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Franciscan Ministry
Franciscan Connection:
Friars Help with Unpaid Utility Bills and Link Neighbors to Assistance Programs

(L.-R.) Paul Gallagher, OFM, Frank Coens, OFM, and Bob Sieg, OFM, outside the storefront that is home to Franciscan Connection, the ministry that serves their financially distressed neighbors of south St. Louis.

It looks like a typical storefront – potted plants in the window, an inviting waiting area, workspace cubicles. But the sign – Franciscan Connection – indicates this isn’t an ordinary office storefront at all. The extraordinary happens at 5201 Virginia Avenue in this Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis, Missouri. Franciscan Connection is a ray of hope in a community where most are overwhelmed by food insecurity, financial challenges, and other social injustices.

Four days a week, two hours a day, a team of friars and volunteers at Franciscan Connection meet with the people they call their neighbors – financially disadvantaged young families, the elderly, physically challenged, immigrants, and poor residents of Dutchtown and surrounding communities. The Franciscan friars pledge $75 toward their overdue utility bills, often keeping their electricity from being disconnected.

Funding for Franciscan Connection comes solely from the generosity of donors; payments are made directly to the electric and gas companies.

“The friars talk to you like a friend, and that makes you feel at ease when you need help,” says one guest who requested anonymity. “I’m thankful for everything the friars have done for my family,” says Lovely. And Shelly adds, “Franciscan Connection is truly a blessing to everyone they help.”

Bob Sieg, OFM, assisting a young family at Franciscan Connection.
Paul Gallagher, OFM, with a local resident who visited Franciscan Connection in the Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis for financial assistance with her utility bill.

The friars wish they could give more, but limited resources and the growing number of neighbors in need (more than 40 families a week, hundreds per year, show up at the doorstep) has forced Franciscan Connection to reduce pledges from $100 three times a year, to $75 twice annually so that no one is turned away. But the friars offer far more than utility payments; they provide spiritual and emotional support, thoughtful opportunities (they invite guests to place their intentions in a prayer box), and vital connections to other local resources and assistance programs.

Franciscan Connection is a place of welcome and hospitality – a ministry of compassionate presence that offers hope and support. With our guests genuinely relieved to receive whatever we can provide, this $75 is a life-giving sign of encouragement and a symbol that someone cares about them,” said Paul Gallagher, OFM, who joined the Franciscan Connection team in 2018. “A big part of what we do is connect the disadvantaged, service providers, benefactors, and Franciscan friars.”

“We don’t ask why their utility bills haven’t been paid,” explained Frank Coens, OFM, a Franciscan Connection team member for two years. 

The friars with a group of Franciscan Connection volunteers outside the storefront that houses the ministry on Virginia Avenue in south St. Louis.

“It amazes me how extremely grateful people are for the small amount we are able to provide when their unpaid utility bills are often several hundred dollars. They are true witness to the gratitude we talk about during the Thanksgiving holiday season. Helping others is the best way we can express gratitude for our blessings. For us friars, we are blessed to have generous supporters to continue this ministry.”

Friars and their neighbors during a “healthy eating” event hosted by Franciscan Connection in conjunction with the University of Missouri Extension.

Franciscan Connection was established in 1991 when friars from St. Anthony of Padua Church (about a mile away) rented a storefront to help single mothers and elderly with emergency financial assistance for utility bills and access to social services. More than 30 years later, the friars have increased their efforts in connecting guests with other programs and resources – some of which include a safe house for battered women, free legal services, addiction therapy, and St. Anthony’s food pantry.


“We talk to guests about their families, ask how their children  are doing in school, and what other needs they have so we can make referrals and connect them to other services. Every person is grateful for the help we provide,” said Bob Sieg, OFM, a Franciscan Connection team member for over five years.   

Franciscan Connection stays in contact with the people they help by sending Christmas greeting cards and having volunteers phone them three months after a meeting to see how they are doing. The friars stay connected with donors through a regularly published newsletter that features stories about the guests they are helping.

“It’s lifegiving to be around people who may have very little, but who are so generous with their gratitude. And that’s true of our supporters, who are so generous to people they likely will never meet. This is what it must have been like for St. Francis. He paid attention to those living on the margins and mostly ignored by society,” said Paul.

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

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