Father Benedict House, Atlantic City

Next to a photo of Father Benedict Groeschel, Sister Agnes, Community Servant of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in Atlantic City, expresses her appreciation for Bishop Sullivan and the faithful of the Diocese of Camden at the dedication and blessing of the Father Benedict House on Nov. 30.

ATLANTIC CITY — Declaring that all who enter its doors are “caught by Christ,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan last Friday blessed the Father Benedict House in Atlantic City.

Joined by diocesan priests, Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, volunteers, and faithful of South Jersey, Bishop Sullivan celebrated 10 a.m. Mass at the Parish of Saint Monica’s Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church, before walking across the parking lot and heading into the former Saint Nicholas Convent, praying and sprinkling holy water throughout its kitchen, chapel, rooms and halls.

Staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, and named after Father Benedict Groeschel, co-founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (both communities are based in the Bronx), the home provides a “safe place” for the homeless and needy twice a week, said Sister Agnes, the local servant (superior) of the Atlantic City community.

“This place allows people, who don’t feel they are lovable, to feel God’s love,” she added.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, year-round, from 10 -11:30 a.m., the house provides hot coffee, breakfast and, in these cold months, a warm respite.

Outside the newly-dedicated Father Benedict House with Bishop Dennis Sullivan last Friday are Father Juniper Adams, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal; Sister Ann Kateri; Father John Paul Ouelette, Community Servant of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal; Sister Joseph; Mother Clare Matthiass, Community Servant of the Franciscan Sister of the Renewal; Father Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of Saint Monica; Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General; Sister Chiara; Sister Agnes, local Community Servant in Atlantic City; and Mother Lucille Cutrone, former Community Servant of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. Photos by Mike Walsh

During their stay, visitors can also light a candle or share a prayer intention in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  A clothing pantry also has been set up at the Benedict House, ensuring that no one leaves without proper protection from the harsh elements of winter.

Sister Agnes noted that a comfort, and trust, is being developed every week between the sisters and volunteers and the needy, as many impoverished have become regulars. As well, every Wednesday morning, a Bible study takes place at the Benedict House, further breaking down barriers between the sisters and the area community. “We are building relationships and showing the Gospel through our actions,” she said.

The location’s name was apt, as the late Father Benedict Groeschel was well-known for his outreach to those on the margins throughout his many decades of ministry as a priest and friar, from feeding the hungry in the South Bronx, to helping adolescents in Brooklyn, to co-founding Good Counsel Homes, which assist pregnant women and their children.

Father Benedict’s sister, Marjule Drury, traveled from North Jersey to mark the remembrance of her brother.

Admitting that the day’s proceedings made her “overwhelmed” and “choked up,” Drury recalled that her brother, even from the age of 7, understood his calling from Christ.

“He knew he belonged to God, and his whole life was dedicated to him,” she said.

The Mass and blessing on Nov. 30 couldn’t have come on a better day to remember both Father Benedict and Father Andrew Apostoli, co-founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal — the day marked the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the first “caught” by Jesus to follow him.  Pictures of both lined the altar during the Eucharistic Celebration.

The Sisters have hit the ground running since beginning their work in the Diocese of Camden in the summer of 2017.  In addition to Benedict House, they have held monthly days of reflection, nights of adoration and, in the past few months, have begun a missionary program. Last September, five young women — from England, Australia, Nebraska, Oregon, and California — began a year of prayer, community, service and formation with the sisters, to further discern God’s will for their lives.

“This is a work of God, and a miracle that this has all unfolded,” said Sister Agnes. “All through the kindness of Bishop Sullivan and his invitation to Atlantic City, and the goodness of the people of South Jersey.”