Where in the world (shrines apart) is there another church with no registered parishioners that has a pastor and 20 assistants, offers confessions 13 hours a day and utilizes 520-plus volunteers -- 250 for liturgical duties, 270 for social outreach? and has Br. Sebastian Tobin, a non-ordained friar, making sandals in the basement. This is a commuters' church such as is possible only in New York.
Daily at 7 a.m., as it has since 1929, the St. Francis Breadline -- a $600,000-plus-a-year project -- welcomes the hungry and homeless for coffee and sandwiches.
This St. Francis complex is as much beehive as parish. There are Franciscans everywhere. The friars are fire department and union chaplains, physicians, psychotherapists, canon lawyers, teachers, treasurers, magazine editors and the all-essential fundraisers. The parish has adult education programs, seniors groups and self-help meetings, Filipino Fellowship, Masses in Korean, devotions, novenas, stations, lecture series and outings. Catholic to the core.
At Br. William Mann's West 31st Street bookstore, even the thieves are Catholics. One elderly soul dropped an unpaid-for videocassette into her pocketbook. Mann asked her to replace it on the shelf. A hopeless case? The video was, "How to Make a Novena to St. Jude."
Hey, this is New York. If people rub St. Francis' bronze heels on West 32nd Street, someone knocked off most of the animals' heads on the St. Francis sculpture on West 31st Street.
St. Francis was also the home of Father Michal Judge, OFM, the NYFD chaplain who was the first official victim of the attacks of September 11th. I saw the first half of a documentary about him called Saint of 9/11, and he seems to have been quite a remarkable man. The film was good, too, and you can watch it on your computer if you have Netflix. In one chapel of the church there's beautiful stained glass memorial to the victims of 9/11. It shows a dove circling the base of one the WTC buildings while angels comfort two firefighters. A cross is imposed on the building and beams of light proceed from the cross. To the right, placed a position that is appropriately, for a minor friar, understated, is Father Judge, contemplating the light. A very moving tribute in a unique sacred space.