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Celebrating St. Anthony Shrine’s Friars and Outreach to Those in Need

BOSTON – For close to three-quarters of a century it has been known as the church on Arch Street, an oasis for prayer, reconciliation and reflection – where a team of more than 20 Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province serves downtown Boston, with emphasis on ministering to the poor, homeless, alienated and abandoned through nearly 30 ministry and outreach programs. To celebrate and support this extraordinary work at St. Anthony Shrine, nearly 500 supporters last month attended the fourth annual Franciscan Dinner Gala, the Shrine’s major fundraising event of the year, at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

(l-r) Frank Sevola, guardian of the friar community at Arch Street, Tom Conway, executive director of St. Anthony Shrine, honoree Regina Pisa, and Jim and Jo-Anne Gallagher, event co-chairs. (Photo courtesy of St. Anthony Shrine)

Regina Pisa, this year’s recipient of the event’s Pope Francis Award, may have best captured the essence of the Shrine in describing that a typical visit to the church on Arch Street could find one sitting next to a CEO on one side and a homeless person on the other – which she said is a reminder that God sees everyone in the same way.

With the theme of this year’s fundraising gala focusing on care for one of the city’s most vulnerable populations, the Shrine showcased its Women’s Medical Clinic – an initiative that addresses the complex health care needs of homeless women in downtown Boston.

This women-only clinic was established in March 2016 as a partnership between St. Anthony Shrine and Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. Two years later, the Shrine was awarded a half-million-dollar grant from the Cumming Foundation’s sustaining grants program, which enabled the clinic to expand its medical and outreach services, now serving more than 60 homeless women. A registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, and a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor manage the medical, mental health and substance abuse issues of a population that would otherwise have little access to health care.

“This year’s theme and the expansion and success of our Women’s Medical Clinic in its outreach efforts to this vulnerable population made Regina Pisa the perfect choice for the Pope Francis Award. She is a strong accomplished woman who has been a leader, a mentor, and an advocate for women,” said Tom Conway, OFM, the Shrine’s executive director. “We especially thank Regina for being an inspirational and driving force behind the resounding success of our 2019 event.”

The three-hour gala, held on Oct. 30, generated proceeds that surpassed goals and expectations – generosity that the friars called humbling.

True Success Seen in Putting Gospel into Practice
Tom said he was speaking for all friars in expressing gratitude to supporters, volunteers, and those who contributed in some way to the event’s success – and to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (who, with first lady Lorrie Higgins, served as the gala’s honorary chair) for his continued enthusiastic support of St. Anthony Shrine and its ministries. Jim Gallagher executive vice president and general counsel, Manulife Financial/John Hancock, and his wife Jo-Anne, led a dinner committee comprised of some of Boston’s CEOs within the financial, legal and business industries.

Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, who attended the gala, echoed those sentiments: “It was a great event for the Shrine – its people, benefactors, lay staff, and, most of all, for the friars who live and work there. Everyone who worked on the event deserves our thanks.”

Noting that while proceeds and sold-out attendance are measuring points of success, the Provincial Minister cited another barometer – the Gospel passage in Luke 7:20 where John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus for his credentials.

The Arch Street Band provided entertainment at the 2019 Franciscan Dinner. (Photo courtesy of St. Anthony Shrine)

“Jesus told them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’ In other words,” said Kevin, “Jesus’ credentials were confirmed by the results of his actions. In the same way, the people who supported this event demonstrated that the Shrine is the place in Boston where people witness the Gospel in action on a daily basis.”

He continued, “They are invited to take what they have seen and heard, and then put it into practice. Because of this, they love the Shrine and they love the friars – and that is a true success.”

The success was due in large part to Pisa, partner and emeritus chair of Goodwin, an American Lawyer’s top 100 law firm, who was honored with the Shrine’s Pope Francis Award for her embodiment of the mission to the poor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua.

Pisa has used her public persona (she was the first woman in the U.S. to lead an American Lawyer top 100 firm, and she was the publication’s 2017 “distinguished leader of the year”) to help dismantle gender and cultural barriers, and help advance women in the business, academic and legal communities. She is associated with many organizations and social causes, especially those devoted to advocating for women and children, including Catholic Charities, Franciscan Hospital for Children, and Easter Seals Massachusetts.

Her introduction to the Shrine came as a young child when she would venture to Boston’s Downtown Crossing with her mother, grandmother and other family members on Saturday morning shopping jaunts that inevitably ended with attending a late afternoon Mass at St. Anthony Shrine. Later as an adult, when she took a position at Goodwin, Pisa would drop by the Shrine for some quiet reflection. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, after a mutual friend introduced her to Tom, that Pisa became acquainted with several of the outreach programs at the Shrine, including the Women’s Medical Clinic.

Decades of Outreach
The Shrine depends largely on the generosity of donors to maintain its nearly 30 ministries and outreach programs. In addition to the Women’s Health Clinic, these ministries – many established decades ago – include:

  • The Franciscan Food Center – a food pantry that distributes weekly groceries, meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables to 450 families.
  • The Kids Program – a “seasonal” assistance initiative for families enrolled in the Francis Food Center with children under age 18 to help alleviate financial stress during certain times of the year – for example, providing backpacks and classroom supplies when school opens, and gifts during Christmastime.
  • The Lazarus Ministry – which provides dignified and proper Christian funerals and burials for the homeless, abandoned, and individuals with no next of kin.
  • Senior Program – which provides a healthy lunch, social activities and presentations to the senior citizen population every Wednesday.

Other ministries and initiatives include the Emmaus ministry for grieving parents, a substance abuse recovery center that offers outpatient counseling services, educational services, family counseling, LGBTQ spirituality, a Latino ministry, prison ministry, Franciscan spiritual direction, a veterans ministry that provides a monthly appreciation lunch for homeless veterans, and a program for young adults that has education, social and faith-sharing components.

A video played at the 2019 Gala shows the many ways that the Shrine nurtures the soul and the body.

TV news anchor and master of ceremonies Liz Brunner and this year’s honoree Regina Pisa at the Shrine event. (Photo courtesy of St. Anthony Shrine)

Since opening to the public on Ash Wednesday in February 1947, St. Anthony Shrine has made an impact on tens of thousands of lives in Boston, adapting to change and the many challenges of meeting the needs of the poor, marginalized and immigrants. It has provided a convenient and prayerful environment daily for thousands who work in the greater Downtown Boston area – offering 27 weekday and 12 weekend Masses, and an extensive schedule for the sacrament of reconciliation.

The co-chairs of this year’s event were Jo-Anne and James Gallagher, while former television news anchor Liz Brunner served as the master of ceremonies.

Donations to the Shrine can be made through its website — stanthonyshrine.org or by sending a check, made out to St. Anthony Shrine, to Maryanne Rooney-Hagan, director of development, St. Anthony Shrine, 100 Arch Street, Boston, MA 02110.

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

Editor’s note: During the days before the Oct. 30 Franciscan Dinner, the Boston Herald published a series of articles about St. Anthony Shrine.  The most recent was titled “Supporting St. Anthony Shrine.”

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