In light of Thanksgiving this week, a time for family to embrace and recognize the gifts in our everyday lives, it’s the perfect opportunity to look for the people in West Chester who make it the beautiful town that it is.
Barbara Kirby and Monsignor Thomas Patrick Craven from St. Agnes Church, which sits right on the corner of New and Gay streets, dedicated the lower level of St. Agnes Rectory to the poor 18 years ago and continue today to serve our local homeless and vulnerable in a trinity of services.
These services include The Day Room, a place of hospitality where basic human needs are provided for, the Nurses Center, a free health clinic for those who would otherwise go without medical care, and the Educational Support Programs for the young children of migrant families.
“We opened the doors and let our brothers in,” Kirby explained. Their mission is to “do what we can to lessen the burdens of our neighbors in need.”
Every day, our local poor come to St. Agnes’ doors in hope of an encounter with Christ, explained Kirby. They are the materially poor, the hungry, the homeless, those with mental illness, the abandoned ones, the migrants, the addicted, the epileptics, the anxious, the old, the lonely, teenagers without purpose, the mentally handicapped, and the unemployed.
Kirby told me stories of hope, resilience and the power of looking into another’s eyes and holding their hand.
Marta and her husband came from rural Mexico to find work.
They live in a one-room basement “apartment” with their five children. Unable to read or write in Spanish or English, having come from extreme poverty, Marta came to St. Agnes terrified and her children immobilized with fear.
“Little by little Marta was able to look into my eyes,” Kirby grinned.
Eventually, Marta learned to smile again, and the children were no longer silent, but at the first sign of displeasure, she would gather her family and hang her head.
The nursing staff developed a bond with Marta and the children since they were frequently sick and began a “Latina Support Group.” Young mothers, away from their own mothers and grandmothers and afraid of mentoring, determine the topics, which range from depression and parenting to nutrition and education.
“Little by little, women living in fear and isolation have become a happy community helping one another,” said Kirby.
Marta helps Kirby run the diaper and baby needs program, and her daughter, Lupe, who is almost 3 years old, helps carry the diapers to waiting mothers.
“Marta has found new purpose in helping others,” explained Kirby. And isn’t that what this holiday is all about? Lending a helping hand to show our gratitude for the lives we live is a genuine portrayal of giving thanks. These charitable acts happen every day, right in our little borough.
“I understand that my weak and limited love cannot fill the needs of the poor. It is Christ who sustains us in this companionship, who causes us to be glad in the company of one another and generates a people for Himself,” Kirby expressed.
We all have the capacity to love those in need, regardless of belief or reason, and by offering our talents in simple ways to those who live within our community, miracles can happen.
Megan Monachino is a fourth-year student majoring in English writing with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at MM783809@wcupa.edu.