By Br. M.J. Groark, OFM Cap.
In and around Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, our Capuchin brothers walk the path of St. Francis and the countless followers of Francis who, for the past 800 years, have humbly sought to live the Gospel of Jesus through prayer and service to others.
In the South Side of Chicago, our sisters and brothers facing challenges such as poverty, illness and lack of economic opportunity can find hope through Port Ministries. A Franciscan 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Br. Augustine Milon, OFM in 1985, Port Ministries operates a free clinic, an after-school program, a gym, art studios and other community-building programs rooted in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. For many years, Capuchin friars have been serving at Port Ministries.
One Port Ministries program providing basic human needs is the Bread Truck. The Bread Truck distributes donated food in the Back of the Yards, Gage Park and Englewood neighborhoods. In the blocks surrounding Port Ministries, unemployment is 12.5 percent, compared to the Illinois average of 3.9 percent. Almost a quarter of the people in the area live in poverty. That’s nearly double the poverty rate for the State of Illinois. To alleviate the suffering that comes with high levels of poverty, the Capuchins help with food distribution from the Bread Truck. The friars began collaborating on a takeaway community meal at Port Ministries. It started small, with enough food and seating for 50 to 60 people at first. Now it’s growing to provide more meals for those who need nourishment. The meals are packaged and distributed from the front door, which adds an element of fun during the winter months! We’re hoping to move indoors as COVID restrictions lift, which God willing, may have already occurred by the time you read this.
Rooted in Community Life
The Capuchins celebrated 25 years at our St. Clare Friary in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood. St. Clare is home to 13 friars, eight of whom are in formation. Many of these young Capuchins are preparing for priesthood and full-time ministry at Catholic Theological Union. When they aren’t studying, the friars minister to the physical needs of the people through their work with Port Ministries. Meanwhile, the spiritual needs of the friars are fed in community life at St. Clare Friary. As a result, that spirituality spreads outward, feeding the wider community. For example, the visible symbols of the faith surrounding the friary have become a place of prayer in a chaotic corner of Chicago. The recently installed mural of St. Francis of Assisi on the outer wall of the friary brings peace and harmony to the faithful. We friars often see passersby stop, make the sign of the Cross, and pray for a moment in front of the mural.
St. Clare Friary is home to friars from around the world. It’s almost a miniature United Nations, with many national origins and languages spoken, including Spanish, French and Arabic. With such diverse cultural traditions, dinner is always an adventure!
Amidst this linguistic diversity, the friars continuously hone their preaching skills. I can confidently say that we can look forward to world-class preachers emerging from our Chicago community. These younger friars bring with them a level of technological and digital media savvy that will breathe new life into the kinds of evangelization efforts that will be crucial to the future of the Church.
Seeing these friars in formation living the Capuchin Franciscan charism gives me a sense of peace, hope and excitement for the future, knowing that God is working through this group of hardworking students, ministers and evangelizers.
For more information on Port Ministries, visit: www.theportministries.org.