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."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Simple Necklace a Telling Sign for Teens

Three teenagers spent some time making sandwiches at the soup kitchen Wednesday morning, and then made up a batch of granola to use as a yogurt topping. Peter Woolschlager, SFO, the father of two of the teens, was also helping out.

Ever since he heard about Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen at a regional Secular Franciscan meeting, Peter said, he has been thinking about stopping in to volunteer for a day, and bring some people with him. Peter lives in Croghan, well over an hour's drive north, and he brought along daughters Lillia, 13, and Adriana, 15, and their school friend, Nicole Hall, 16.

"We made salami and bologna sandwiches," quipped Lillia. "It was great."

"Poor people need to eat," said Adriana.

Added Nicole: "I just like being able to come and help people. There's not many soup kitchens up in our area."

"It's really rural," explained Peter, who is a teacher and a Secular Franciscan who heads St. Stephen's Fraternity in Croghan.

"We had a good day," he added, noting that after volunteering, they got a guided tour of St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church, Bl. Mother Marianne Chapel, Bl. Mother Marianne Shrine, and the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.

This was not the first time that Adriana and Nicole traveled some distance to volunteer at a soup kitchen. In fact, each was proudly wearing a simple necklace of a small wooden Franciscan Tau cross on a brown cord -- gifts they received after working at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, where Franciscan friars and volunteers feed 350 people a day and provide an isle of peace in a neighborhood of violence and addiction.

BELOW: Peter, Lillia, Andriana and Nicole with soup kitchen supervisor Joanne Lockwood, SFO.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'It Helped Me Grow Spiritually'

Volunteers at Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen often see themselves as on a spiritual journey. Take the children at St. Mary's in Clinton, who describe their coming to the soup kitchen as putting faith into action. Or the Secular Franciscans who see volunteering as part of their commitment to live the Gospel.

And there's Melissa McCann, a young college-age woman who has been showing up nearly every Wednesday since September, and who describes her experience as both fun and as a "great way to look outside of myself and see other needs in the community."

Next Wesdnesday will be her last day at the soup kitchen, as she will head to Nashville that weekend to enter the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.

After visiting the Dominican Sisters three times over the past few months, and participating in a May vocations retreat there, Melissa formally applied to enter the order.

"I was notified of my acceptance last week," she beamed. Noting that she also had visited other orders, she said: "This is the only one I really wanted to go back to. I just knew it was the right one, where I could be myself."

She will begin a year of postulancy -- a year of living-the-life discernment -- while at the same time enrolling as a full-time student at Aquinas College, which the Dominicans own. After postulancy is a year of canonical novitiate. She would then make temporary vows for three years, and again for another two years, before making her permanent commitment. And during that time she would be working toward a teaching degree.

"We're going to miss her," said daytime supervisor Joanne Lockwood, SFO. "You couldn't give her a job that she wouldn't give herself totally to."

Noted Melissa: "I knew I wanted to enter the religious life when I started volunteering here at the soup kitchen. But it helped me grow spiritually."

PHOTO: Joanne Lockwood, SFO, with Melissa McCann

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Franciscan Journey

Joanne Lockwood and Rick Roberts were already on a journey when they stepped up to become part of the organizing committee that launched Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen in March 2008.

Serving lunch Monday through Saturday to the homeless, the jobless and the working poor, and last month reaching a milestone of over 25,000 meals, the soup kitchen is a reflection of their journey -- a journey to live the Gospel life as Franciscans.

After two years of formation that included study, spiritual reflection, prayer and challenging dialogue, Joanne and Rick made their permanent profession into the Secular Franciscan Order on Sunday, June 21, during a 2 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church.

Franciscans from the parish's St. Joseph Fraternity were there, along with family and friends, soup kitchen volunteers and even a few soup kitchen clients. Fr. Richard Dellos, pastor, and Fr. Kevin Kenny, OFM Conv., a Franciscan friar who directs the Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha National Shrine in Fonda, celebrated the Mass. Father Kevin presided at the rite of profession, along with Fraternity Minister Katie Koscinski, SFO, and Formation Director Mary Stronach, SFO.

"Do you wish to embrace the gospel way of life by following the example and words of St. Francis of Assisi, which are at the heart of the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order?" Father Kevin asked.

"Yes, this is what I want," each said.

After a few more questions, each of them made the profession, declaring:

"I, (Joanne/Rick), by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom. Therefore, in my secular state, I promise to live all the days of my life the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order by observing its rule of life. May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community always be my help, so that I may reach the goal of perfect Christian love."

"I confirm your commitment in the name of the church," Father Kevin declared.

Joanne and her husband, Richard, have three sons. As a volunteer, she is the soup kitchen's daytime supervisor. She is an avid crocheter and motorcycle enthusiast. She has been primarily a homemaker and, for two years, she worked in the kitchen at Poland Central School. Joanne is a parishioner at St. Joseph-St. Patrick. Prior to joining the parish, she was a catechist with St. Leo's Church in Holland Patent. She grew up in East Utica and is a graduate of Proctor High School.

Rick and his wife, Rose, have two sons and a daughter. He is a special education math teacher at JFK Middle School in Utica. A graduate of SUNYIT, he went on to earn his master's in special education from SUNY New Paltz. He grew up in Utica and graduated from JFK when it was still a high school. In his spare time, Rick enjoys gardening and landscaping. An adult convert to Catholicism, he is a parishioner at St. Joseph-St. Patrick.

After their profession, Fraternity Minister Koscinski and Formation Director Stronach exhorted:

"By your lifelong profession to go from Gospel to life and life to Gospel, may you continually encounter the living and active person of Christ."

"May you conform your thoughts and deeds to those of Christ and build a more fraternal and evangelical world by fulfilling your vocation as a 'brother and sister of penance'."

Now Joanne and Rick can append the "SFO" designation after their names, signifying that they are professed members of the Secular Franciscan Order -- a canonically established order recognized by the Vatican as part of the Franciscan family.

SFO Profession: Joanne & Rick

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

He Had to Retire to Work at the Soup Kitchen

Working 60 hours a week, including evenings and weekends, left little time to try things he wanted to do.

So Psychologist John McCabe retired a month ago -- after 32 years as a state employee.

And for the past three weeks, he has spent his Tuesdays and Wednesdays volunteering at the soup kitchen.

"I wanted to do more," he said Wednesday, before sinking his arms into a sink full of soapy pots and pans. He had heard about West Side Kitchen a year ago in church when Deacon Gil Nadeau made a pitch for volunteers.

John was laughing and chatting with other kitchen volunteers (Joanne Lockwood, Mary Schmitt, Pat Haguit and Connie Mulhill). The group took a break to pray together -- to prepare themselves to serve their hungry guests. Two other volunteers -- Mary Stronach and Bill McMyler -- arrived in time to join them. They read a poem, "Strange Prints in the Sand," where God tells of holding someone in his arms, only to drop him on his butt. For there comes a time,

"when one must rise and take a stand
Or leave their butt prints in the sand."

That prompted them to discuss how tough times often spur people to turn to God. After a few minutes, they ended the discussion and returned to their stations.

The doors were opened, and a line of people poured in. The first in line was a blind man with a white cane speedily making his way along the familiar corridor.

"Wayne!" the kitchen staff cheered in unison. He was the first of 74 guests Wednesday, which included three moms pushing infants and a toddler in strollers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

People Are Good to Us

The Utica Common Council honored the volunteers of Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen this week with a proclamation and a good citizenship award.

Betty Frank, SFO, accepted on behalf of Father Richard Dellos, pastor of St. Joseph-St. Patrick parish; Deacon Gilbert Nadeau, soup kitchen director, and all the volunteers.

Council member James Zecca read the proclamation "praising Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen and volunteers on the occasion of their first anniversary," and then displayed the "West Utica Good Citizenship Award" presented to volunteers "in recognition of their community service to helping others in need."

The proclamation:

-- noted that the soup kitchen was named after Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, the parish daughter who went on to devote the last 30 years of her life as a Franciscan missionary to the lepers of Hawaii's Molokai.

-- cited the "150 kitchen volunteers" who "have served nearly 20,000 lunches and logged over 10,000 volunteer hours serving the poor and homeless in our community."

-- extended the Common Council's "gratitude, appreciation and sincere thanks for the outstanding work, dedication and positive service to our community."

-- honored "the unified efforts of all who have supported and contributed" to the soup kitchen's "success."

The presentation, originally scheduled two weeks earlier, was postponed when a resident attending the council meeting suffered a fatal heart attack and the meeting abruptly ended. In accepting the proclamation and award, Frank invited city officials to visit the soup kitchen any weekday between 11:30 and 12:30, and said the volunteers were grateful to the community for all the support the operation has received.

Frank, a professed Secular Franciscan who helped organize the Mother Marianne Prayer Group and Shrine at the parish, added:

"People are good to us."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You Can Show Up Tired, and in 5 Minutes, You're Not Tired Anymore

It was time for soup kitchen volunteers to celebrate.

Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen reached its first anniversary March 10. Volunteers had cooked, prepared and served more than 20,000 noontime meals. And given up 10,000 hours.

But the talk at an anniversary Mass and reception was about the gift of serving.

"By the grace of God, after one year, we know it is a privilege to be able to serve people in our community...especially those who are hungry or in need," Fr. Richard Dellos, pastor, said in his homily.

While enjoying refreshments and cake, a number of the 35 volunteers who attended -- out of over 100 -- turned their thoughts to the people they serve, and to an unexpected joy of working together.

"One of the wonderful things is when the people come in, they thank us for the food, and when we smile, they thank us for smiling," said Ana Pereira.

Added Diane Hnat: "I can't tell you how nice the people are. If you say, 'God bless you,' they say 'God bless you' back."

Joanne Lockwood mentioned the camaraderie.

"We have a good time in the kitchen," she said.

"We do!" said Diane.

"If somebody's having a bad day, we help lift each other up," added Ana.

"Thank you for your efforts," Deacon Gil Nadeau, director, told the volunteers. "I say that on behalf of the people who sit in the dining room and eat with a smile on their faces."

Referring to the 10,000 volunteer hours, he said: "You can't put a price tag on that...Everything is totally volunteer. That's why it works, why we're self-sufficient."

Bob Oderkirk, who with wife Donna coordinates the Wednesday evening food production, mentioned how blessed they were with the 20-plus volunteers who turn out every time they get together.
Each of the past two production nights, the crews prepared over 1,000 sandwiches and over 20 gallons of soup.

"We're able to keep the freezers stocked...and it doesn't seem like work."

They start the evening with prayer, with helps set the tone, he said, and suddenly, the fun starts.

"You can show up tired, and in five minutes, you're not tired anymore."