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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We Are A Gift to Each Other

Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen marks its second year milestone on March 10.
It is notable for several reasons:
1. The daily lunchtime soup kitchen remains self-sufficient, with an all-volunteer staff, good-hearted donors, and even a few grants.

2. It’s a ministry, driven by the Gospel call to see Christ in others and to meet need where it exists.

3. The need is growing. The working poor, the unemployed, the homeless remain in our midst. As of the end of February, the soup kitchen has served a total of 46,323 meals since opening its doors in March 2008. In the first two months of 2010, volunteers served 4,211 meals to 329 children, 3,591 adults and 283 elderly persons. That’s 813 more meals than the same two months last year – a 19.3 percent increase.

4. The people being served are a blessing. Volunteers find themselves in a privileged place.

Reflecting on the past two years, soup kitchen director Deacon Gil Nadeau says the first word that comes to mind is “generosity.”

"It’s the generosity of our donors and of our volunteers. The Holy Spirit has given all of us who are involved many gifts. We generously give these gifts to our neighbors who are in need. And the gifts bear fruit, such as a greater feeling or sense of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Sometimes I wonder who benefits more from this ministry – our guests or our volunteers and supporters."
“My sense is that we are a gift to each other.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More than a Meal

" 'A Fantastic Thanksgiving' at Mother Marianne's."

That was the headline in The Observer-Dispatch this past Friday (Nov. 27).

A reporter and a photographer visited the soup kitchen, mingling with volunteers and guests, and then visited the Rescue Mission across town.

Soup kitchen director Deacon Gil Nadeau told the reporter they expected to serve 200 meals of hot turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. The scene was festive. Guests were feasting and chatting and sometimes swaying to tunes emanating from Sister Roberta Southwick's keyboard and mic.

One guest summed it up for the reporter:

"Being here makes it a fantastic Thanksgiving. These people here are just wonderful."

At the Rescue Mission, volunteers were serving nearly 300 turkey dinners and delivering another 600 to the home-bound, the Rev. Bill Dodge, executive director, told news media.

It, too, was a festive scene as the lonely, the homeless, the addicted, the jobless and the working poor were treated "like family."

Both Deacon Gil and Rev. Bill agreed on one thing: Thanksgiving is more than a meal.

The best part, Deacon Gil said, "is the camaraderie, having people come in here and enjoying a nice lunch together."

Noted Rev. Bill: "The meal is important, but so is human kindness, personal warmth and fellowship."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Franciscan Connection

While in New Mexico recently, I met a man who prays and then acts. He seems to have a deep prayer life, somewhat contemplative, which opens him up to hearing the promptings of God.

His name is Don Ryder. He's a Secular Franciscan. And he was in Albuquerque to accept the National Franciscan Peace Award from the Secular Franciscan Order.

He has worked in soup kitchens and shelters. He has traveled with church groups to Jamaica to build churches, clinics, and homes for the poor. While in Jamaica, he met a missionary priest from Kenya who suggested a visit to his African homeland.

That led to a trip to Kenya to help build a church and repair homes. While there, he got to visit a Maasai tribal village in the semi-arid Great Rift Valley. Six months after returning home to Wausau, Wisconsin, Don got an email from the Vatican describing a worsening drought in Kenya. He emailed a Kenyan contact, who confirmed the Maasai were particularly hard-hit. Livestock were dying. People were sick and dying. Infant mortality was high. Maasai women had to travel by foot up to 15 miles one way to fetch water from dirty waterholes or contaminated streams. Some were getting raped enroute.

Don prayed. He decided to open the Bible at random. His eyes fell to John's Gospel, where Jesus, hanging on the cross, cries out, "I thirst."

"That impacted me," Don recalled. "It hit me that the Passion continues today with our Maasai sisters and brothers."

But he also thought, "Who am I? What can I do?"

He tried to put it out of his mind. He couldn't. A few days later he opened the Bible again, deliberately avoiding the Gospel of John. This time his fingers fell to a passage in Mathew where Jesus says, "I was thirsty and you gave me drink."

"Bam!" he said.

He recalled thinking, "I'll see what I can do, but it's in your hands, Lord."

He did some research and decided to raise money to drill a well. It would cost over $60,000.

He spoke to his parish priest about it and the parish got involved. He brought it up to Secular Franciscans and his fraternity jumped on board. Romey Wagner, the man who would become his co-leader, stepped forward.

Soon donations started coming. Coins from school children. $2,000 from a young couple. Word spread. Dollars arrived from all over the country.

They completed one well, drilling down 400 feet. It has a tank and pump house powered by a diesel engine. It's now providing clean water for between 4,000 and 5,000 Maasai and 100,000 head of cattle. Just last month they completed a second well, further north. This one is powered by a windmill. They ran pipe to a school with 400 students and are running pipe to a dispensary. Now that it will have running water, Don hopes it will be upgraded to a hospital.

Since the scarcity of water can lead to harm, even war, the Kenyan water project caught the imagination of the Peace Award Committee.

The award came with a $2,000 stipend. It didn't take long for Don to give it away, wiring it to a priest in Kenya who helped with the water project and who, with funds from the Vatican, built a church in the vicinty of the second well. But he ran out of money and couldn't furnish it. Then Don learned the priest and the people decided to dedicate the church to St. Francis of Assisi.

So now there is a St. Francis Church in Kenya's Great Rift Valley that's going to have pews and other furnishings, thanks to Don's Franciscan Peace Award.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Priest. Friar. Friend. Brother.

We didn't get to know Friar Kevin Kenny, OFM Conv., until long after he had spent months in Assisi, home of Saint Francis.

We didn't get to know him until long after he had been a teacher in Pittsburgh, and vocation director at St. Francis Seminary on Staten Island.

We didn't get to know him until long after he had left New York City, where he ministered to the homeless, prostitutes and runaway kids.

We did get to know him after he was appointed director of Bl. Kateri National Shrine and Indian Museum in Fonda, NY, and especially after he was appointed spiritual assistant to the Secular Franciscans of St. Joseph Fraternity at St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church, Utica. And he got to know us. He participated in our monthly gatherings, presided at liturgical services and witnessed our professions. He listened, he shared insight and laughter, he became our brother.

When we Secular Franciscans helped launch Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen, he encouraged us to, like Dorothy Day, accept everyone coming to our door without any preconceptions, and he admonished us to avoid exploiting our guests, even if they gave permission to use a name or photo. He spoke passionately from his own soup kitchen experience in the Big Apple.

We were blessed.

And now he is blessed to be with our Lord, having embraced Sister Death on Oct. 16, 2009 at the age of 69. So, even with heavy heart, we rejoice!


Monday, September 7, 2009

That the Imperfect Do Good...

The people who volunteer at Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen would be the first to say they're far from perfect.

Yet they're compelled to feed the hungry... with compassion and cheer.

Fr. Paul English, CSB, a visiting missionary who preached at St. Joseph-St. Patrick Parish a week ago, spoke about this penchant for doing good. He acknowledged the ministries in the parish, including the soup kitchen, and went on to say:

"When we do good things, God is walking with us." That's in spite of the fact that "we are an imperfect vessel." It's as if God were saying, "I chose you to do good in the world."

Father English, who was a missionary in Mexico, says he came away far more blessed by the experience: He discovered that when different people come together, everyone grows.

"People want to do good, but sometimes don't know how...Our mission is to help them find their own dignity first."

Dorothy Day had a similar notion -- to accept everyone coming to her Catholic Worker soup kitchen without reservation... with no preconceptions. To recognize, instead, the dignity of each person, made in the image of God.

And Father English adds a twist:

"That the imperfect do good, that's the power of God."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wayne's World

Andy LazarekAndy Lazarek was wiping down tables, occasionally chatting withSister Roberta soup kitchen guests Wednesday. Helping out on-and-off for a year, he is unabashed in his praise for the all-volunteer staff.

"These are the most wonderful people in the world here."

Behind Andy, Franciscan Sister Roberta Southwick, SA, was playing old tunes on an organ, serenading guests with ballads like "Heart of My Heart" and occasionally stepping up the tempo with such numbers as "La Cucaracha".

Wayne sat near the music, his duffel bag nearby and white cane at his feet. Between songs he exchanged quips and laughs with Sister Roberta.

"I call that 'Wayne's World'," she said, pointing to the duffel bag.

WayneWayne laughed in agreement. "That is my whole world." The rolling duffel bag not only has wheels, but also skis for winter. It contains a gazebo with tent, coats, clothes and assorted amenities. A practical outfit for a blind homeless guy.

"Did you hear Wayne is back on the streets?" whispered kitchen supervisor Joanne Lockwood, SFO.

"Yeah, I'm sleeping under the bridge again," Wayne confirmed.

He lingered, enjoying the music, even after most guests had left. A man came in and called to him, that it was time to go.

Joanne noted that the man had spoken to his landlord about giving Wayne a place to stay, and they were going over to meet him.

Andy and other volunteers (Mike McMyler, John McCabe and Betty Frank, SFO) were picking up the pace to clean up the room.

And Sister Roberta, back at the keyboard playing "Beer Barrel Polka," simply said:

"You need peppy music to clean the tables by."