Thursday, December 2, 2010


The wonder of life is all about us. It’s just that sometimes we don’t see it…until someone with a gift of sight brings it into focus for us. A giftedness rooted in the Gospel.

Such giftedness was apparent at two recent award presentations.

One was on Oct. 19 in Utica, New York, where the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL) honored Deacon Gil Nadeau and the volunteers of Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen with its Community Support Award for feeding the poor and homeless.

The other was a week later in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order, during its national gathering, honored Franciscan Friar David Buer, OFM, with the National Peace Award for his work with the homeless and migrants.

Deacon Gil recounted how a simple altar call to help serve the hungry of the neighborhood resulted in volunteers immediately stepping forward. He made the appeal after referring to the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, where the apostles Peter, James and John realized it was time to come down off the mountain and get to work.

“From the time our first volunteer coordinators sat down to plan this ministry, it was 18 days until we opened our doors. Since then we have served some 65,000 meals. This is an especially significant number since we serve only lunches.”

A week later, Brother David told how he was inspired to work among the poor and homeless. A passage in Matthew’s Gospel “shot through me” – the one where Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” And St. Francis of Assisi, the spoiled son of a wealthy merchant, had a life-changing moment when he encountered a leper on the road: Instead of giving him wide berth, Francis embraced the leper. “Who are the lepers of today?” Brother David asked. “Who are the marginalized people?”

Brother David entered the religious order later in life, making his permanent profession in 1996 – a year before he arrived in Las Vegas, where he established Poverello House, a daytime refuge for the homeless. In 2002 he established a second Poverello House in Henderson, NV. He also went on a two-week vigil and fast in Las Vegas, living in a tent on a vacant lot to publicize the need for more shelters. A group of homeless men befriended and protected him during the vigil. “It put me in solidarity with those who have less.” Next he was assigned to Tucson, AZ, where in 2008 he established another Poverello House and where, for the past five summers, he set up Cooling Centers at two churches six days a week (three days at each church). The homeless could escape the oppressive summer heat in an air conditioned center and find food, cold beverages and a place to relax and read.

Through the work of the soup kitchen, along with his hosting meetings of the Mohawk Valley Homeless and Housing Coalition, Deacon Gil’s eyes were opened to another unmet need – homeless youth and young men.

It has taken nearly two years – a little longer than the 18-day launch of the soup kitchen – but Deacon Gil (with his team of fellow deacons, volunteers and staff, and parish, community and diocesan support) is ready to open John Bosco House on Jan. 31, the feast day of St. John Bosco. The shelter will initially house six young men, aged 18 to 21, with around-the-clock supervision. Eventually, he said, the shelter may house up to 18.

Located in the former St. George’s Church rectory, just a few blocks east of the soup kitchen, “the program will provide a safe home-like atmosphere and life-skills training,” he told St. Joseph-St. Patrick parishioners recently at Sunday Mass. “The goal is to make these young men self-supporting and transition them back into society.”

“These young men urgently need help,” he added. “They’re living on the street, or they’re crashing” wherever they can find a place for the night.

In Arizona, Brother David told some 80 regional ministers and observers representing 14,000 Secular Franciscans across the U.S.: “It’s my experience that we can expect God’s blessing when we bring these people -- the poor, the homeless, the migrants -- into our circle of love.”

Deacon Gil put it another way for parishioners: “How will Jesus remember us…if we could help the homeless?”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Divine Hospitality

Sunday’s Gospel message was from Luke, where Jesus attends a banquet. He suggests that guests adopt a humble attitude, rather than jockey for positions of honor, and advises the host that it would be better spiritually to invite guests incapable of repaying his generosity – “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

“Our Lord gives us today a divine way of hospitality,” Fr. Richard Dellos, pastor, told parishioners at Sunday Mass. He also teaches “a humble way of doing things.”

Humility, he said, is the basis of spirituality, and relates to love that is freely given, without thought of repayment.

“That is why our soup kitchen is such a beautiful thing,” Fr. Dellos asserted. It’s about helping the hungry and not expecting anything in return.

Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen has seen a jump in the number of people coming to the soup kitchen this summer, reports Deacon Gil Nadeau, director.

Most of them are kids.

Thus, the need for extra volunteers in the dining room.

Meals served to children average 150 to 200 in a month. But volunteers served 549 meals to kids in June and another 408 meals in July. Total meals for June and July were 2,522 and 2,384, respectively.

A total of 16,133 meals were served year-to-date through July, a 26.15 percent jump over the same period last year – or 3,345 more meals, the deacon reports. And since opening in March 2008, West Side Kitchen has served 58,245 meals.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Volunteer for the Children

“We could use more summer volunteers” at the soup kitchen, Fr. Richard Dellos announced at the weekend masses.

Even before that, West Side Kitchen Director Deacon Gil Nadeau asked the coordinating board “to reach out for more volunteers this summer, especially those who can work the dining room area.”

He elaborated: “The number of kids attending the soup kitchen has significantly increased, and I’m sure will remain high during this summer vacation.”

He also announced the June meal count – 2,522 lunches served (including 549 to children and 140 to the elderly). Year to date for the first six months, the soup kitchen has served 13,749 meals, he said, which is a 30.97 percent jump over the same period last year.

Father Dellos had another statistic:

“We’re seeing 50 children a day in the soup kitchen.”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Awed and Humbled

The directors of two agencies being honored by Secular Franciscans for their work with the poor and marginalized deferred attention from themselves, saying they don’t do God’s work for the recognition.
Even so, they each choked up a little after receiving the Mother Marianne Cope Award during St. Joseph Fraternity’s 150th Anniversary celebration June 6 at the Radisson Hotel-Utica Centre in Utica, NY.
“This is bittersweet,” said Rev. Deacon Gil Nadeau, director of Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, because “we just lost one of our volunteers,” Tony Weber, who died May 28 at the age of 87. Tony had a strong prayer life, spending time in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel every week, he said. Tony came to the soup kitchen Wednesday nights, where “he made thousands of sandwiches.” Tony lived a Franciscan way of life, preaching the Gospel by example, like so many of the volunteers, the deacon said.
“So we dedicate this award to Tony Weber and all the volunteers who never ask for recognition.”
Rev. Bill Dodge, executive director of the Rescue Mission of Utica, said he was “awed and humbled” to be accepting an award from Franciscans that is named after Blessed Mother Marianne.

He mentioned how Mother Marianne went out of her way to provide amenities to her leprosy patients and treated them with dignity.
“It’s hard to think of any type of people who are more marginalized in any society than lepers,” he said. “The thing about marginalized people is that dignity needs to be restored.”
Mother Marianne’s “compassionate work with the lepers of her day is a powerful example of what reaching out and changing lives means to the Rescue Mission of Utica.”
Click here to go to photo gallery. Click below for slide show.

The day began with special recognition for the 150th anniversary during Sunday mass at St. Joseph-St. Patrick’s Church. Fr. Adam Keltos, OFM Conv., the banquet speaker, concelebrated mass with Fr. Richard Dellos, pastor, who praised the Franciscan fraternity’s service and made note of special guests – secular Franciscans from around the state, the Rev. Dodge and his wife, Laura; state Sen. Joe Griffo, and state Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito. At the end of mass, the two legislators presented a joint resolution from the New York State Legislature honoring St. Joseph Fraternity and the Secular Franciscan Order.
At the banquet, proclamations from other elected officials were read, including one from Utica Mayor David Roefaro, and three from U.S. Congressman Michael Arcuri. In one, the congressman commended the fraternity for its heritage of service, and the other two were congressional certificates praising West Side Kitchen and the Rescue Mission for “serving the needy” and “ameliorating hardship in the community.”
In presenting the Mother Marianne Cope Award, Fraternity Minister Katie Koscinski noted that the award’s namesake walked in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi nearly 700 years after his death. Before becoming a Franciscan sister, she grew up in Utica and was active in what today is St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church. “She reached out to the marginalized of her day – the lepers of Hawaii. Today, the recipients of the Mother Marianne Cope Award also reach out to the marginalized of society.”
Just over two years ago, she noted, Deacon Gil and Father Dellos challenged parishioners to “come down off the mountain.” In less than two months, parishioners, secular Franciscans and others had come together and opened West Side Kitchen, serving lunch six days a week to the jobless, the working poor and the homeless – “treating hungry children and adults as blessings” and “serving over 50,000 meals in the first two years.”
The Rescue Mission, she said, serves the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and those struggling with substance abuse. “They strive to change lives and bring new hope to the hopeless. In 2009, their Addictions Crisis Center served 891 individuals. Their Emergency Shelter provided 6,040 nights of care…A total of 122,888 meals were provided three times a day to their residents and to community members.”
Father Adam, the keynote speaker, encouraged secular Franciscans to study and live their Franciscan Rule of life.
“It’s not long,” he said. “It’s just hard…” because “it means living the Gospel.”
“We are united with that energy and spirit of Francis and Clare, to do what? To live the Gospel.”
He encouraged them to wear the Tau cross all the time because one never knows when it could spur the question, “What’s that?”, and spark the awakening of a Franciscan vocation.
Noting the Rule’s generous use of the term, brothers and sisters, he said: “Francis of Assisi said we’re all brothers and sisters, including the animals and the sun and the moon and the stars… and as such, we have to renew and rebuild the church.”
After the banquet, as people lingered and chatted, the Rescue Mission’s Rev. Dodge commented to Fraternity Secretary Marsha Kistner that he really admired the Franciscan Tau cross. She removed hers from around her neck and presented it to him.
“You have no idea what this means to me,” he said.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Celebrating Those in the Trenches

Eight hundred years ago Francis Bernardone, better known as St. Francis of Assisi, heard God’s call to live the Gospel in a radical way. He came to see all of creation in a kind of universal kinship. Francis unwittingly started a movement. Men flocked to him and became his first brothers in a new order of mendicant friars. Clare of Assisi fled to him and started the contemplative Poor Clares. Single and married people sought him out and started the secular Third Order.

They all became known as Franciscans.

Some 150 years ago the Franciscans came to Utica. Friars took over what today is St. Joseph-St. Patrick Parish and almost immediately helped to found the area’s first group of Third Order Seculars – St. Joseph Fraternity.

Today, the Third Order Seculars are the world-wide Secular Franciscan Order, with a growing focus on serving poor and marginalized people.

And the local Secular Franciscans decided to mark their 150 years in Utica by singling out others to honor; namely, Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen and the Rescue Mission of Utica.

“The Fraternity Council voted to establish the Mother Marianne Cope Award to honor those serving the poor and marginalized,” noted Fraternity Minister Katie Koscinski, SFO.

The award, named after the Franciscan sister who grew up in West Utica and went on to serve the lepers of Hawaii’s Molokai, will be presented during a 150th anniversary banquet, which starts at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, June 6, at the Radisson Hotel-Utica Centre.

Founded in 1891 by the First Presbyterian Church of Utica, the Rescue Mission today serves the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and those struggling to recover from alcohol and substance abuse. Established in March 2008 at St. Joseph-St. Patrick Parish, West Side Kitchen provides lunch six days a week to the working poor, the jobless and the homeless.

Said Katie: “What better way to celebrate our century-and-a-half as a Franciscan fraternity than to recognize others who are working in the trenches – exactly where St. Francis, Mother Marianne and Jesus would be.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

50,000 Blessings and Counting

Some might say it’s not easy being a do-gooder.

Whether it’s hard or not, those involved in ministries like soup kitchens have a different attitude. And it opens them up to being surprisingly enriched.

Take for example, the volunteers at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, who this past month broke the 50,000-meal milestone.

“By the end of April, we had served 50,987 meals,” kitchen supervisor and volunteer coordinator Vicki Montalbano noted. “Already this year, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase over last year at this time.”

The increase in noontime meals came as no surprise, she said.

“What did come as a surprise was the over 50,000 blessings that have flowed from the privilege of serving. Volunteers express to me every day the blessings they have received from working with each other and our guests. Our guests express the same. God and the community have been very generous to the kitchen. As we pray daily that the need for our mission to feed the hungry will decrease, we also give prayers of joyful thanksgiving to able to come together as Mother Marianne's family, volunteers and guests alike. After all, ‘all are welcome at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen’. And it shows!”

ACCROSS TOWN there were blessings of another sort this month at The Salvation Army and at the Rescue Mission of Utica.

At the Army's 125th Anniversary celebration May 10, guest speaker Donna Donovan, publisher of The Observer-Dispatch, said she was inspired by the evening's frequent references to living the Gospel and added one of her favorite quotes, oft-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

In 1885, Salvation Army officers arrived to rousing crowds and were pelted with eggs. The 125th anniversary told a different story, with Congressman Michael Arcuri and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente showing up to praise the Army's untiring work, and with Capt. Frank Picciotto, the local officer and pastor, mentioning how at Christmas they visited 1,900 senior citizens in nursing homes, gave food to 585 families, and provided gifts to 1,060 children.

At the Rescue Mission's 16th Annual Alumni Banquet May 17, graduates of the residential treatment program gave witness to the life-changing power of faith.

Pointing to the evening’s theme, “out of darkness into the light,” staffer and emcee Ernie Talerico said that overcoming addictions was just like walking into the light. And God makes it all possible, he told some 150 attendees. The banquet was dedicated to the memory of graduate Patrick Marley and included the presentation of a memorial plaque to his parents and siblings.

“It’s just a wonderful community here,” said Marley’s sister, Diana. “We will always love and appreciate everyone here at the Rescue Mission for what they did for my brother…They rescued Pat.”

Another highlight was the presentation of the Clarence Seaburg Scholarship, named after a former executive director, to a graduate seeking to advance his education. Chaplain Rick Johnson presented this year’s award to Utican Tom Salsbury, who is pursuing a nursing degree at Mohawk Valley Community College while working as an emergency room nurse’s aide.

“I started to volunteer at the hospital while I was here, and I loved it,” Salsbury said.

The evening featured testimonies by other program graduates who consistently pointed to the Mission’s faith-based approach as making a life-changing impact.

“I’d like to begin by thanking the Lord,” said Eric, who came in from Connecticut where he is now an assistant manager at a local business and has reunited with his family. He spent five months at the Mission after being released from prison. At first, “I didn’t want to be here,” he recalled. But then he discovered that God wasn’t done with him. “He has exciting things in store for each and every one of us.”

It has been three years since he was in the residential treatment program, said another graduate, Dale. And while there, he decided to bake a birthday cake for his niece. That led to being asked to bake a cake for a staffer’s birthday, and people started saying, “you have a real talent.”

Working through the Mission’s Learning Center, he was able to apply to the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated with an associate’s degree there last September and is now pursuing his bachelor’s in culinary arts.

“I owe it all to the glory of God…and you guys here at the Rescue Mission…”

Another graduate, Renard, said simply: “I was a broken soul. What the Rescue Mission did was to encompass the soul of the man.” Now a licensed practical nurse, he noted: “The Rescue Mission taught me to overcome my problems rather than have problems overcome me.”

A fourth graduate drew rousing applause when he said: “Tonight, I have been about five and a half years clean off drugs and alcohol.” And he is working toward getting his CASAC license to become a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor.

The last impromptu testimony came not from a graduate, but from the Rev. Barrett Lee, who, fresh out of the seminary, spent two years as a counselor and care provider at the Mission’s Addictions Crisis Center. He thanked the staff for giving him an education he could never have gotten in school.

“They take it out of the text book and put it into reality. That’s what these guys do.”

That experience was enriching. A blessing. Because it led him to become a “street pastor” and start St. James Mission, a ministry to street people and the poor in Utica. He's a kindred soul to the soup kitchen volunteers serving the working poor, the jobless and and the homeless of West Utica.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Was Homeless

A line of people quickly queued up at the serving station, glad to be out of the unspring-like 45 degree weather. Three moms with bundled-up infants and a toddler in strollers shivered off the chill.
“Good morning! How are you today?” beamed volunteer Katie Koscinski, SFO, as she placed turkey or bologna sandwich, orange slices and a muffin on a tray. Next to her, volunteer Anna Pereira was ladling soup and greeting the hungry with a big smile and friendly words.
Most of the hungry people responded in similar fashion. Many were extremely polite. A friendly, peaceful place, even with the songs emanating from Sr. Roberta Southwick’s organ and microphone in the dining hall.
As Anna and Katie served 90 meals Wednesday, two other regular volunteers, John McCabe and Ronald Macior, were helping parents with their children’s trays, cleaning tables and flitting back to the kitchen with dirty trays and to check on what needed to be done.
“The Good Lord” brought him to the soup kitchen, Ron noted. He volunteers every day, and looks forward to coming in when he gets up in the morning.
“A year and a half ago I was homeless. I’ve been to rock bottom. The same as some of the people we’re serving here.”
He had found himself unemployed after spending 12 years in restaurant and kitchen work. He’s looking forward to returning to the restaurant scene, but in the meantime he has a friendly word to say to practically everyone coming to the soup kitchen.
Back in the kitchen, Codey Kistner was spending his first day as a volunteer, scrubbing and sanitizing trays and other kitchen equipment.
Encouraged by his father who wanted him to get involved in parish life, Codey said he planned to come in as often as he could. “I love it. It’s fun. And the people are nice.”

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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.”