He was the first person to greet guests at the door, the caretaker of St. Francis House’s most vulnerable, the bearer of home-grown vegetables and the feeder of the tropical sh in the lobby.
Security staff member, Mariano de Jesus, the organization’s longest serving employee, has retired.
Known by his nickname Mario, the former national guardsman was recruited to St. Francis House while working as a security guard at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). A Boston police officer assigned to the DTA and St. Francis House thought he’d be a good match, and without telling Mario, submitted an application on his behalf. That officer’s hunch turned into a 21-year career at St. Francis House, where Mario prided himself in his ability to contain difficult situations through diplomacy, not intimidation. Over the years, in addition to his security work, Mario also helped out in the kitchen and as a driver.
At 66, Mario still has the athletic build of the boxer and baseball player he once was. He grew up in Puerto Rico on a farm, one of 14 children, and has always been drawn to the elderly. “I like their stories about how life was,” explains Mario. At St. Francis House, he took tender care of the older guests, who are among the most vulnerable on the streets and in shelters. He re- members several fondly—the ill-kempt World War II veteran whose beard and nails he would cut when he could no longer do it himself; the elderly Peruvian regular whose absence would prompt Mario to check up on him at his apartment with a meal in hand; the 92-year-old Chinese woman who was sharp as a tack right up to the end.
“Mario had a way of connecting with people, engaging them in very normalized conversations about something interesting, whether it was baseball or gardening,” says Doug DiMartile, manager of guest services. “He had such happy presence, took good care of himself, had interests and hobbies, placed a strong value on family and modeled all of this for our guests in such a subtle way. I don’t even think he would recognize that this is what he did.”
How does it feel to be retired after working since the age of 14? “Wow,” says Mario with a smile. “But I will miss the people of St. Francis House.” He plans to spend his time with his family, gardening, fishing and perhaps starting a cottage business selling his much sought-after sofrito—an aromatic sauce used as a base for many traditional Latino dishes.