Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project HOME in Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb)

Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project HOME in Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb)

What happens after Sept. 27 when the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia is done and after Pope Francis returns to Rome? In all likelihood there will be echoes for years to come.

In just one example, the World Meeting’s Hunger and Homeless Committee is already hard at work with Project HOME by launching the Francis Fund, which will provide one-time grants to assist a number of community-based agencies in the Philadelphia area and Camden, N.J., that serve people struggling with poverty.

The Hunger and Homelessness Committee chair is Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M., and Anne Healy Ayella as vice chair. They are apt choices — Sister Mary is the internationally known executive director of Project HOME and Ayella is associate director of Nutritional Development Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and their collaboration goes way back.

As seniors at St. Joseph’s University in 1976 they were part of a committee working on social issues at the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia which had the theme “Hungers of the Human Family.” This experience profoundly affected their life’s work — Sister Mary with a focus on homelessness and Ayella with a focus on hunger, although the two are intertwined.

As it has been planned, Project HOME will oversee the fundraising for the Francis Fund but Sister Mary explained in a letter inviting agencies to apply for a grant that none of the funds raised will be retained by Project HOME or used in house for salaries or expenses. The same stipulation is made to the agencies receiving the grants. Every dollar received must be spent to address issues surrounding hunger and homelessness.

The plan is to raise $1.5 million, and grants will range from $2,500 to $100,000 but most will be in the $2,500-to $10,000 range.

Anne Ayella

Anne Ayella

Although this is a Catholic initiative coming out of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the visit by Pope Francis and his passionate concern for those in need, hunger and homelessness know no creed. Agencies representing all creeds — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and secular — were invited to submit grant proposals and have done so, according to Ayella. At this time all of the grant requests have been received and the committee members are sorting through the proposals to make recommendations for grants. All 20 or so committee members (see the full list of members) are involved.

“It’s really the power of ‘We,’” Sister Mary said, giving special recognition to Will Smith, a Project HOME staffer who is working with the nuts and bolts of the process.

It is expected those who will receive grants will be notified by mid-June, and the actual fund distribution will be done on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint chosen by Pope Francis at his election.

The Francis Fund, as explained in an invitational letter to selected agencies that met the grant criteria, “is envisioned as a legacy of the Holy Father’s visit” and “will provide funding to meet concrete needs of people in the Philadelphia region and Camden who are struggling with hunger, homelessness and poverty. It is meant to be a tangible expression of the pope’s challenge to all of us to respond to the cry of poverty in the world today.”

Another upcoming event of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee during the run up to the World Meeting of Families will be a Sept. 10 “Community Table” at the SHARE Food Program Warehouse at 2901 West Hunting Park Avenue in Philadelphia. “It will be a community meal from 6 to 8 p.m. where people can share their experiences,” Ayella said.

The work of the committee really has three prongs, according to Sister Mary: spiritual, mercy and justice. Mercy is chiefly represented by the Francis Fund.

The spiritual aspect will be represented by a piece of public art by Meg Saligman, the creator of many of the most artistically regarded wall murals for which Philadelphia has become famous. The theme will reflect “The Family Fully Alive” through a special devotion popularized by Pope Francis, “Mary Untier of Knots.” It is a devotion to the Blessed Mother in supplication for solving problems in people’s lives.

At the site there will also be a place where visitors can place a knot representing their particular prayer intentions. Others people can take the knot and pray for the person, and if they choose, leave a knot of their own.

The proposed site is beside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul adjacent to Logan Square and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where worshipers will gather for the public Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Sunday, Sept. 27.

“This is one of the most joyful parts of the World Meeting of Families,” Sister Mary said. “It tells the story through art and it will be a permanent legacy that will be enjoyed by people for years to come.”

The exact location for the new work also echoes the Eucharistic Congress of 1976. At this spot, on a small lawn, there is already a life-sized statue titled “Jesus Breaking Bread” by Walter Erlebacher, which was commissioned for the Eucharistic Congress reflecting its theme of “Hungers of the Human Family.”

The third theme of the committee, justice, will be represented by an upcoming campaign to encourage people to advocate with lawmakers around solutions for hunger and homelessness.


For more information on the work of the World Meeting of Families’ Hunger and Homelessness Committee, or to contribute to the Francis Fund, visit the website