Continuing the Charism–Alumni Spotlight

Theresa and her husband, Michael, traveling through the Holy Land.

Theresa Kennedy-Palmisano
Franciscan Volunteer 2016-2017

Hi all! I’m Theresa Kennedy-Palmisano. I was a Franciscan Volunteer 2016-2017 and worked on Red Hill Farm (the sisters’ organic CSA farm) and in Assisi House (the sisters’ retirement home). My experience as a Franciscan Volunteer was truly life-altering—from the community to the sisters to the charism, being a Franciscan Volunteer rocked me to my core and certainly helped set me on the path I’m on today.

I joined the Franciscan Volunteer: No Risk No Gain program at a critical juncture in my life. I was recently engaged to an amazing man and my very best friend, but was having some feelings drawing me toward the beauties of religious life. At the time I applied—seemingly out of desperation—I had no job, my lease in Philadelphia was about to end, I was in a tough place with my wonderfully patient fiancé, and I felt a total lack of direction in my life. One of the only things that gave me any sense of structure or hope that I would be OK, was going to daily morning Mass. The thought that I would be doing something (anything!) with my faith through the Franciscan Volunteer program led me to believe I was heading in the right direction.

When I first visited the Franciscan Volunteer house in my state of total anxiety, I was very soon soothed. Meeting Sara, Rachel, and Mandee, and their incredible warmth and hospitality towards me, was really what made me choose to join Franciscan Volunteers. I had actually applied to another Franciscan service program in another place in addition, but I ultimately chose the Sisters of St. Francis. One big (silly) thing was the tipping point—Sara Marks, the program’s director, hugged me as soon as I got off the train. A total stranger, whom I had only spoke to over the phone and via email unloaded all of my current personal drama simply by accepting me as I got off the train with a big hug. I really think that’s what sealed the deal!

Fast forward to me actually joining the program—living in community with Rachel and Mandee was one of the greater challenges of the program, but also one of the absolute greatest joys. Learning to live in relationship, not to just survive as an island, was monumental for me in the way that I now (spoiler alert) live with my husband. I made two very close friends through this amazing community experience with whom I still keep in touch today. Community and care for the other was a very important part of the Franciscan charism to me. I knew I needed to become a better roommate and friend, in general, and the experience of community living really whittled me down in the ways I knew I needed to change.

The sisters and employees that I worked with at Assisi House, the sisters’ retirement residence, taught me a lot about the “ministry of presence.” For my whole life, I had always had a goal, a next step, something that needed to be worked on at all times for me to have a purpose. Simply being present in the slower pace of the sisters’ retirement home was a very new concept to me. I had a hard time when I didn’t always have a specific assigned task to do. What I learned from the other employees and volunteers was that sometimes just being with another person—to encounter them and just listen—was what was needed. I learned so much from the sisters when I finally slowed down and just sat with them, asked about their stories, and spent quality time with them. I learned a lot about myself and the way that I wanted to live my life, as well. Now, one of the things I prize most is the opportunity to spend time with a friend or family member, just being present to them. Slowing down as opposed to rushing through life was an important lesson for me to learn and is something that I try to continue to practice today.

During my time as a volunteer, I also enjoyed serving on the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Committee with a number of the sisters and companions. It was truly a blessing to be a part of a larger voice speaking up for justice across the country and world. As my husband and I will soon be moving back to the greater Philadelphia area, I hope to continue to be a part of the committee as social justice continues to be a passion of mine.

Finally, the Franciscan charism “offers a way for us to be faithful to the life we have chosen.” This, perhaps, had the greatest impact on me as a volunteer. Amidst my discernment, I came to realize that no matter which path I chose, I would continue to be a child of God who would not abandon me. When I made the commitment to marry my wonderful husband, Michael, I chose to “live in response to this invitation of God to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.” God was ultimately calling me closer to Him and I accepted this call by becoming a Franciscan Volunteer and subsequently choosing my current vocation as a wife and parish faith formation director. I am able to share the Gospel with the children and teens with whom I work in my parish, with my husband, and with every person that I meet. I have the opportunity to share my faith gladly and serve as a sounding board for young people who are looking for direction just as I once was. I am joyfully living out my vocation as a wife and faith formation director and I thank God every day for the blessings and peace he has bestowed on my life.

I look forward to continuing to carry the Franciscan charism with me as I journey to this next part of my life. Michael will be graduating from the Episcopal Seminary this spring and will be starting a position as an associate rector in a parish outside of Philadelphia. I am eager to continue living out God’s call for me to serve—wherever/whoever it may be. I know that the charism has pervaded my spirit and I truly believe that once you have been a Franciscan, you will always be a Franciscan.