Each summer for the past 8 or 9 years we have brought students to Saint Francis Inn in Philadelphia. Saint Francis Inn is a soup kitchen in the Kensington section (i.e. where "Rocky" takes place) of the city and is run by the Franciscans. This year 9 students will be heading down from August 11-17 along with Mr. Sheehan '79 and Mrs. Trachim, both of our math department. I may be going as well.
I thought it might be nice for the students to get together before our trip and to learn a little bit about Saint Francis and the Franciscans. I remembered that there is a replica of the Portiuncula in Hanover, MA and we decided to take them there. The Portiuncula is a chapel in Assisi that was restored by Saint Francis and is considered one of the holiest sites for Franciscans. A basilica was built over the Portiuncula and people flock to it every year. Saint Francis is buried in the basilica.
The replica (one of 4 in the United States) is on the campus of the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, a school for special needs students founded by Cardinal Richard Cushing. Cardinal Cushing, who was archbishop of Boston from 1944-1970, loved Saint Francis and asked that a replica of the Portiuncula be built on the campus of the school. Each piece of the chapel is from Assisi and it is pretty much an exact replica. Cardinal Cushing is buried in the chapel at his request so he could forever be with the children.
We all traveled down there this past Monday. Mrs. Trachim could not be with us unfortunately but we were accompanied by Father John Bucchino, OFM of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Manchester. Father John is a Franciscan and graciously agreed to come with us to say Mass in the chapel and to talk to the kids about Saint Francis. We arrived around 10:45am and were immediately struck by the beauty and peacefulness of the campus. There are over 100 students at the school, both children and young adults. We went to the chapel and Father John celebrated Mass. Following Mass we went to the dining hall for lunch. The students serve the food and, I assume, help prepare it so they can learn some work. Everyone was so kind and welcoming and many students stopped to say hello. It struck me that this was a perfect introduction to Saint Francis Inn. The students will be serving food amongst people who are challenged and here they were now in a similar setting amongst people with challenges, albeit different ones. I never considered the school and the students helping our kids understand the work they will be doing, it was a wonderful grace.
Following lunch we gave the kids some time to walk around and Mr. Sheehan and I sat in a beautiful garden with a statue of Saint Francis. Father John wanted to walk around alone to take it all in. We then returned to the chapel around 12:30pm and Father John spoke more about Saint Francis and tied it all in with the idea of service and seeing the dignity in every human being. After some pictures we all headed out but not before stopping for ice cream!
It was a wonderful mini-pilgrimage. I was just expecting to focus on the chapel but it became so much more than that. The kids had a chance to bond as a group, they had a chance to see people who are challenged but beautiful, and they were able to pray in a special place. The weather was amazing to boot!
Thank you Saint Francis, please pray for us.