St. Francis of Assisi. Photo by Shutterstock.com
As Phil McCarter separated cupcakes and donuts into individual dessert portions in preparation for a recent evening meal at Mother of Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room, he reflected on the joy that accompanies serving others.
“Whether I’m wiping tables or serving coffee, I love it,” he said. “When I was in postulancy at St. Francis Inn (in Philadelphia), I really discovered the joy and beauty of doing simple tasks and being among the people.”
Phil and John Neuffer, OFM (HN), are spending the next two months working at St. Francis Seraph Ministries (SFSM) for their summer ministry assignments. This is an invaluable part of formation to Franciscan life and ministry for the temporary professed friars.
When Phil arrives at 2 p.m. each weekday afternoon, he makes coffee, does pre-dinner prep, sets up the hot line and ensures everything is ready for the compassionate volunteers who come to serve a hearty evening meal to anyone in need. Once dinner starts, Phil typically joins them on the line or helps as needed in the dining room.
Several weeks into his ministry, Phil has come to know some of the regular guests and he looks forward to developing relationships with them as the summer goes on. “I think they can tell how excited I am to see them, and you can tell when someone is smiling through their mask,” he said. “They love to make jokes with me and tell me about their day.”
Phil spent most of the past year serving along the Arizona-Mexico border as part of the Brothers Walking Together program. That experience, along with his current ministry, “has deepened the spirituality I’ve tapped into during formation of doing humble Franciscan work and finding fulfillment in that. I just want to do direct service work wherever I am, being close to the people of God and getting my hands dirty, “ he said. “Doing simple tasks for others really lifts my spirit. This started in postulancy, continued at the border, and now I’m grateful to come back home and try it in the inner-city. Finding that same joy here is very fulfilling and affirming.”
John has been working the dinner shift at the dining room, shadowing David Crank, client services coordinator. The guests receive a warm welcome from the friars as they check in for the evening meal. “Bless you. Enjoy dinner,” John says to each person.
Before joining the Franciscans in 2017, John worked as a systems analyst and product manager at Fidelity Investments in Durham, N.C. Currently studying for a degree in social work, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to develop a familiarity with the guests and has been joining them in the dining room while they eat to listen and learn.
“I sit with one or two people at dinner to check in with them as I build up my courage and confidence to strike up a spontaneous conversation with someone living in poverty or who may have an addiction,” he explained. “Most people have been very friendly, while others are more reserved. It’s hard to build relationships during my short time here, but I can make people feel welcome, listen and meet them where they are.”
“It’s been such a treat to have John here with me,” David said, “Both he and Phil are naturals in their compassionate approach to people.”
“We’re preparing the table for the Lord here,” he added. “Who is the Lord? Our guests.”
John expressed his appreciation for the inter-provincial aspect of his summer assignment, saying, “It’s helpful for me to work alongside other friars, like Phil and David. What I’ve found is that friars across the country share so many similarities. As Franciscans, we all definitely have compassion for people who are struggling, those who are on the margins. I’ve also found that the social work values that I’ve learned really cross over to Franciscan values.”
Both Phil and John are grateful for the experience of hospitality and fraternity at St. Clement Friary, where they are living this summer. “I came from living with just two other friars in a small house, so being in a big friary with so many of my brothers, sharing meals and having communal prayer, has been great,” Phil said.
“The guys are amazing,” added John. “I enjoy hearing their stories and being part of their great prayer life and community.”
More Summer service
SJB’s temporary professed friars are keeping busy this summer in a variety of ways.
Matthew Ryan is living and working at St. Clement Parish, assisting E.J. Stein, pastor.
Raphael Ozoude and Joshua Richter have completed the first year of the Franciscan Journey Institute (FJI) at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. Joshua has returned to Chicago to minister locally and Raphael is ministering at Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Mich., and living at St. Benedict the Black Friary.
Raphael described their experience at FJI, saying, “It’s designed to help us learn Franciscan philosophy and apply it in our daily lives. It is intended to help us imbibe Franciscan philosophy in such a way that it transforms our worldview.”
“One of the lessons we learned is that all of creation reveals something about God, just like a work of art reveals not only the intelligence and creativity, but often the personality of the artist,” he explained. “Creation can, therefore, lead us along the journey towards union with and contemplation of God. Our own life experiences can also serve as a ladder towards union with God.”
“Another lesson we learned is the theme of haeceitas (thisness),” Raphael added. “This was developed by John Duns Scotus. He believed that God does not simply create a family of creatures. Rather, God intentionally creates each creature. Every single creature matters to God. Every single creature can reveal something about God.”
Brian Menezes is continuing his ministry at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and preparing for studies at Catholic Theological Union in the fall. “I am looking to continue to grow in my relationship with God by attaining a degree in theology and using it to work with my brothers and sisters of different religious backgrounds,” he said. “The other goal I have in mind is to work for justice and peace around the globe through Franciscans International.