Lynnette Murphy was in a rough spot in her life, financially and emotionally. She had young children and her hours at work were cut.
During that crisis and a later one when one of her sons died at age 19, she could have given up, but she rallied after meeting the Franciscan friars at the Franciscan Connection and others at the St. Anthony Parish Food Pantry in St. Louis. They cared about her, listened to her and helped her through her struggles. She recovered, and today is on a path of helping others at those same ministries.
It’s therapy for her, giving her joy. “I’m able to help my neighbors who are going through a hardship,” Murphy said with enthusiasm. “I let people know things will get better.”
She recalls what the help meant to her: “They’ve helped over and beyond” with physical, emotional and spiritual needs, she said. “They were there for me. They’re a blessing.”
Two Franciscan priests, Father Bob Sieg and Father Paul Gallagher, oversee Franciscan Connection and also volunteer at the St. Anthony Food Pantry operated by its Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference.
The number of calls Franciscan Connection receives each month more than doubled following a recent resumption of utility disconnections. “People just didn’t keep up during the summer,” Father Sieg said. “So many sad stories. You call and they can’t find the telephone because it’s dark. And it’s getting cooler and they have no heat.”
Franciscan Connection has a good relationship with the electric and gas utilities, which try to work with residents, Father Sieg said, but “they have their responsibilities, too.”
About half of the calls are from people who had jobs before the COVID-19 pandemic and either haven’t returned to work, are only working part time or did return but are having a tough time paying bills that had mounted.
Besides financial support, the ministry focuses on consultation with clients and spirituality. “We ask everyone who calls what needs they have to be prayed for,” Father Sieg said. “Sometimes we pray together on the phone. There’s always that dimension, praying with you or for you.”
Listening to their stories, and trying to find other means to help them is important, too. “Some people are facing eviction. There’s a lot of people calling for food. All kinds of things,” the Franciscan priest said.
It’s “a ministry of listening” at times, Father Sieg said. “So many people live alone. A lot of women with children. We just try to be there with them.”
A new aspect is having its two volunteers call to check up on people about a month after they’ve been helped. “Good listeners. Give them some hope, let them know some people care about them,” Father Sieg observed.
Betty Reinsch, a St. Anthony parishioner, began volunteering more than a year ago. She described the efforts as keeping in touch with the community. “Reaching out and keeping in touch with people is a gift. The phone ministry is an unexpected thing, a gift especially for lonely people,” Reinsch said.
Sherry Stevenson, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Oakville, began volunteering several years ago after she retired from teaching. The priests are attempting to build up a community, Stevenson said, helping where they can. The utility assistance is a big need, and anything people can do to help Franciscan Connection is appreciated, she added.
Franciscan Connection was on Cherokee Street near St. Anthony Church in St. Louis for 30 years until September when it moved to a new location at 5201 Virginia St.
The new site south of the parish in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood is in an area that has fewer social services available, and demographics show it has more low-income residents, Father Sieg said. The only difference is that they now serve another zip code, adding 63116 to 63118 and 63111.
>> Franciscan Connection
WHAT: Franciscan Connection expresses the compassionate presence of God to people who are disadvantaged in south St. Louis. It offers financial, spiritual and emotional assistance to people who live in the service area. Franciscan Connection builds bridges among the people it helps, service providers, benefactors and the Franciscan Friars of the Province of the Sacred Heart.
THE NEED: In October 2019, the ministry helped 69 families with utility bills; this year it rose to 191. Also increased from a year ago were referrals from rent assistance, 52 to 180, and calls from outside the ministry’s service area, 50 to 95.
DONATE: To assist the ministry, call (314) 773-8485, send a contribution to Franciscan Connection, PO Box 18637, St. Louis, MO 63111 or visit franciscanconnection.org.