Sisters gather to serve “anyone in need” at annual BBQ

By Christina Gray

They arrived at Most Holy Redeemer Church under a storm-washed sky on March 9, ready as always, to serve.

Sisters representing congregations throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco helped one another out of cars in front of the San Francisco parish and ambled together down a ramp to the parish hall to work the Annual Cookout and Social for the poor.

The event, launched in 2015 by the Council of Women and Men Religious of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, is a hospitality event open to “anyone in need” according to the flyer from the Office of Consecrated Life. It is timed each year to coincide with Catholic Sisters Week, a week of national recognition for the lives and legacies of Catholic sisters. This year’s Catholic Sisters Week is March 8-14.

The event served over 50 guests, many of whom had lined up on the sidewalks outside 100 Diamond Street hours ahead toting all their earthly belongings including their pets.

Sisters from 18 congregations worked on site and behind the scenes according to Dominican Sister Diane Aruda, the Office of Consecrated Life’s new director. She dispatched some sisters to the outside gate to welcome eager guests. Others distributed gift cards and a wooden crucifix on a cord at the entry table. A separate line of sisters worked the serving line to plate hot-off-the-grill burgers and hot dogs, side dishes, drinks and desserts.

“To me, it helps us embody the spirit of hospitality,” said Precious Blood Father Matthew Link, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer since 2014. Father Link invited the Office of Consecrated Life to host the springtime event at the parish. It is a natural extension to the Wednesday Night Supper outreach hosted by the parish for the local community each week.

The event is an opportunity for religious in San Francisco, who serve in such varied ways, to “all come together in one day of outreach,” he said.

In the event’s earliest years, it was held at a local park. But unpredictable San Francisco weather and the inability of guests to travel easily made Most Holy Redeemer’s invitation a God-send.

Upstairs on the parish’s private courtyard, pairs of sisters stood behind tables lined with daily living essentials, such as trial-size toiletries, new socks, blankets, clothing, hand knit scarves, and even pet food.

“This is so beautiful,” said one guest who was handed a blanket he admired at a table hosted by Presentation Sister Judy Cunningham and Sister Virginia Espinal. The sisters said the blankets, along with other goods there that day, are purchased with donations as well as collected at the congregation’s Motherhouse all year.

Richard, a regular at Most Holy Redeemer’s Wednesday Suppers, was in high spirits as he talked to Father Link, having finally secured housing with the help of Catholic Charities after a stretch of homelessness.

“Things seem to be looking up and up and up,” he said.

Presentation Sister Maire Sullivan, 91, and Sister Giovanna Campanella, 84, were on their feet for hours at the serving line, yet all smiles.

“It’s our mission to be with those who are in need and help in any way we can,” said Sister Campanella. “It’s our presence, wherever we are, whatever we do. We don’t ever stop.”

The Office of Consecrated Life, based out of the pastoral center in San Francisco, is focused on serving and supporting professed religious and consecrated persons in the Archdiocese. This includes 36 congregations and 300 sisters, as well as consecrated virgins and hermits—two other vocations within the consecrated life of the Church. In the future, Sister Diane hopes to expand support for the more than 15 congregations of religious brothers.

The ministries in which each congregation serves include Catholic schools, faith formation programs, medical professions, serving the poor, spiritual direction, pastoral work, and parish administration. Support provided by the Archdiocese for the religious congregations includes assistance with housing, immigration status, ministry questions, administrative support, and training.

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.