June 26, 2015

Last full day

Alas, today was our last full day in Philadelphia.  The day began as normal with an early wake-up call and Mass in the chapel above St. Francis Inn at 8:30am.  The celebrant was Fr. Bill DeBiase, OFM, one of the seven friars who live and work here.  Following Mass, we all went downstairs to prepare for lunch.  The inn only serves lunch on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to give them some time off.  Therefore, all of the work and prep has to be done before 11:30am.  Some of us helped get lunch ready (chili and rice), others bagged cookies, and others went out on pick-ups.  Today was a slow day (299 meals) and didn't feel as ragged as dinner times do.  We were all cleaned up by 1:30pm  or so and we took off for the afternoon.

Usually we spend Friday afternoon seeing some of the touristy places in Philadelphia - the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc.  But this year one of the girls suggested we go to the Philadelphia Zoo which sounded like a fine idea.  After grabbing lunch at another Philadelphia landmark - Wawa - we headed to the zoo.  The Philadelphia Zoo is apparently the oldest zoo in the country and was quite lovely.  The girls broke off into groups Mrs. Trachim and I meandered our way through.  The zoo has tons of big animals like hippos, a rino, tigers, lions, and bears, zebras, giraffes, etc.  They also have these see through mesh "tunnels" throughout the park that the tigers and monkeys can go through and wander above everyone, it was quite neat.  Although we didn't see the big cats in the tunnels we did see some of the monkeys in them (you can see what I mean by watching a video here).

We then made our way to dinner at Dave and Buster's, a sort of Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.  This is our custom on the last night and the kids have a blast after working hard all week.  We got back to the house around 9pm and cleaned up and packed.  We will work again tomorrow and be on the road by 2pm and hopefully back in Manchester by 9pm.

Please pray for safe travels.  See you soon.

June 25, 2015

Waiting in line

Mrs. Trachim P'08 '10 took some pictures (see below) of the guests tonight lining up for dinner from the chapel window.  The picture of the little boy breaks my heart.  As the father of four, it kills me to see the number of children who come in for meals each day.  I served a family of 7 last night (two tables) with 5 kids and I couldn't help but just look at them as they were eating.  They were so sweet and certainly clueless that they were in a soup kitchen eating their dinner.  I wonder if they (and the others) will ever have a chance and make it out of Kensington.  We can only hope and pray they do.

I also included a picture of Fr. Bill DeBiase, OFM, helping serve dinner.  Fr. Bill lives here at the friary but his full-time job is as a hospital chaplain.  Fr. Bill is an amazing friar and priest who has devoted his life to serving the poorest of the poor, including working for almost 30 years in Japan and then ministering to lepers.  He has come to Trinity a couple of times, most recently in 2012 when Bishop Libasci made a surprise visit.  Fr. Bill and Bishop Libasci are from the same parish in Queens and Bishop Libasci was actually one of the altar servers at Fr. Bill's first Mass as a priest!








Barbara Salapek

I often tell the students who come here to St. Francis Inn that we could very easily do this sort of work in Manchester (and we do).  We come down here every summer to indeed work and serve the poor but I also hope that they come away inspired to continue to do this sort of work back home and to see a different side of the Catholic Church.  I tell them that the reason I love coming down here is the people who work here, the friars, the religious sisters, the lay men and women, and the volunteers.  I am so envious of the people who live and work here as they lead such amazing lives.  They don't have much material wealth but they are rich in so many ways (sorry for the cliche!).

One of the women who works here is Barbara Salapek.  Barbara came here 25 years at the age of 40 to spend 1-2 years as a volunteer.  She quit her job and moved to Kensington for what she thought would be a short term experience.  She's still here.  After her term as a volunteer was up, she stayed on as a permanent staff member and for the past 20 plus years has dedicated her life to this place and its people.  She lives in a house with two other women who also work here.  They get paid very little (they actually didn't get paid at all until recently) and have little to no benefits other than health insurance.  They are amazing witnesses and for them to give up EVERYTHING to serve here is nothing more than extraordinary and faith filled.

Barbara is retiring this fall and will be moving in with her sister in a different part of the state.  She was supposed to return this spring but she stayed on a little longer.  I was so happy to hear that she was still here when I arrive yesterday as I didn't think we would get to see her one last time.  Last fall, the Philadelphia City Council honored Barbara for her service at one of their meetings.  She had no idea why she was asked to go to the meeting and when they began speaking about her, she figured it out!  You can see the presentation at the video below beginning at the 6:30 mark:


Breakfast at the Inn

Breakfast is served here at St. Francis Inn on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The guests do not come inside, rather they are served through a dutch door and they are able to mingle and eat in the yard.  Tim Quinn, a staff member here at St. Francis Inn, posted a video about breakfast at the inn and it gives you some sense of what the people are like here.  Check it out:


Bread of life

Before the staff and volunteers of St. Francis Inn serve food to the hungry, they themselves are fed with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.  Mass is celebrated each day here at 8:30am in a beautiful chapel above St. Francis Inn.  The chapel was constructed in 2000 and prior to that, Mass was celebrated in the friary living room.  Thus, when the made the chapel they intentionally made it almost feel like a living room.  There are chairs and couches, the altar is designed like a coffee table, and the area rug is similar to the one that was in the friary.  

There are three priests here in the community - Frs. Bill DeBiase, Michael Duffy, and Patrick Sieber.  Of these, only Fr. Michael works at St. Francis Inn, Frs. Bill and Patrick are hospital chaplains but live with the friars (there are four brothers in the community too).  The three priests take turns celebrating Mass and today it was Fr. Patrick's turn.  He spoke of the mural of St. Francis that is on one the walls outside the inn and how St. Francis always wanted to preach, not always with words though.  It was through the way he lived his life, Fr. Patrick said, that Francis preached.  We should live the same way, our lives should be our sermon he said.  

The Masses at St. Francis Inn are unique in that everyone remains seated throughout the Mass except during the sign of peace when everyone gets up to greet one another.  One person on the staff takes a turn each day coordinating the music and proclaiming the reading.  Oftentimes you will find the guests of the inn at Mass, some who are there just to be indoors but others who truly wish to worship the Lord.  There was one woman there today who didn't seem homeless but is certainly a frequent guest of the inn.  When Barbara Salapek, a staff member here, came in for Mass she put her hand on the woman's shoulder and said hello.  The smile on the woman's face could have lit up Philadelphia.  You could tell how much it meant to her to be acknowledged.  It reminded me of a quote from Mother Teresa that hangs here in our home:

"The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

For your viewing pleasure

Prepping Wednesday's meal

Mrs. Trachim (r) with Barb Salapek, a long time staff member

Serving dinner


The bread that is distributed to the guests after the meal

Getting the rolls ready for Sloppy Joes


Serving breakfast food on Wednesday morning

Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, the director and New Hampshire native
Mr. Sheehan '79 and Barb
At the "Rocky" statue

Cooking dinner

June 24, 2015

Best days of the summer

This morning I arrived at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia to join up with our seven seniors and two teachers who have been here since Saturday.  This annual mission trip is a major tradition at Trinity High School and the teachers look forward to it as much as the students.  Mr. Sheehan '79 and Mrs. Trachim P'08 '10, both of our math department, are leading the trip.  Mr. Sheehan has been coming here for many, many years and has an amazing rapport with the staff.  This is Mrs. Trachim's third trip and my fourth.  I've never been here for a full week, I always come down on Wednesday as a compromise with my wife as we have four small children.  I flew out of Boston at 6:30am and we were on the ground an hour later.  Mr. Sheehan picked me up at the airport and we then did some grocery shopping for the group.  We arrived at the inn around 10:30am where the crew was finishing up breakfast and preparations for dinner.

There is a real rhythm to this place.  They serve the following meals:

Sundays - lunch
Mondays - dinner
Tuesdays-Thursdays - coffee/donuts in the morning and dinner in the evening
Fridays-Saturdays - lunch

In addition to the inn, the staff runs a thrift shop called St. Benedict's, as well as a women's center and an urban center.  Each day begins with Mass at 8:30am followed by work until noon.  Two students help out at the thrift shop while others go out on pick-ups to get donations, and the rest prep for the meal of the day, serve coffee, etc.  We usually get about an hour break for lunch and then return at 1:15pm to prep dessert,  bag bread, and anything else they need help with (for example we helped put mailing labels on a newsletter).  There is a bread company in Camden, NJ that donates boxes and boxes of bagels, rolls, etc. and each afternoon the bread is bagged up and left outside for folks to take after they have finished their meal.  I love bagging the bread because you can see your "accomplishment" after all is said and down.  Dinner is served from 4:30pm-6pm which is followed by clean-up and Evening Prayer.  On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays they only serve lunch from 11:30am-1pm and the staff then has the rest of the day off.

There is a staff here of Franciscan priests and brothers, two religious sisters, four laywomen, two laymen, and three post-college volunteers.  They all divide up the work and there is no real hierarchy or pretense.  The director, Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, does the same work as anyone else.  Each day someone else is the coordinator for the day and everyone defers to that person, no matter his or her role, title, or seniority.  They all live separately (friars have their own place, the sisters live together, the laywomen have their own home, etc) but they come together each day for Mass, work, and Evening Prayer, very much like the early Christians.  They remind me of the Psalm, "How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!"

Right now we are all hanging out at our house waiting to go back to help serve dinner.  Roles are divided up there too - some serve the meal, others prepare the plates, some bus the tables, others set the tables, some do dishes, and some help with drinks.  I have gained a profound respect for waiters and waitress after coming here year after year!

Please do stay tuned, I have lots to share...