By Eileen Connelly, OSU 

The ministry at Franciscan Connection in St. Louis is quite focused: providing utility assistance to disadvantaged residents of three area zip codes. But for the friars who serve there – Brothers Bob Sieg, OFM, Frank Coens, OFM, and Paul Gallagher, OFM – the work they do goes much deeper.  

The brothers are committed to building relationships with their neighbors and providing spiritual and emotional support as needed. This mission of compassion and hospitality originated in 1991, when Brothers Gratian Nosal, OFM, and Tom Shaughnessy, OFM, with the support of Br. Bill Schulte, OFM, rented a storefront in a low-income neighborhood several blocks north of St. Anthony Church and began providing emergency help to single mothers and the elderly. 

Offering help and hope in the midst of hard times 

Guests in their service area are eligible for assistance, typically $75, every six months, and must bring a copy of their utility bill. Those they serve range in age from young mothers in their 20s to senior citizens.  

The rising cost of utilities has hit the community hard.  

“We see a lot of people who have gotten a few months behind and ended up with a bill of over $1,000 and then they can’t get out of that hole,” Br. Frank noted. “We may not be able to offer them much, but it’s enough that people leave feeling more positive.”  

Three friars stand in front of a small storefront

Franciscan Connection is located in a storefront in a low-income neighborhood in St. Louis. Brothers Paul Gallagher, Frank Coens and Bob Sieg and a team of volunteers provide utility assistance to people from three local zip codes. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Connection)

A smiling friar holds a window insulation kit and four lightbulbs.

The friars pride themselves on building connection with the people they serve so they can better anticipate their needs. Here, Br. Paul Gallagher helps prepare winterization bags for the friars’ neighbors. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Connection)

Br. Paul emphasized that while the financial help is critical to those they serve, the connections made and relationships they develop are just as significant and meaningful.  

“I talk about utility assistance as our ‘carrot’ to get people in the door,” he explained. “The main thing for us is talking to people and giving them hope. We try to be God’s ray of sunshine without judgment. That’s our real mission: trying to be a compassionate, non-judgmental ear.”  

And that mission means the friars strive to embody Franciscan values with every connection they make.  

“Francis emphasized walking with the poor, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Br. Bob said. “We’re at the service of the people. They are why we are here, and we want to get to know them and help them in any way we can.”  

“Franciscans serve people who are on the fringes,” Br. Frank added. “We seek out the people you might not find in a church and invite them into a relationship, offering compassion and sharing with them in any way we can.”  

Combining personal gifts to meet the community’s needs 

Brothers Bob, Frank and Paul all fill different ministerial roles as co-directors of Franciscan Connection. 

Br. Bob oversees the financial aspect of things; Br. Paul manages the facility and volunteers; and Br. Frank lends his skills to communications and development. The friars feel strongly that using their respective gifts and having regular conversations about the joys and challenges of what they do has generated ideas that have enriched their work and strengthened Franciscan Connection. 

Br. Frank estimates the organization aids approximately 150 guests per month, along with making hundreds of referrals to other agencies, including St. Vincent de Paul.

A large group of volunteers of all ages hold up

Franciscan Connection is powered by a wonderful group of volunteers. People who are interested in supporting this ministry are invited to call 314-773-8485 for more information. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Connection)

The words

The friars want guests to know that they truly care. Franciscan Connection will contact guests several months after providing them assistance to see how they are doing. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Connection)

Bruce Court, an Ignatian Volunteer, has been serving as an office assistant at Franciscan Connection for the past year, greeting guests as they arrive. Just like the friars, he has found there is much more to his ministry than office work.  

“I enjoy talking with the people, hearing what’s going on in their lives, getting to know them,” he said. “Everyone has something they’re dealing with, whether it’s the stress of financial issues, a job loss or family illness. I just try to make them feel welcome, and sometimes just listening is the best thing you can do.  

“Franciscan Connection has been a warm, welcoming presence in the neighborhood for a long time,” Bruce added. "The way that people are treated with so much dignity and respect really reflects the Franciscan values and inspires me.”  

Volunteer to connect 

In addition to greeting guests, volunteers are also needed at Franciscan Connection to help manage Facebook, take photos, assist with data entry, and phone ministry.  

The friars say the most rewarding aspects of their ministry are the ongoing relationships and conversations with guests, who are contacted by phone within a few months of receiving assistance to see how they’re doing.  

“We want to make sure they’re okay, have enough food and transportation, if they need it,” Br. Frank said. “We want them to know that we truly care.”  

With Br. Paul soon being transferred to a new ministry assignment in San Antonio, Brothers Bob and Frank are hoping another friar will feel called to join them in offering compassion and building relationships.  

Br. Paul said it’s been the most rewarding aspect of his ministry there.  

“What I have found to be so life-giving is just having conversation with people and letting them we’re all in this together,” he said. “It helps them to know that someone cares enough to help them, that someone is listening.”  

Franciscan Connection is located at 5201 Virginia, St. Louis, MO 63111. For more information, contact 314-773-8485 or, or visit https:///