St. John's United Church of Christ is in mission with St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter, a refuge for homeless families which is located here in Phoenixville.

Begun in 1987 by 2 Sisters of the Order of St. Francis to provide emergency shelter for homeless families. The first family arrived at St. Mary’s on the 19th day of November in 1987. St. Johns was the first Protestant communion in this area to provide meals for the families and two members of St. Johns were part of the original ‘advisory’ board from the community to the Shelter. As of September, 2002, the Shelter has served over 375 families.

St. John's continues to supply St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter with meals for three weeks during the year. Marie and Gene Byers organize and deliver the food to the Shelter. There are currently 30 churches in the meal program and over 70 volunteers who serve as night security, office workers, playroom supervisors, who do laundry and some housekeeping and who help to serve the meals as well as work on maintenance and fundraising.

During the month of November, our congregation donates gifts of food and paper supplies to the Phoenixville Area Community Services ("PACS") Food Pantry. The paper supplies given at this time are taken to the Shelter, while the food items are given to PACS.

Rev. Linda is once again a member of the Board of  Directors of St. Mary’s Franciscan Shelter effective in December of 2006.


ST. MARY'S FRANCISCAN SHELTER for homeless families is in need of jumbo sized diapers, iced tea mix with lemon and sugar, paper towels, coffee.  If you can provide any of these items, please take them directly to the shelter at 209 Emmett Street, Phoenixville.

"When I came to Phoenixville in 1988, St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter for homeless families was in its first year or so. I visited the shelter that September, and I remember that I was very surprised by the warm, peaceful atmosphere in the place.

No homeless shelter I had ever visited had felt like that. The "vibes" of the pain and anxiety of the homeless are usually felt by anyone who enters.

I remarked about this to Sister Margaret, who offered the easy explanation that the building on Emmett Street had been a convent for more than 100 years. Of course, I understood immediately. There were prayers in the walls - 100 years worth. If I didn't know the power of prayer before that, it became pretty obvious to me that day."

Excerpt from "Good Advice: Watch What you Pray For" - taken from her column "Thinking Allowed" by Tresita (Frey) Beach, Pastor of Evansburg United Methodist Church

St. Mary's Shelter Helps Families in Need

Reprinted with permission from "THE PHOENIX", Thursday July 31, 1997
an article by Michael Walker, Jr., "Phoenix" Staff Writer

PHOENIXVILLE - People don't plan on being homeless, says Sister Emma. It's a result of events or sometimes choices made, she says - a fire, a lost job, an eviction, an abusive marriage. "There are a lot of different reasons," Sister Emma says. "A lot of people today are making entry-level wages that help from week to week, but don't allow people to put money away in the bank."

Sister Emma Mary Steckel is one of four nuns who operate the St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter for Homeless Families on Emmett Street in Phoenixville. The shelter recently received a $25,000 grant award from The Philadelphia Foundation, a private foundation established by the late Chester County lawyer Milton Apfelbaum.

One of only four grant applications accepted this year, St. Mary's shelter will share the grant award with three local non-profit groups; all four groups work together to help find homes, and jobs, for homeless families in the area.

St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter opened on Emmett Street in 1987, at the site of a former convent. Members of the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church, Sister Emma says they model their ideals on the life of St. Francis of Assisi - helping the poor and living a simple life.

A former schoolteacher, Sister Emma says there was a time, not long ago, when no Franciscans worked in shelters. But as years go on and social structures change, the ministry has changed to meet people's needs.

St. Mary's Shelter is an "emergency shelter for homeless families." Only families with children are eligible for shelter at St. Mary's. Eligible families are brought to the shelter by the Phoenixville Area Community Service (PACS), one of the groups sharing the $25,000 grant award. Family members are tested for drugs and drug users are not eligible for housing at the shelter. "We do run a structured shelter," says Sister Emma.

When a family is accepted into the shelter, St. Mary's provides housing for eight weeks. During the family's stay, case manager Rose Dougherty works with the families to help parents find work and permanent housing. The shelter also offers education classes in personal management (money management, housing and home care), and parenting classes.

Open Hearth and Orion Communities, local non-profit groups, also help families find housing and jobs. Orion and Open Hearth are also sharing the $25,000 Philadelphia Foundation grant award.

"I would say that on the whole, yes, a lot of people coming through will find jobs," says Sister Emma.

Founded by Franciscan nuns in 1987, the shelter has housed 270 families. Sister Emma says the shelter has enough room to house eight families at one time. "We're generally pretty well filled," she says. "There is hardly ever a time when we don't have families."

The families live in private rooms - three twin beds, a crib, a sink and a closet. Meals are taken in a family dining room . There is a television and reading room for adults, and a playroom for children. "It's basically a small shelter," says Sister Emma. "It's not as scary for them. A lot of families feel worried or afraid at first, but here people have a peaceful time. People are here to help and the kids do very well."

The $25,000 private grant will help fund the shelter's activities, but Sister Emma says the shelter primarily runs through the good graces of individual donations and a small army of volunteers. Fifty people volunteer weekly to help out at the shelter while 50 more volunteer to help at special events.

For more information regarding the St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter, please contact the Sisters at 610/933-3097.

St. John's United Church of Christ - Phoenixville, PA