-ups with Fr. Steve and one of our students and when we returned we had a little break before the meal.  We all have different jobs during the meal - serving, dishing out the food, table setter, bussing tables, dishes, or passing out bags in the yard.  There are 12 tables of 4 in the dining room and you work hard.  So far I have been a setter, bussed tables, and dished out the food.  Bussing keeps you especially
busy and before you know it, the meal is over.

After we cleaned up, we had the afternoon free.  Traditionally on Fridays we go into the city to see some of the sights.  We went to Independence National Historical Park where we saw the Liberty Bell (from the outside, the line to get it was too long), the outside of Independence Hall, some original 18th and 19th century art at the Second Bank of the United States, the Reading Terminal Market, the Love sculpture, and the pool at JFK Plaza.  The kids weren't as in to the historical stuff as I was but that always seems to be the case!

We then headed back to the house and noticed that the train we were on was going to bypass our station as they normally do during rush hour.  So we got off at the station before and waited for the next train…until we realized the train we would need to catch wouldn't stop at that station!  We looked up the distance on our phone and it was only 1/2 mile walk back to our house so we decided to walk back.  I had some extra tokens and Bro. Xavier was outside so I gave him the rest.  We were chatting for a bit and he showed me the inside of the friary across the street.  They combined two row houses to make the friary and did some beautiful interior work, it's a real oasis for the friars.

Tonight I am driving one student to the airport as she needs to get back early (another student left this morning as he too needed to leave early) and we will take the rest of the kids for some fun at Dave and Buster's.

This time tomorrow we will almost be home.  Darn.

The Mayor of Kensington

I was up early yesterday and I had divine inspiration to see if there was a Krispy Kreme near by!  I looked it up and found one about 8 miles from St. Francis Inn so I decided to head out and get some donuts for the group.  When I walked outside I saw a man named Arthur washing the red mini-van of Bro. Xavier de la Huerta, OFM, one of the friars here at St. Francis Inn.  I wasn't surprised.  Bro. Xavier, who came here in 1981, is the most beloved person here and the guests worship him.  Our students absolutely adore him and squeal when they talk about him!  "He is so cute" they say over and over.  Bro. Xavier is 78 and has such a gentle and kind disposition.  His warm demeanor is evident right away and you can't help but think you are in the presence of a living saint.

Bro. Xavier grew up in Texas so he speaks Spanish which helps him interact with the Latino guests and he is best known for giving tokens to people for the subway.  Many people need the tokens for court appearances, doctors appointments, etc. he gives out about 20 a day.  He also uses his mini-van to drive people to the hospital, shopping, anything they need really.

Bro. Xavier is the epitome of humility.  He dresses very simply and I think he gets his clothes from the thrift shop the inn runs.  No one would blame you if you confused him as one of the guests of the inn.  I think I heard Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM say that Bro. Xavier used to live in the shelter the inn used to run before they bought the row houses on the street for the friars and volunteers.  His work is not glamorous and the people he helps are not the rich and the powerful, in fact they are the outcasts.  But Bro. Xavier quietly and humbly helps them all and day after day goes about his simple yet profound work in this corner of the Lord's vineyard.  I have no doubt he is going straight to heaven when he dies.

One of our students is leaving this morning.  Last night one of the Franciscan Volunteers came over to say goodbye to him and he gave her his remaining $38 and asked her to give it to Bro. Xavier to use for his token fund.

Yep.  I love my job.


June 26, 2014

For your viewing pleasure

Working as a server at the Thursday meal

Bro. Fred going over last minute instructions before we pray and work

Folks lined up for dinner.  The bread is for the taking

Getting dessert ready

Bagging bread to be passed out to the guests

With Bro. Xavier, one of the most amazing men you will ever meet.  The guests adore him.

The people who make it happen

As the father of three and the husband of a wonderful wife, I sometimes find it hard to leave home for trips such as the one to Philadelphia.  But once I am here, I feel so much at home and so much at peace.  The thing I love most about St. Francis Inn is the community.  There are four groups of people who live and work here:

1. Seven Friars
2. Two religious sisters
3. Four laypeople
4. Four Franciscan Volunteers

The groups all live in separate row houses on East Hagert Street, right next to St. Francis Inn.  Three friars came to Philadelphia in 1979 and began St. Francis Inn a year later.  They came here to start a ministry but unsure what to do, they lived among the people of the neighborhood to see what they needed.  They discovered that the people here did not need a church, they need the gospel lived among them.  From here, St. Francis Inn was born.  The director, New Hampshire native Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, arrived 26 years ago and the most recent addition is Fr. Steven Patti, OFM.  The sisters arrived over 20 years ago as did two of the laywomen, Barbara Salapek and Karen Pushaw.  Both Barbara and Karen were volunteers and they decided to stay on as team members.  In Karen's case, she left behind a prestigious job at a law firm and an amazing condo to live and work here among the poor.  The other two laypeople are Judy Stachecki and Kevin Cilano.  Kevin was a volunteer here like Karen and Barbara but decided to stay on as a team member last fall.

The Franciscan Volunteers are a group of post-college graduates who commit 1-2 years of living, praying, and working in community in a Franciscan ministry.  There are three local volunteer communities here - Philadelphia, Wilmington, DE, and Camden, NJ.  There are four young people who are working at St. Francis Inn this year.  I must confess that I am envious of them, I really wish I did something like that when I graduated from college!

While Fr. Michael is the director and this is a ministry of the friars, there is no hierarchy here or pretense among the team and volunteers.  One person serves as the coordinator each day and everyone defers to that person, no matter how junior they are.  They each take turns with the responsibilities and they get two days off a week.

They have an amazing life and while they don't have much materially, they are the happiest and most amazing people I have ever encountered.  This is faith.