By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – The planned housing for 71 previously homeless men and women at Center City’s St. John the Evangelist Parish got off to a good start. Groundbreaking on July 8 featured an invocation by the Cardinal and an ovation by a rock star.

“It’s all about human beings, through the unusual collaboration of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Project H.O.M.E., Bethesda Project and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in the near future this site will become a home for the poor in our city. Let us ask God’s blessing on this praiseworthy project,” Cardinal Rigali said.

The rock star was Jon Bon Jovi, a contributor to the project who, in addition to his music, is noted for ownership of the Philadelphia Soul arena football team and his philanthropic outreach to the poor and homeless.

“Improving the lives of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens improves the lives of all citizens,” Bon Jovi said. “This is another amazing project that truly shows what can be achieved when we all work together one soul at a time.”

The new facility, an eight-story building, will replace two smaller St. John’s parish buildings, which were already being torn down at the time of the ceremony. The ground floor will contain parish office space; the next two floors will be used by Bethesda Project for single occupancy rooms; and the top five floors will be used by Project H.O.M.E for efficiency apartments.

“It’s a collaborative labor of love rooted in the belief that every person desires a safe, habitable place to call home,” said Joan Dawson McConnon, co-founder of Project H.O.M.E. and MC for the event.

On hand were representatives of the two social agencies, St. John’s Parish, the Archdiocese and various local, state and federal agencies as well as community members who have been working together to bring the project to fruition.

Angelo Sgro, executive director of Bethesda Project, explained to the gathering how Capuchin Franciscan Father Frank Yacobi, pastor of St. John’s, had asked him four years ago if his group would be interested in using one of the two buildings which was then unused for their work in outreach to the homeless.

“I toured the building. It needed a lot of work, but even I’m smart enough to know you don’t turn down a building smack in the middle of the city of Philadelphia,” Sgro said.

Although his agency and Project H.O.M.E. are very similar in programs, the latter is much larger and has the necessary expertise for such an ambitious undertaking.

Sgro contacted Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion and McConnon, and Project H.O.M.E. agreed to partner with them in the venture.

“In this work we learn a lot about the meaning of home,” Sister Mary said. “As we break ground for this remarkable new residence our hope, of course, is that this will be more than just housing, it will be a home where people can achieve a special bond.”

The new residence, Sister Mary announced, will be named in honor of John and Josephine Connelly, the late founders of the Connelly foundation, which has assisted both Project H.O.M.E. and the Bethesda Project in many of their endeavors, including this new housing, over the years.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.