This reflection is part of a series written by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, by Kevin McLaughlin, an alumnus and staff member of Buffalo’s Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, was published on Nov. 5. Here, a longtime team member of the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia shares what she has learned after nearly 25 years of working with the friars.
My journey with the friars began in the late 1980s, after I had been a member of the workforce for almost 20 years. I had the opportunity to make a retreat — my first. While on the retreat, I found a book about St. Francis in the retreat center’s library. Prior to that moment, I had not given the saints much thought, but suddenly I was captivated by the “little poor one” from Assisi.
I began to search for a Franciscan connection nearby and found a Secular Franciscan fraternity in Western New York. I entered their formation program and was introduced to Daniel Riley, OFM, and Joseph Kotula, OFM, of Mt. Irenaeus. During the next few years, I traveled to the Mountain as often as I could. My love of Francis continued to grow, and I was drawn into a deeper understanding of what God was calling me to do with my life.
Service and Inspiration
Fr. Dan introduced me to Michael Duffy, OFM, director of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. I joined the program in 1990, serving for two years as an FVM and since then — 22 years! — as a team member helping to run St. Francis Inn.
My experiences with the friars of the Mountain and the Inn have inspired me and taught me to see the world as Francis did. I have come to understand that we are connected by the common bond of a loving God. He leads us to care for our brothers and sisters who are hurting and forgotten in Philadelphia, and he evokes awe in us as we contemplate the beauty of creation at Mt Irenaeus. In short, we are meant to live in peace and harmony with people and nature.
When I moved to the blighted neighborhood of Kensington where the Inn is located, I was overwhelmed. Prior to my arrival, I lived and worked in Warren, Pa., a small town of about 10,000, with a serene and wooded landscape on the banks of the Allegheny River.
Growth and Serenity
In Kensington, one of the talents I found blossoming in me was gardening. The beauty of the earth had been ever present to me at home, but was sorely lacking in my new community. With the encouragement of the Inn’s staff, I set out to bring some of that serenity to our guests. I made a garden green space that is available to them as they wait to be seated for their meal.
Throughout my years at the Inn, I have been privileged to serve on many of the friars’ committees and directorates. I continue to be inspired by their commitment to share ministry with the laity. Vatican II was an exciting experience for me, but I found that the constant flux and change was difficult for many others.
Since the time I became connected to the Mountain friars, the Franciscans have graciously invited me to grow and to share in their lives. One transforming experience was the opportunity to learn more about Francis in the five-week Franciscan Challenge program with renowned scholars from around the world. Another was the daily rhythm of the Inn, living in extended community shared with friars and sisters, and lay men and women, and becoming a part of the lives of countless friars who have visited or lived with us at the Inn during their formation.
My journey has afforded me the unique opportunity to witness on a daily basis the love and support of the brothers for and with each other, as well as their struggles. I am blessed to be part of this Franciscan family.
— Barbara Salapek has served as a member of the HNP Lay Advisory Board and as a speaker at the Province’s 2014 fraternal gatherings. She will be returning to western Pennsylvania, where she grew up, next year. On Oct. 30, Salapek was honored by the City of Philadelphia for her service to St. Francis Inn.