The Franciscan Center opened on September 10, 1968. Sister Irene Marshiano was the first director. Of the early days, she recalled, “There were just two of us [Sisters], plus Third Order members and lay volunteers. The first month, we served 30 people.”  Wow, and just today, September 9th, 2011, the Franciscan Center served 399 people in our dining room.

What a good work God began through the efforts of two Sisters and a few dedicated volunteers.  A good and necessary work that is still needed in Baltimore City.  A work that, please God, will still reach out to the poor and fulfill our mission: “to provide emergency assistance and supportive outreach to persons who are economically disenfranchised in an effort to assist them in realizing their self-worth and dignity as people of God.”

Over the past forty two years the Franciscan Center has grown and changed, had ups and downs, faced challenges and celebrated blessings – it has a life.  A real, vital and purposeful life.  The Center’s life has not always been easy, but it has always been appreciated because the life of the Franciscan Center has touched and transformed the lives of thousands of human beings.  With a kind hand, a gentle smile, a warm meal, a bus token or a voucher, the life of the Center has always been a life for others.  A Franciscan life.

Today, at 42, the Center is very much alive.  Alive and well, and getting better every day.  Our mission is being fulfilled in the same familiar and important ways, but also with new partnerships.  Our kitchen staff and volunteers are working with the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future to provide more fresh, organic produce to be served in our dining room.

We’re working with the Baltimore Community Foundation and their BG&E Community Initiative to provide even more utility assistance to those in need.  We have received support from the Legg Mason Foundation, the Abell Foundation and others to provide more comprehensive assistance through our dedicated staff and volunteers in our Responsive Services (formerly Emergency Services).  We even have students from the University of Maryland School of Social Work learning from our own social workers the art of caring.  And speaking of art, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) will soon be sending students to work with our clients to express their own creativity, through MICA’s Community Arts Program.  Yes, we are very much alive.

God is good. We have been richly blessed in the wake of a difficult and challenging year.  I invite you to celebrate with me the gift of life that is the Franciscan Center, brought forth on September 10, 1968 in a row home on Maryland Avenue.  Who would have thought it.  Happy Birthday Franciscan Center!  And many, many more.