St. John's Hospice offers lunch and dinner to about 35-400 homeless men each day at its location at 1221 Race Street, Philadelphia. (Matthew Gambino)

St. John’s Hospice offers lunch and dinner to about 350-400 homeless men each day at its location at 1221 Race Street, Philadelphia. (Matthew Gambino)

On a typical day St. John’s Hospice, the venerable Catholic Social Services’ outreach ministry for homeless men in center city Philadelphia, feeds 350-400 men. Most of that food isn’t prepared on site. It’s usually casseroles prepared by volunteers in parishes throughout the archdiocese, which means they have to be picked up and brought to the Race Street shelter.

Thanks to a Maguire Foundation grant, St. John’s was able to replace its tired old truck with a brand new one, which was officially blessed at a Feb. 29 ceremony attended by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, members of the Maguire family, CSS officials and staff and volunteers at St. John’s.

(See scenes from a photo gallery of the dedication, here.)

“This truck represents so much of what we do at St. John’s,” said David Stier, the program director at St. John’s. “Everybody has to eat, and the truck connects us to our supporters here and in the suburbs.”

The actual grant was a challenge grant of $150,000 from the Maguire Foundation that was matched by the archdiocese to fulfill pressing needs at St. John’s. Those include, among others, the new truck and the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“It’s an honor that the Maguire Foundation believes in our mission, and it says something about the Maguire family, they are good people,” Stier said.

Now that the new refrigerated truck is in operation, Mike D’Ambrosio, who has been driving for the shelter for about eight years, can use it for his rounds to roughly 47 parishes, mostly in the suburbs, including the far reaches of Chester County. The old truck had 16 years and 223,000 miles on it, he estimated.

“It’s a privilege to do this,” D’Ambrosio said.  “A lot of planning goes into this. It takes some people to go to the store, spend their money, make the casseroles and deliver them to their parishes.”

In fact several of those volunteer casserole makers were at the ceremony including Mary Durkin of Sacred Heart Parish, Manoa, who has been making casseroles for 10 years. “My mom did it for 40 years and after she passed away I took it over from her,” she said. “I do it for my mother — it was her passion — and I do it because what is more important than helping the homeless?”

That was pretty much the sentiment of Megan Maguire Nicoletti, who represented the Maguire Foundation at the ceremony and who has volunteered at St. John’s Hospice.

She believes the foundation’s role is “to be men and women for others,” she said. “We try to support students through education, we support the arts and humanities and we believe in helping the hungry and the homeless.”

It really does take a village to run an enterprise such as St. John’s Hospice – staff, volunteers and donors.

Addressing all of them, James Amato, secretary for Catholic Human Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said, “Thank you for putting your faith into action, particularly in this Year of Mercy. Your actions every day show that mercy and care for the men you serve.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Father Dennis Witalec, a chaplain for St. John’s Hospice and Capuchin Franciscan Father John Daya, pastor of nearby St. John the Evangelist Parish, where the ministry began in 1963. Children from St. Mary Interparochial School, which serves the area, provided singing.

It would be wrong not to mention the men coming to the shelter, who in their daily struggles give St. John’s Hospice a reason for being.

“The food is good and in good portions,” said “Jim, a frequent visitor. “Today I had pasta, fish, soda and water. That was lunch. You can come in the evening and get a shower and some clothes.”

From somewhere in heaven, Msgr. Anthony J. O’Neill must be smiling down on the little hospice he founded 53 years ago.