By: Father John Coughlin, OFM // MDS Musings Blog
For a week in early February, I had the privilege to accompany a group of nine students and two adults from Mount de Sales Academy on a service trip to a Franciscan soup kitchen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was blessed to serve alongside Martha Barrett, who teaches 8th grade, Josh Nowell, our chef from the MDS cafeteria, and MDS students.
We arrived the day before Super Bowl Sunday, and had the fun experience of being in the city of the team that won the NFL Championship. The City of Brotherly Love became a city of celebration during the rest of our time there. Even in the poor and hurting neighborhood of Kensington, the spirits of so many people were lifted up.
As a new chaplain at MDS, the trip was a special opportunity for me to get to know some students and staff by spending quality time with them serving the poor. St. Francis Inn is the soup kitchen that feeds a few hundred people a day, seven days a week. It was deeply gratifying for me to witness each member of the group working hard, with purpose and enthusiasm. Members of our group carried out such tasks as picking up donated food from local supermarkets and bakeries, preparing and serving food to the guests at the soup kitchen, cleaning up the facilities, and getting donated clothes into the hands of the poor through a thrift store owned by the Inn.
Although I was proud to see how effectively our MDS students carried out the tasks they were given, what was most heart-warming for me was how they interacted with the guests at St. Francis Inn. They engaged the people they were serving. They provided a listening ear, kind words, and a welcoming presence to people who are not used to receiving attention. They also allowed the guests to teach and share their wisdom with them.
At the end of our stay, as we prepared to depart the Kensington neighborhood, there were more than a few guests who expressed their appreciation for what our young people did as well as sorrow to see them leave. For a week in the City of Brotherly Love, a group from Macon, Georgia was blessed to be a part of a mission that is nothing less than love in action.