This morning I arrived at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia to join up with our seven seniors and two teachers who have been here since Saturday. This annual mission trip is a major tradition at Trinity High School and the teachers look forward to it as much as the students. Mr. Sheehan '79 and Mrs. Trachim P'08 '10, both of our math department, are leading the trip. Mr. Sheehan has been coming here for many, many years and has an amazing rapport with the staff. This is Mrs. Trachim's third trip and my fourth. I've never been here for a full week, I always come down on Wednesday as a compromise with my wife as we have four small children. I flew out of Boston at 6:30am and we were on the ground an hour later. Mr. Sheehan picked me up at the airport and we then did some grocery shopping for the group. We arrived at the inn around 10:30am where the crew was finishing up breakfast and preparations for dinner.
There is a real rhythm to this place. They serve the following meals:
Sundays - lunch
Mondays - dinner
Tuesdays-Thursdays - coffee/donuts in the morning and dinner in the evening
Fridays-Saturdays - lunch
In addition to the inn, the staff runs a thrift shop called St. Benedict's, as well as a women's center and an urban center. Each day begins with Mass at 8:30am followed by work until noon. Two students help out at the thrift shop while others go out on pick-ups to get donations, and the rest prep for the meal of the day, serve coffee, etc. We usually get about an hour break for lunch and then return at 1:15pm to prep dessert, bag bread, and anything else they need help with (for example we helped put mailing labels on a newsletter). There is a bread company in Camden, NJ that donates boxes and boxes of bagels, rolls, etc. and each afternoon the bread is bagged up and left outside for folks to take after they have finished their meal. I love bagging the bread because you can see your "accomplishment" after all is said and down. Dinner is served from 4:30pm-6pm which is followed by clean-up and Evening Prayer. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays they only serve lunch from 11:30am-1pm and the staff then has the rest of the day off.
There is a staff here of Franciscan priests and brothers, two religious sisters, four laywomen, two laymen, and three post-college volunteers. They all divide up the work and there is no real hierarchy or pretense. The director, Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, does the same work as anyone else. Each day someone else is the coordinator for the day and everyone defers to that person, no matter his or her role, title, or seniority. They all live separately (friars have their own place, the sisters live together, the laywomen have their own home, etc) but they come together each day for Mass, work, and Evening Prayer, very much like the early Christians. They remind me of the Psalm, "How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!"
Right now we are all hanging out at our house waiting to go back to help serve dinner. Roles are divided up there too - some serve the meal, others prepare the plates, some bus the tables, others set the tables, some do dishes, and some help with drinks. I have gained a profound respect for waiters and waitress after coming here year after year!
Please do stay tuned, I have lots to share...