In this season of thanks and giving, a friar who is part of the team at St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, which serves roughly 350 meals every day of the year, reflects on the satisfaction of knowing that the ministry is providing much more than food. This essay was reprinted with minor edits from the October 2012 issue of The Pilgrim, the newsletter of the Province’s St. Francis Inn Ministries.
A while back, for several successive Sundays, the readings at Mass dwelt on the theme of bread. First Jesus fed the 5,000 with common bread. They followed him around the lake. He looked at them with compassion and said, “I will give you more than bread. I will give you the bread of life.”
It made me wonder… do we here at St. Francis Inn give bread only? Do we give anything more? There was only one way to find out. I grabbed a pen and pad and went outside to talk to our guests.
The first answer came almost immediately. As I was rounding the corner, there sat Lily on a milk crate. She is an older black woman, a regular guest. She was eating a paltry something wrapped in foil, but we hadn’t opened the gate yet. After greeting her, I asked, “What are you eating?” “Tuna sandwich,” she replied. “Where did you get it?” “I brought it from home (a small hovel of an apartment).” The situation fell perfectly in my research project. “If you have food at home, why do you come here?” “My friends,” she said. “I feel safe here and welcome so I come to be with my friends and talk and be part of life.” Aha!
I walked up to Jim, a rather together man whose life has more or less been ruined by the bottle. “Jim, do you come here for any other reason than for the food?” “Sure, he replied, “I come here for exactly what’s happening now.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “The fact that you stopped to speak to me. And, that you respect me enough to ask me a question and sincerely want an answer. No one else ever does that. But here I feel like my old self again. Thank you for stopping to ask my opinion. That is why I come here to St. Francis Inn. I’m treated like a human. I like that.”
I then turned to Margaret, another senior citizen (pictured) who always has a smile and a radiant expression on her face. She prefers to be called Marvella. I asked the same question. “People!” she said. “I love people!” Her face widened with a broad grin and her eyes sparkled. “I have been so blest by God, that I come here to bless others!”
At that moment, Arnetta, a pesky but lovable guest, interrupts, “Well I come here because my parents are both dead and you are my family!” Then Marvella starts to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” Arnetta joins her “let it shine, let it shine…”The two of them get louder and louder as they start dancing around to their own singing. Within seconds, tears start streaming down Arnetta’s face as she continues her song and dance with Marvella until it becomes a miniature revival meeting right in the middle of the yard! They continued singing praising the Lord as I walked into the Inn to begin the meal.
I guess I got my answers!
— Fr. Michael, a native of New Hampshire, has served the people of St. Francis Inn since 1987. Friars interested in submitting reflections about holy days, holidays and other timely topics are asked to contact the HNP Communications Office by phone (646-473-0265 ext. 321) or email.
Editor’s note: An Oct. 31 article in Metropolis titled “A Day in the Life: The St. Francis Inn” describes the services and impact of St. Francis Inn.