"For it is in giving that we receive."
--St. Francis of Assisi
In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, our patron saint who devoted his ministry to caring for the poor, we at St. Francis of Assisi Parish have found numerous ways to make a difference to others -- putting our "faith to work" within our parish boundaries and far beyond.
Our giving spirit is just part of what has helped build a Christ-centered and faith-filled community in East Dracut that is focused on serving others, regardless of boundaries or faith affiliation.
"Saint Francis Parish has been a big part of the Dracut Food Pantry since the original founding committee was formed, thru our opening in October of 2007 and today. The pantry is comprised of an all volunteer board of directors, who are dependent on the kindness of the Saint Francis parishioners for the time and food donations they provide to us each month. The 80-100 families we service each month, benefit vastly from our great partnership with Saint Francis Parish and for that we are thankful."
Kevin Willett -- Board of Directors, Dracut Food Pantry
Our church sits on 15 acres of former farmland. Today that farming mission continues through our Gardening Ministry, which maintains a large garden in the field in front of the rectory.
Tomatoes, squash, cukes, peppers and more are harvested and donated to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank each year by our devoted volunteer gardeners.
Early in the season, the gardeners (of all ages) get a headstart indoors (photo below).
Our garden ensures that local people in need receive fresh produce for healthier living -- from our garden to their tables.
Our parishioners routinely donate their time and talents to help others. Below, a group gathers on a Friday night to sew fleece hats to be included in backpacks for the homeless in Lowell. Other volunteers sewed hats at home.
This ministry, under the direction of Deacon John Hunt (third from left) has taken off in a short amount of time. On Saturdays the group prepares sandwiches and soup in our parish kitchen.
Early evening, they load up a truck and deliver the food, along with warm socks, blankets and hats, to the homeless in Lowell. Often these are the people who are unserved, and the ministry serves them with no judgment for how or why they are homeless.
The ministry also prepares dinner one Saturday evening a month to serve at the shelter.
At Christmas, they gave out Christmas presents to adults and children, and Survival Packs to men, women and children. They raise funds by baking and selling pies, paint nights, parishioner donations and other fundraisers.
They are always looking for new people to help. All are welcome to make a difference through compassionate service to those in need with this extraordinary team of volunteers.
St. Francis is particularly cognizant of those suffering a loss in their family. Our Funeral Ministry consists of teams of volunteers who aid the family through the difficult steps of planning the Funeral Liturgy; they attend the wake and funeral, and they lend a helping hand wherever needed.
Our clergy and volunteer team members also keep in contact with the family throughout the year, and we encourage the grieving family members to attend our Bereavement Support Group.
Each November, we celebrate a Mass of Remembrance. All families who have lost loved ones in the past year are invited to light a candle at the altar (below) in memory of their loved one. After, we host refreshments in the parish hall, which allows families and friends invaluable time to relax and provide comfort to each other.
Another way we help grieving families is hosting the Bereavement Meal (at no cost to the family) for however many guests the family indicates. The family and guests come back to the parish hall following the Mass or graveside service, and a buffet of homemade hot and cold food and desserts is waiting for them, made and donated by our volunteer team. Our volunteers get much satisfaction at being able to help the families at a difficult time; and the families are appreciative of having this often daunting task taken care of for them.
On Good Friday each year, our Young Adult and Youth Ministry groups, religious education students and adult volunteers walk through the neighborhoods of Dracut following the wooden cross. In the spirit of Christ who fed the hungry, the walk raises money for the Dracut Food Pantry and St. Marguerite D'Youville Food Pantry, both of Dracut.
The holidays are particularly difficult for the homebound and for those suffering a loss in the family. At Easter and Christmas, our volunteer team remembers those families by delivering Easter Lilies and poinsettias along with a note of remembrance. It brings them consolation to know they are remembered by the parish family at a time when they may feel forgotten.
When you have 1,000 or more people with a giving spirit attending Masses on weekends, as well as many activities during the week, it's a perfect opportunity to collect for various local charities. Our Donation Center has bins for Catie's Closet, Dracut Food Pantry, Knights of Columbus Coat Drive, Blessed Mother Teresa Homeless Ministry, and End 68 Hours of Hunger (which fills backpacks for children in Dracut on weekends). Weekly, these bins are filled and the items delivered to the various charities by St. Francis volunteers.
Each year our teens are invited to take part in a Mission Trip, coordinated by Jessica Keefe and Emily Noel. The teens and adult volunteers help families in need who are still struggling with the effects from Hurricane Katrina.
Whatever tasks they are assigned by hosting organization, they go about them with the spirit of knowing they are making a difference to someone who needs their help.
Many refer to it as "life-changing," and they come home with a renewed drive to serve others as often as they can. We'll keep you posted on the details of the trip for the summer of 2017.
In this photo, our parishioners pray the Rosary for others in the field at Our Blessed Mother Prayer Garden. This is just one of many ways in which we devote prayer for the intentions of others. Every Wednesday, we pray the Rosary for those with cancer. And we have a Prayer Line in which volunteers pray daily for all intentions sent to them. Sometimes, just knowing others are praying for you is such a comfort; many times, we pray without others knowing.
NEW: Our Addiction Prayer Ministry. In the front of the church by the tabernacle, we have a book of intentions for those suffering addictions. Everyone is welcome to write for the prayer intentions of loved ones (no names are used) suffering from addiction of any kind. Volunteers pray daily for these intentions. Word spread quickly; the book is now filled with pages of prayer intentions.
They do it quietly behind the scenes, but our St. Vincent de Paul Society helps hundreds in need in the local community in immeasurable ways using financial donations from St. Francis parishioners. Those in need are helped regardless of faith affiliation or connection to the parish.
At left are the ingredients gathered for turkey dinners distributed to local families in need at Thanksgiving. Fuel assistance, rental assistance and much more are the hallmark of this incredible group of volunteers who discreetly make a difference every day, often in emergency situations at any time of the day or night.
In the season of giving, St. Francis has the Giving Tree Project. Our Giving Tree is filled with "ornaments" specifying particular gifts requested by families in need all over the Merrimack Valley or those in nursing homes. Each year, we outdo the previous year with hundreds of gift donations that are wrapped and sent out to bring happiness to others.
When often we see too many unkindnesses in the world, we've countered with our Kindness Project -- "helping others" simply through acts of kindness. In the busy Christmas season (from Thankgiving to Christmas), we launch the project as a reminder that simple, everyday kindnesses make a difference. The Kindness Bulletin Board is in the main church lobby; parishioners tack up one or more of the "deliberate" acts of kindness they commit each week. Each kindness inspires another, which inspires another!
St. Francis Parish joins the global Catholic Church in donating to multiple Special Collections throughout the year to provide disaster relief, services to the poor, education, retirement assistance to our clergy and more. These collections are always generously funded by our parishioners and the financial relief makes a difference to others throughout the world.
"Artists" of all ages donated time and talent to benefit our Blessed Mother Teresa Homeless Ministry, including Deacon John Hunt (below in full artist attire!), who launched the Homeless Ministry last year to help the homeless in Lowell.
Whether it's keeping our youth/teens entertained in a safe, faith-filled environment -- providing companionship for our widows and widowers -- offering a spiritual place to connect with others who share the same faith -- making the sacraments readily available to those who seek them -- anointing the sick and visiting the homebound -- giving moms/dads/caregivers with young children a place to connect with others like themselves -- providing a solid faith formation for children and adults alike -- providing opportunities to serve others -- being a friend to someone who needs one....
St. Francis Parish is a place where our parish family feels "at home".
And every single day, that truly makes a difference.