Something is blossoming in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in the Pennsport section of South Philadelphia. And it’s more than just the new garden.

Students in the parish’s religious education program were learning about the seven sacraments and the lives of the saints.

“But we wanted to provide a way for the students to put their faith into action right here in our community,” catechist Patrick Manning said.


To do that, students began to work in small groups to research and develop three projects that aligned with an aspect of their Catholic faith: planting a new garden; installing a community food pantry; and planning an intercultural food exchange and sharing the food with neighbors.

Through these projects the students gained a better understanding of the corporal works of mercy and the seven pillars of Catholic social teaching.

Before Holy Week, the students installed a food pantry and planted the new garden.

Reflecting on their experience afterward, one group of students wrote, “One of the corporal works of mercy is giving food to the hungry. We represented this … by designing and painting a pantry to put in the front of our church … because we wanted to help people struggling” with food insecurity.

Another group reflected on Catholic social teaching and said that its principles offer a way of “seeing the world” and that care for God’s creation was new and exciting to them.

“I liked that we could help the environment by planting flowers,” said one student.

After learning about the church’s teachings and then enacting them, one student reflected that they were able to “take these thoughts and make them a reality. Both planting (the garden) and the food pantry were for helping our community.”

The Sacred Heart of Jesus community is working to make the third project a reality. Currently, the parish is planning an afternoon to make tamales, where the parish’s diverse community can learn from one another, share food together, and reach out to the broader community who may be in need.

This project is the next step in the mission imagined by Father James Otto, pastor of Sacred Heart.

“The PREP students worked really hard to bring this mission to life at the parish,” he said. “This is a growing mission that our young people and parishioners of all ages and backgrounds are helping to develop. It is exciting to see the Holy Spirit working in our parish!”

The garden is continuing to bloom and drawing the attention of community members passing by. With support from groups like EcoPhilly and Laudato Si South Philly, the garden has been a beautiful addition to the parish and a way for the students to learn about creation care.

At the entrance to the garden is the food pantry. Through support from parishioners and a generous donation from Sunday Love Project, the food pantry was able to be purchased, painted, installed and fully stocked.

The students learned that their work was a response to Pope Francis’ invitation in his encyclical “Laudato Si’” to hear both the cry of the Earth, and the cry of the poor.

Because of that, the students wanted to come up with a name for the pantry that reflected the abundance of God’s love toward his people and all creation.

In the end, they all agreed on the same name, just in two languages: Loaves and Fishes / Panes y Pesces.