In Ages Past
"Really Franciscan": St. Francis of Assisi Church
St. Francis of Assisi Church became a pioneer in urban ministry. It introduced the notion of the "service church," with its ministry to workers, shoppers and commuters. During the 1920's, Father Anselm Kennedy, O.F.M., instituted the practice of hearing confessions throughout the day. This practice still continues, and is one of the parish's most significant ministries. During the 1930's, regular visitors to the confessional included Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.
In September 1930, at the start of the Great Depression, Brother Gabriel Mehler, O.F.M., began the St. Francis Breadline to feed the urban poor. Eighty years later, it's the oldest continually-running breadline in the country, daily feeding nearly three hundred people. Father Michael Carnevale, O.F.M., the breadline's current director, says of this ministry: "It is our responsibility as Franciscans to respond to God's poor and needy."
In 1959, the New York Times referred to St. Francis as "one of the world's busiest Roman Catholic churches." This is truer than ever. Although the parish school closed years ago, adult education courses attract people citywide. Nine daily Masses are well attended, and the confessional always has a line. There are numerous support groups, and successful ministries to Asian Catholics.
The Franciscan motto is Pax et Bonum, "peace and good." Over eight hundred years ago, Francesco di Bernardone walked the streets of Assisi singing God's praises and performing works of mercy. Today his friars provide a spiritual haven in a city where life and work can be overwhelming. In a place where it's very easy to get caught up in the craziness, they offer New Yorkers God's peace and perform numerous works of good.
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.