I moved into our house on Allegheny Ave. on the 22nd of August and was greeted by the leadership team of sisters who run the program. I had met many of them over my last year of hanging out with the sisters but among that crowd was my new community mate Barbara, our very own California girl, fresh off a red eye flight. We made small talk and got settled into the house before our third community member, Gabi arrived from Puerto Rico. The rest of the night is a blur, lots of getting to know you, lots of introductory conversation, and lots of just wanting to get this whole thing going.
The next morning, I was awoken by our neighbor's roosters at 5:30 AM (I live in Kensington, not the country & there are no hens around, so you draw your own conclusions about what they're doing with them). I have now become accustomed to the early morning crowing but for the first day it was a rude awakening. After getting up and getting ready we all packed our bags for orientation- a week at Chestnut Hill College for reflection and foundation in the program. So after less than 24 hours in our new home we were off to a home away from home, which barely had time to be acknowledged, let alone supplanted, as home. The week that followed was full and fruitful (a phrase I've been using a lot lately). Monday we toured each other's worksites; Tuesday we delved into the spirituality of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, learning about the history of the order, the prayer style of the sisters, taking part in a 'sharing of the heart', and getting a taste for the spirituality that will enrich the year ahead and on which this program is built; Wednesday was a glimpse into the tenet of community, what our individual experiences of community have been, how we operate in community, and our own expectations for life in community with one another; Thursday justice was our focus, including a trip on the 23 us line from the northern reaches of Philadelphia in Chestnut Hill all the way down to Citizens' Bank Ballpark at the river's edge, seeing the mass of humanity in between and traveling through the MANY neighborhoods that compile Philly; On Friday, we explored simple living first hand, sustaining ourselves on a total of $8.50 for three meal for three women throughout the day, finding new places to be filled, spaces that needed emptying, and bearing the triumphs and burdens of living a life of simplicity; finally, Saturday we were commissioned into the SSJ Mission Corps with a Mass at St. Joesph Villa, the community's retirement community in Chestnut Hill. The Mass was wonderful and a good cap to the week, which was full of blessings and challenges (often one in the same), the sisters at the Villa were ecstatic to see & meet us and being with them was a joy, if not a tad bit overwhelming, but who could resist a thousand hugs from old nuns?
By the end of Saturday, the three of us were exhausted. Full and fruitful for sure, but nonetheless tiring. One can only reflect and share with relative strangers for so long before there is a need to simply be in your own space. For that, Saturday night was much welcome. Although we had had a good first week, we all went our separate ways Saturday night, if only to regain the sanity that comes with decompression. Sunday we were met with the task of a house meeting, establishing our calendar for the coming month, setting some order to our community (I get to be the treasurer of the good ship Mission Corps), and laying ground rules for our time (Sundays= spirituality night & Wednesdays= community night). After completing our first grocery shopping trip well under budget, we toured center city (i.e. Independence Hall, Christ Church, Redding Terminal Market, City Hall) by ourselves & got the woman at the visitor center to recommend lots of fun (and cheap) things to do during our time in Philly.
When Monday finally rolled around, I felt like I had been here for two weeks at least. Yet with the sound of my alarm (or the crowing of the roosters, if you're so inclined), I soon realized our orientation was over and our long awaited and anticipated job placements were upon us. For those of you who don't know, I will be working at Visitation Parish and the Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center (CBCC) during the coming year, splitting my time between the two and serving as an outreach coordinator in the parish for the food pantry and St Vincent de Paul Society and as a volunteer coordinator at the CBCC. Believe me, many of the details of my job had been ambiguous leading up to Monday morning, so if it seems to make no sense to you, just imagine how I felt facing this unknown as I rode my bike the mile down Kensington Avenue to the "Viz" that morning.
My first week on the job dispelled some of the anxieties I had that morning and helped to reassure me that this place was in some way the place I was meant to be at this moment. The first half of my week was spent conducting home visits with those requesting assistance from the parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society, seeing the need in person and accessing what material assistance I might be able to give them. This led me into the homes of my neighbors. It allowed me to meet those in need in their own space, to hear their stories, and to, in some small way, offer help and hope. From being asked out of respect to move down the street by a woman selling drugs to support her family to visiting a home infested with rats and with holes in the plaster walls to seeing a five-year old girl feed what little food she had to two cats as her mother explained that they must sleep in the same bed at night, a full mattress on the floor of an apartment empty of furniture, but cluttered with the lives of four adults and five-year old girl.
As the week wore on, I learned my way around the neighborhood, picking up what streets go where and beginning to acquire a little Spanish which will no doubt be an integral part of my ministry. After moving a woman and her two children into a new home in a different neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, I checked in with my supervisor at the CBCC. A new venture for the parish, the CBCC was just taken over from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by Visitation Parish and is still getting its programming set for the fall as the school year fast approaches. Working at the center is certainly exciting. Being present to its beginnings means lots of tasks need to be accomplished and I am playing a part in orchestrating its vast mission. For me, the center is a prospect full of promise and potential that I will have a part in forming, supporting, and bringing into reality. That prospect is invigorating, but identifying and accomplishing the work needed to realize this mission is daunting and is reinvented/ newly imagined each day that I come to work. For now, my focus is to get volunteers into the center and program up of the ground, to foster community and invest in the future of the wonderful, even if troubled, neighborhood that the CBCC is a part of and seeks to serve.
That leaves me at the end of week two. We spent Labor Day weekend down the shore at Cape May with the sisters. Expect pictures to follow as I find beauty in Kensington and entries that will hopeful unpack some of what I've laid out here. I know, I know- lots of exposition and not a lot of analysis- in time, just you wait. For now, what more can I say? It has been full and fruitful.