PHILADELPHIA — The feeling of St. Francis is stronger than ever in the Kensington neighborhood of the City of Brotherly Love.
Earlier this month, an affordable housing facility for seniors called St. Francis Villa opened a block away from St. Francis Inn soup kitchen and was dedicated at an event involving members of the Franciscan community. At the Oct. 4 dedication, held appropriately on the feast of St. Francis, remarks focused on the importance of helping the elderly and on the origin of the project, established by Catholic Health Care Services and inspired by a friar.
Michael Duffy, OFM, a team member of St. Francis Inn almost since its opening in 1979, told people at the afternoon gathering about the evolution of the 40-apartment facility on East Hagert Street.
“I explained that the spark that started the dream began one block away, at St. Francis Inn,” he said. “I described how we became increasingly alarmed at the plight of our senior citizen guests who were becoming relatively poorer and poorer as they struggled to live on a fixed income while prices were continually rising. We wanted to use our resources to help them stay in the neighborhood and not be forced out in their twilight years.
“I told of our experiences with our elderly and the conditions in which they were forced to live,” added Michael. “For advice, we decided to go to the diocese. They suggested that we join with the local parish and with their office of Catholic Health Services to explore possibilities. That was almost 10 years ago. With the diocese as the lead developer, we spent literally years and years filled with meetings, hard work, roadblocks, and leaps of progress until this dream finally became a reality.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., complimented Michael and Catholic Health Care Services for “seeing the project to fruition,” according to a report in CatholicPhilly.com. The story describes “the real inspiration” coming from St. Francis Inn and also the diversity of the building’s residents.
The building has 40 apartments, three of which are occupied by married couples – meaning that there are 43 residents,” said Jim McIntosh, OFM, a St. Francis Inn team member since 2014. “The nationalities of the residents reflect the diversity of the Kensington neighborhood. The most common languages spoken by the residents are Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese and English — in that order.”
Michael, guardian of Juniper Friary, said, “At the dedication, the blessing was done by Archbishop Chaput. But prior to the start of the blessing, several small talks were given to the crowd representing those involved in the planning and building of the facility. One was from the Catholic Health Services, and one from the lending bank, city councilman Mark Squilla, and the head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.”
“In one of the talks, Karen Pushaw, a long-time staff member at St. Francis Inn, was singled out for the pivotal part she played in the project over the years,” he added. “Then, my talk was the bridge to the spiritual part of the program, the actual blessing.
“The rest of the St. Francis Inn staff was in attendance, their hearts filled with gratitude,” said Michael. “I ended by challenging the residents and the staff to live at the Villa in the spirit of St. Francis – in love, in community and as instruments of peace.”
Among the those participating in the dedication were Fred Dilger, OFM, who helped arranged the environment for the event, and William DeBiase, OFM, and John Gill, OFM, as well as Sisters Leslie Birks, OSF, and Mary Augustini, OSF, and Franciscan Volunteer Ministry members, and other assorted volunteers. Tim Quinn, a St. Francis Inn team member, played music – along with the Visitation BVM Parish musicians. Planning the ceremony and an integral part of the completion of the project was Heather Huot, a former FVM who now works at the archdiocese’s Catholic Health Care Services, said Michael.
The opening of the building was “a dream come true,” said William, who has lived in Philadelphia for 14 years. “Like any other dream, this one took work, patience, and blood, sweat and tears to complete.”
“I looked at the dedication as a paradigm of life in general,” he added. ”There were many hurdles and hoops that people involved needed to go through to achieve their goal. The residence is not just a place to live. It is an image of hope, showing what can happen if people stick to their dreams.”
“Home is a place where you are affirmed, where you’re respected, you’re nurtured and you’re loved,” Michael said in June 2015 at the groundbreaking. “We hope this place will provide that and be a little bit of heaven.”
An article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in June described the work of St. Francis Inn and the location of the residence – on the site of a former dye factory at Emerald and East Hagert streets that was destroyed in a five-alarm fire in October 2010.
Near St. Francis Villa are three other Franciscan ministries – Marie’s Closet, Thea Womens Center and the Urban Center at 2439 Kensington Ave.
In the spirit of the beloved Franciscan saint, St. Francis Villa allows animals to live in the apartments – pets that meet a weight requirement.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- Archdiocese of Philadelphia Catholic Health Care Services website
- “Franciscan Volunteer Ministry Welcomes New Associate Director” – Aug. 10, 2016, HNP Today
- “Michael Duffy Marks 50 Years as a Friar” – Feb. 10, 2016, HNP Today
- “Giving Thanks for Two Decades of Franciscan Service and Teamwork” by Karen Pushaw – Nov. 24, 2010, HNP Today