This essay is part of a series by Holy Name Province’s partners-in-ministry. In the previous, a Siena College alumnus described the “pull” of his alma mater and the impact of the friars. Here, a former Franciscan Volunteer Minister reflects on how she has seen Franciscan values put into action by friars, volunteers and guests of a soup kitchen. She writes of “the deep love that surrounds Franciscans.”
When I was offered my first “grown-up” job — in Virginia, far away from anyone I knew — I immediately looked up two things online: whether there was a Browns Backers club (I’m from Cleveland, and I need my sports fix) and whether there were Franciscans nearby. It turns out that a fraternity of Secular Franciscans was in the parish where I would be working. In fact, the minister of that fraternity was on the hiring committee, and when I walked into my interview wearing my Tau cross, we bonded immediately. We both knew that we shared values, like community, humility, and service that were going to be very useful in the job I would be doing. I have always been grateful for my time with Franciscans, seeing these values lived out in everyday life.
After college, I knew I wanted to do a full-time volunteer year, but I found it challenging to find the right fit. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wouldn’t do Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. My sister had already gone through that program, and even though she had an amazing experience, I knew that I wanted to forge my own path. Still, she talked me into applying “just for practice with the interview.” Little did I know that my interview, spending days visiting the sites and meeting the current FVMs would change my mind and convince me to join this community. I fit right in, and loved the close-knit feeling of the communities, as well as the relationships with the friars.
I had attended a Franciscan high school, so I already had a good grounding in the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. I knew the story of perfect joy, the practice of going out among the lepers, and the importance of humility and community. I am grateful for the friars of Sacred Heart Province who taught me. One of them has remained a close family friend. But, I must admit that by participating in FVM as an adult, I was able to see these values in action in a powerful way. I ended up spending two years with this ministry: first at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, then with St. Paul’s Parish in Wilmington, Del.
Experiencing True Community
Living with Franciscans taught me about community. When I worked at St. Francis Inn, the soup kitchen in the Kensington neighborhood, we had Mass every day at 8:30 a.m. in the chapel, right above the soup kitchen. On many mornings, Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, would remind us, “we are here to be spiritually fed so that we can go downstairs and feed others physically.” I remember that the Inn was one of my first experiences of true community, crossing all kinds of barriers. I had experienced love in my family, and camaraderie with my school friends, but never had such connections expanded beyond a group of people with whom I had a lot in common. At the Inn, people from many generations, many different motivations and many different economic backgrounds came together to serve each other.
Beyond the team and FVMs, there were people who came in to volunteer for a week, and there were the guests, more permanent than many of the team members. Those guests really became a part of the family. I remember one day I was in the yard and doing lineup, putting people in number order on their tickets. When one fellow who wasn’t used to the system wanted to get in sooner than his number, I told him that he wasn’t allowed in yet and he became a little bit agitated and started to threaten me. Out of nowhere, two long-term guests of the Inn came and stood behind me. Out loud and with their body language, they said, “you don’t mess with her. You should get in line.” This memory sticks with me above a lot of others from that time, because it is when I realized that not only was I taking care of my guests; they were also taking care of me and the rest of the staff. I know that our little block in the middle of Kensington was one of the least violent places in that neighborhood. Partly, that’s due to a “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” mentality, but it’s also because of the deep love that surrounds the Franciscans, their charism, their ministry, and the folks in the neighborhood.
Inspired by Humility
Sharing life with Franciscans taught me about humility. While in Philadelphia, I remember Br. Xavier de la Huerta, OFM, who wore beat up clothing, and always had a van full of scrap metal, which he would sell to help pay for public transportation. One day, Br. Xavier was digging through a trash can to find more metal so that he could support his fund. A guest of the Inn tapped him on the shoulder and said, “hey, man, you don’t need to dig here for food. There’s a soup kitchen just down the street. I’ll show you.” When Br. Xavier told the story, he was just tickled. To him, it was an honor to be confused with somebody from the street that he was always striving for it. He really embodied the Franciscan ideal of becoming one with those you serve.
I was always impressed and inspired by Br. Xavier’s example and I still am today. The same was true of Fr. Christopher Posch, OFM, who was my site supervisor in Wilmington. He loved saying Mass all over God’s creation, never standing on ceremony, whether we were in a park or in the clubhouse for migrant workers. This reminded us in the community both of God’s omnipresence and of the fact that we are nothing special when faced with the glory of God.
Learning about Service
Working with Franciscans taught me about service. They were always willing to wholeheartedly participate in whatever journey was in front of them. We were encouraged to do the same — with migrants, our ESOL students, guests at the soup kitchen and patients in the hospital.
The Franciscans in my life taught me that service is integral to community and that it’s important that we all give freely to support each other. There were some people who regularly helped cook meals at the Inn who were also guests. Attending a rally for immigration reform is a totally natural form of service when half of your friends are undocumented. In my new parish at Church of the Incarnation, I try to maintain that spirit. At home, I still live in community with three other women, and together we pray, eat, and support each other on our journeys toward God.
Because they re-ground me in relationship, which always results in community, humility, and service, I can’t imagine my life without Franciscans. I’m currently a candidate with the Secular Franciscans in my parish, where I have seen as family. During my time through high school, with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, and through parish life, I have had the privilege of interacting with Franciscan sisters, brothers, priests, and seculars. And I am privileged to wear the Tau cross, and share that influence with others today.
— Sheila Herlihy, a graduate of Padua High School in Parma, Ohio, is the coordinator of justice and charity at Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville, Va. She graduated in 2011 from Wittenburg University, in Springfield, Ohio, and served as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister from 2011 to 2013.
- “FVM Welcomes Applicants” – May 24, 2017, HNP Today
- “Michael Duffy Marks 50 Years as a Friar” – Feb. 10, 2016, HNP Today
- “Christopher Posch Celebrates 25 Years as a Friar” – Sept. 16, 2015, HNP Today
- “Impact of a Volunteer Year” – Aug. 7, 2015, HNP Today
- “Xavier de la Huerta Marks 50 Years as a Friar” – Feb. 18, 2015, HNP Today