Meet Board Member Father Thomas Conway, OFM.
Years on Board: 3
I was in my mid-twenties when I began to discern a religious vocation. As part of that process, one of the Franciscans suggested that I go to Philadelphia to go to work for a week in the Franciscan soup kitchen there. I had been working as an auditor for the State of New York. Needless to say, my co-workers thought that this was a very odd way for a person to spend a summer vacation! During that week, I was mesmerized by the ease with which the Franciscan men and women lived and worked with the poorest and most desperate people of Philadelphia. There was not only fearlessness, there was a sense of joy and fun about whole enterprise. I learned a lot that week and I continue to learn.
My preconceived notions about the homeless have vanished.
They are individual people, all with different histories and circumstances. I learned that teamwork among “the haves” can sometimes help to make life considerably better for the “have nots.” I learned that building up trust with people is a slow process, but once that happens, previously unimaginable things are suddenly possible.
Currently I work as the Executive Director of St. Anthony Shrine. As part of that job, I sometimes sit at the front desk and greet people as they enter. Sadly enough, it is not that unusual for someone who is recently homeless to come into the Shrine and ask for help.
I see part of my job as teaching people as to the various resources that are available to the homeless downtown.
St. Francis House is always first on the list because of the wide variety of services available. I also know that the person will be treated with kindness and respect at St. Francis House.
If the person is truly new to homelessness, there is a hesitancy to accept this kind of help. They will say something like “I’m not that kind of person” or “What are my other options?”
These kinds of interactions always stop me in my tracks.
Being homeless is truly a highly uncomfortable and brand new identity for these people.
Their presence at the Shrine (and their temporary avoidance of St. Francis House) is a symbol of their discomfort with this new task on their plate: acknowledging in a very public way that they need help. There is absolutely a very spiritual dimension of homelessness that most of us never experience in the same way.
Dependence on God and on one another is an experience that presents itself in various forms throughout life. We see it through the lens of poverty, addiction recovery, in our childhood years and at the end of life. In order to enrich our spiritual life, we should cultivate our awareness of our dependence on one another even in good times. Interconnectedness is ultimately about love of neighbor.
Working with the poor is an experience which educates us, helps us to appreciate what we have, and enriches our spiritual life.
I am happy to work on the Board of Directors at St. Francis House. St. Francis House and its many benefactors and volunteers carry out that mission beautifully. You are most welcome to join us in this project.
-Father Thomas Conway, OFM