Philadelphia Archdiocese Begins Construction of New Senior Residence

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines


PHILADELPHIA — The Catholic Health Care Services and the Office for Community Development of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia broke ground last week for an affordable housing development for independent seniors. Located just one block from the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen, the new building, scheduled to be completed next spring, will be called St. Francis Villa in recognition of the friars’ longtime presence in the East Kensington neighborhood.

Michael Duffy, OFM, guardian of Juniper Friary and a member of the St. Francis Inn team for nearly 30 years, spoke at the June 4 groundbreaking.

“Home is a place where you are affirmed, where you’re respected, you’re nurtured and you’re loved,” he said. “We hope this place will provide that and be a little bit of heaven.”

The St. Francis Villa development was selected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to receive a $10 million tax credit to create affordable senior housing in the East Kensington section of Philadelphia, according to a news release from the archdiocese. “CHCS and OCD are working closely with two long community anchors in Kensington, St. Francis Inn and Visitation Parish, to generate and maintain community support for this important senior housing development in the neighborhood.”

The new residence, at 2442-58 Emerald St., will have 40 one-bedroom apartments for those of the required age and income levels. Affordable housing was identified as a need by the 2009 Visitation Gateway Neighborhood Strategic Plan.

The idea for the residence evolved through years of observations and discussions and through helping people in the neighborhood, said Michael. “We’d noticed over the last 15 years that the fastest growing population at St. Francis Inn is senior citizens, people who cannot afford both food and shelter. They come to us for food.”

“When you see an older person who is struggling, there tends to be a feeling of hopelessness, much more than when you see a young person and one assumes that things can get better for him or her,” said Michael. “We wanted to help.”

Close to eight years ago, Michael talked with a staff member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia about the need for housing in the Kensington neighborhood. Plans took shape through frequent meetings with members of the archdiocese, as well as representatives from nearby Visitation Parish. “We became a team, with the three entities — the parish, the archdiocese and the Inn — gathering and compiling ideas. The senior housing idea began with discussions of ours at the Inn.”

The archdiocese eventually took over the project, Michael said, and the name St. Francis Villa was chosen because of St. Francis Inn’s presence in the neighborhood for 35 years. “The archdiocese is very cognizant of the Inn’s contributions.”

“We expected 40 to 50 people to come to the ceremony and more than 100 people were there,” said Michael. Among the participants were Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre, who blessed the land where the residence is being built, two Redemptorist priests, the CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and representatives from the archdiocese’ Catholic Human Services.

Photos of the June 4 festivities were posted on St. Francis Inn Ministries’ Instagram as well as on the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry’s Facebook page.

Among the St. Francis Inn community members who attended the event were friars William DeBiase, OFM, Xavier De La Huerta, OFM, John Gill, OFM, and Jim McIntosh, OFM, three sisters — Sr. Mary Augustini, OFS. Sr. Leslie Birks, OFS, and Sr. Jeanette Reagan, OFS — and Barbara Salapek and Karen Pushaw, an active member of the project’s development committee. A photo gallery of the ceremony on the website shows Michael and others involved with the groundbreaking, including Timothy Quinn, a former FVM and current staff member of the Inn, who provided music. Diagrams of the residence are also online.

For more than three decades, various ministries of the Franciscans have served the Kensington community. Currently, the St. Francis Inn Ministries include the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen, St. Benedict’s Thrift Shop, St. Francis Urban Center and the Thea Bowman Women’s Center.

Several years ago, another affordable housing project opened near a Holy Name Province ministry in Maryland — Victory Oaks on the campus of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.