Before serving the poor the Capuchins and their volunteer crew pray the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo by Michael Swan

Franciscans court 'Lady Poverty' at St. Francis Table

  • October 5, 2012

TORONTO - On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Toronto's Capuchin friars came courting "Lady Poverty" in Parkdale, where they've been courting her the past 25 years.

"Lady Poverty" was how St. Francis, in the courtly language of the 13th century, conceived of life with and among the poor. Today's Franciscan Capuchins serve "Lady Poverty" by dishing up ravioli, salad, chili con carne and bread with coffee and dessert for $2 at St. Francis Table in the heart of Parkdale, in the city's west end.

There were seven local Capuchins at St. Francis Table serving lunch on Oct. 4. They were there to share a Franciscan feast with the poor and to honour the 25th anniversary of the Franciscan restaurant.

Since it opened Christmas 1987 there's never been much doubt about the Franciscan and Christian foundations of St. Francis' Table, said provincial superior Fr. David Connolly. But "the neighbourhood is changing," he said.

It had always been the Franciscans' intention to hand St. Francis' Table off to lay people with the drive and the ability to sustain the work. That would free up the religious order to launch new ventures.

Watching new condo towers encroach and local businesses replaced with chi-chi restaurants, Connolly thinks that day may be coming soon.

"We would certainly consider moving where the poor move... when the time comes," he said.

In the meantime, St. Francis' Table is having no trouble filling the dining room with people who need a good meal, good company and some encouragement.

Robert Tait has been coming to St. Francis Table the last six months and describes it as "a good place to be."

"It grounds me. It helps me to stay strong in my faith," he said.

St. Francis' Table also has an important ministry to thousands of young volunteers, said Grade 10 religion teacher Mark Henry. On the Feast of St. Francis, Henry brought nine of his Our Lady of the Lake students from Keswick, Ont., to get a more realistic picture of poverty.

"It opens their eyes," he said.

Noting a couple with a child in a stroller who had come for lunch, Henry said he hoped his students understood that the poor are not so different from their own middle-class families.

"It's not the cliché thing. None of us are that far away from poverty," he said.

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