When Robert Branconnier and his wife, Agatha, were hired by our founder, Father Louis Canino, in 1986, they expected to work at St. Francis House for a year and then move on to another challenge. “We thought homelessness in Boston would be solved in a matter of months,” says Robert, who recently retired after 27 years of service.
The couple worked as Hospitality Ministers, directing guests to various services in the building: meals, clothing, counseling, medical care, and art therapy. There was one makeshift shower, and the clinic was staffed by one nurse who worked in a small office space on our Mezzanine floor.
The number of guests increased every month and had ballooned since opening day, October 4, 1984 – the feast of St. Francis – when dozens of people had been served. In 1987, Robert accepted the position of Housing Coordinator. Then, like now, affordable housing was scarce and public housing could not meet the growing demand. Robert advised guests in their search, helped them fill out applications, and collected and distributed house- hold items they would need in their new apartments. He even helped guests move.
One of Robert’s fondest memories is of driving back from a guest’s new apartment in the St. Francis House van. When he was on busy Tremont Street, the van’s muffler fell off. “The only person who stopped to help was a guest who was riding by on a bicycle,” Robert says. The guest opened his knapsack, pulled out some tools, and tied up the muffler so Robert could get back safely. “That incident really stayed with me because it illustrates the goodness of our guests,” he says.
That goodness hasn’t changed over time, he says. Neither has the agency’s faithfulness to the plan set forth by founders, who envisioned a place that provides “an opportunity for the poor and homeless of Boston to be welcomed back into the fold of the community” and enables guests to “use the center as a ‘home base.’”