When I was in college, my first experience of traveling overseas was to Assisi and Rome. I attended a local Franciscan university (Madonna University in Livonia) and wrote an essay that won me a paid pilgrimage. It was the town of Assisi, nestled in the Umbrian countryside that truly captured my heart. Being in the places where Francis and Clare lived and ministered to people impacted me more than I had expected. It was the first time in my life that I realized the saints were human people like you and me — complete with our own complexities, desires and interests.
Franciscan spirituality has always involved both contemplation and action. A defining part of the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi was proclaiming the gospel of compassion and care for creation while living in solidarity with the poor.
The Franciscan emphasis on the goodness of God and creation has many ramifications. Creation is the outpouring of God’s radical love into the world. Creation reveals to us God’s love for us and God’s beauty (which is why Franciscans call creation “the mirror of God” and that God has two books of creation — Sacred Scripture and creation).
In honor of the feast of St. Francis, there are various Franciscan places to spend some time in prayer and reflection — as well as local ministries we can support through our time and dollars.
Places of Prayer:
Solanus Casey Center and St. Bonaventure Monastery – This is perhaps the most well-known and beloved place of Franciscan prayer to most metro Detroiters. This site is the home to the local Detroit Capuchin friars — as well as where Blessed Solanus Casey lived, worked and ministered to many people during his time living in Detroit.
For many (myself included), this place is an oasis of peace in the middle of the city. Every time I walk through the gate for confession or just a short visit, my spirit takes a deep breath and relaxes. Give yourself the joy of a simple half-day retreat. Go to Mass and confession. Sit in the stillness of the chapel. Enjoy some lunch in the On the Rise Cafe. You most definitely will not regret it.
Capuchin Retreat House in Washington – On 95 acres of beautiful wooded space lies this center for Franciscan retreats and spirituality. Depending on where you live in the metro Detroit area, it could be anywhere from 30-65 minutes from your home.
For me, this feels like a larger, more expansive version of St. Bonaventure monastery. There are so many beautiful trails and walking paths to allow yourself to discover and get lost in. A love and respect for nature and creation is an important part of Franciscan spirituality, and you sense that here in this retreat location.
This is an excellent space for a private silent retreat — maybe for a weekend or longer (three to five days) if you feel that would be more nourishing.
Ministries to Support:
Capuchin Soup Kitchen – Two locations in Detroit (one just up the street from the Solanus Casey Center) serve meals daily to people in need. There are opportunities to serve in the soup kitchen and/or financially contribute. If you can do both, you should.
On the Rise Bakery and Cafe – This wonderful program is affiliated with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The bakery and cafe are run by women and men who have been recently released from prison or have completed a substance use disorder treatment program. These are people who have worked hard, healed and changed their lives. With each purchase of these delicious baked goods, you are supporting people who are changing their lives to in turn support others to do the same.
Earthworks Urban Farm – This 1.25-acre certified organic farm located on the east side of Detroit grows healthy, organic food for people facing food insecurity. You can help work in the garden or take a guided tour, I would highly suggest both.
Capuchin Services Center – The center serves some of Detroit’s neediest residents. It features a “shoppers’ choice” food pantry that looks like a small grocery store. The food pantry distributes more than 10,000 pounds each day. A clothing distribution offers a beautiful retail shopping experience for families and distributes over 1,700 articles of clothing each day. Donations of food, clothing, appliances and furniture in good condition are always accepted.
These spaces and opportunities to serve are excellent ways to celebrate and live the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi this year.