A Philadelphia bishop celebrated his recent retirement by donning an apron and serving dinner to clients of an archdiocesan ministry.

Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman was among those waiting tables June 16 at St. John’s Hospice (SJH), archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) outreach that offers crucial support to men experiencing homelessness in downtown Philadelphia.

Each weekday, SJH (a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal) provides more than 300 meals to its residential and day guests, as well as case management, on-site nursing, daily showers and a mail room. In addition, the facility annually houses some 250 men transitioning from homelessness to independent living.

Since last summer, SJH has also been hosting monthly “Bishops Dinners,” which give Archbishop Nelson Pérez and his auxiliary bishops – along with archdiocesan staff and supporters — the opportunity to enjoy food and fellowship with the city’s most marginalized individuals.

Live entertainment, raffles and gift cards round out the evening, along with plenty of laughter and relaxed conversation.

“Over the past year, it’s gotten even more fun,” said Bishop Deliman, who developed the idea for the gatherings – which average about 125 attendees – with Amy Stoner, CSS’s director of community-based and homelessness services.

“The energy here is just phenomenal,” said Stoner. “And this is not about asking people to get in line, (eat) and rush out. This is about sitting down together.”

Between courses, a little friendly competition spices up the menu, she added.

After numerous mealtime performances by SJH’s Good Shepherd singers – including one last month featuring Bishop Deliman — Stoner asked the ladies of CSS’s Mercy Hospice to step up to the microphone.

The group debuted by singing several tunes at Thursday’s dinner, accompanied by SJH program director Barry Martin on guitar.

“They were a little nervous beforehand,” admitted SJH development director Elizabeth Small, who reassured the women by reminding them “we’re all friends and family here.”

In fact, she added, the dinners have become “a kind of monthly Thanksgiving, where we’re all sitting together, building community and giving thanks.”

And that’s the whole point, regardless of what’s cooking in the kitchen, said Bishop Deliman, whom the SJH community presented with a small replica of artist Timothy Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus,” a life-sized version of which is installed outside the hospice.

Breaking bread with others is simply “what Jesus did,” said Bishop Deliman. “How often he shared a meal!”

The newly formed Mercy Hospice choir, led by St. John’s Hospice program director Barry Martin (in guitar), debuted at the June 16 Bishops Dinner. (Gina Christian)