Laughter echoed in the newly-renovated gathering room at the Assisi House, and the smell of cinnamon lingered in the air.

On a recent Wednesday in March, Sisters at the retirement convent for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, were making “Irish potatoes” — a traditional Philadelphia confection.

Wearing plastic gloves, the Sisters carefully rolled the coconut cream in cinnamon and set them on wax paper, laughing and talking as they worked side by side on long tables in the gathering room, their walkers parked beside them. 

Sisters make Irish potato candies together

On any given day, the gathering room is bustling with different activities, from screening movies to working on art projects. Sisters arrive there early every day for their morning exercises; they celebrate birthdays and feast days there; they organize retreats there.

And good luck finding a seat for Monday afternoon Bingo!

Thanks to our donors,  a grant from SOAR! helped provide some of the upgrades to the gathering room where the Sisters were making candies.

The flooring and furniture has been upgraded and the space is open and bright — sunlight floods in through the windows.

Although they are now retired from their demanding vocations — as teachers, or nurses, or administrators — Sisters at the Assisi House still stay busy.

Nearly 100 Sisters live at the convent, which is across the street from Neumann College and Our Lady of Angels Convent, the congregation’s Motherhouse. And each day, they wake up to continue to carry out their Franciscan ideals through service to one another, their community and their world.

The gathering room is a space where their ministry comes alive. The Sisters line up the tables for assembly and make bologna sandwiches for St. Francis Inn, which ministers to the homeless and poor in Philadelphia. Every Tuesday in Lent, the Sisters wrote letters to prisoners there

The Assisi House recently underwent a major renovation in response to feedback from congregational members.

Administrators Sister Rose Raymond Barba and Sister Arlene McDonough

Sister Rose Raymond Barba and Sister Arlene McDonough

Over the past few years, the Assisi House has shifted from a medical model to a more “person-centered” approach. Organizers re-imagined the residence as a cozy and comfortable space — less institutional and more homelike.

Sister Arlene McDonough, an administrator at the Assisi House, thanked SOAR! and its donors for helping administrators realize their vision.

“We’ve only been able to accomplish what we have… because of donors,” she said.

In each of Assisi House’s two residential wings, there are roomy country kitchens and living rooms with more natural light, a gas fireplace and new furniture. When the weather is nice, Sisters can sit outside on a patio outside the kitchen. An expanded library is organized with books, magazines and computers. The changes allow Sisters at the Assisi House to live more independently, administrators said.

Just next door to the community room, tables, sofas and chairs are arranged together in the front parlor. Two Sisters work on a jigsaw puzzle.

“People want to come here (now),” said Sister Rose Raymond Barba. “We don’t want people to think they can only come here when they’re debilitated.”

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