An archdiocesan ministry to those in homelessness is serving its clients in style, thanks to renovations funded by generous donors.

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre was on hand Nov. 3 to bless and dedicate the new Connelly Dining Room at St. John’s Hospice (SJH), which since 1963 has offered crucial supports to men experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia’s downtown area.

Through SJH, hundreds of residential and day guests receive meals, case management, on-site nursing, daily showers and access to a mail room.

Operated by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) and a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, the facility also annually houses some 250 men transitioning from homelessness to independent living.

To date, SJH has served 86,000 meals, sheltered 10,000 men in its coffee house area, provided 7500 men with showers and clothing, and assisted 7000 men with case services.

Now, those supports have been enhanced by a $250,000 grant from the Connelly Foundation, as well as a matching award of $101,000 from the William Penn Foundation’s Family Recovery Fund and an additional $100,000 from CSS and SJH’s charitable resources.

Permanent Deacon Anthony Willoughby, manager of the meals program at St. John’s Hospice, welcomes guests to a Nov. 3 blessing of the ministry’s remodeled dining hall. (Gina Christian)

The funding enabled SJH to make extensive renovations to its main dining area, a hallmark of the ministry that offers a warm, inviting space for community meals often accompanied by live entertainment from choirs of CSS clients, such as the SJH Good Shepherd Singers and the Women of Hope ensemble. Adding to the musical ambience is a new Yamaha digital piano with pre-programmed selections.

In addition, SJH’s Good Shepherd kitchen and indoor yard area – the latter of which affords overnight indoor shelter for several dozen men each night – have been substantially upgraded.

Longtime SJH employee and permanent Deacon Anthony Willoughby, who manages the ministry’s meal program, described the improvements as “a truly humbling transformation.”

Bishop McIntyre noted the rededication coincided with the feast of St. Martin de Porres, renowned for his outreach to the impoverished, and said SJH “put flesh on the bones” of the Gospel call to serve the poor and suffering, with whom Christ identifies most closely.

The bishop commended the SJH donors on hand, while also applauding the numerous archdiocesan parishes and schools that regularly collect material and financial aid for the ministry.

“A lot of times when I am at a parish for confirmation, I am told that a gift is given to St. John’s Hospice,” said Bishop McIntyre. “I always tell the people that one of the beautiful things about (the outreach) is that so much of the food comes from you from the people of our parishes who prepare it and bring it here.”

Such partnership is essential to SJH’s mission, said James Amato, secretary for archdiocesan Catholic Human Services.

“Over 70% of the annual funding needed to support St. John’s Hospice comes from our donors, and the consistent support of local foundations,” he said.

Working with government officials and agencies is also critical to the mission of SJH, said Amato.

Fred Gigliotti, director of emergency housing for Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services, said SJH’s role in the city’s overall matrix of homelessness supports is “huge.”

“They go above and beyond … (in) the work that they do,” he said.

Connelly Foundation president Tom Riley said the SJH improvements honored the philanthropic legacy of his grandparents John and Josephine Connelly, who established their foundation in 1955 as an expression of their deeply held Catholic faith.

His grandmother would have been particularly delighted, he added.

“(She) had such a sense of love and compassion,” said Riley. “I can’t think of anything that would make her happier than knowing people here our continuing to do great work, helping our fellow Philadelphians.”

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre (third from left) joined leaders from archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) and officials from the Connelly Foundation for a Nov. 3 blessing of remodeled spaces at CSS’s St. John’s Hospice ministry to those experiencing homelessness. (Gina Christian)