Francis House of Prayer, a ‘meeting place with God’ for 50 years

June 21, 2024 at 1:54 p.m.
Friends, supporters and staff members participate in Francis House of Prayer's 50th anniversary Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell.
Friends, supporters and staff members participate in Francis House of Prayer's 50th anniversary Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell.

By MARY STADNYK
Associate Editor

The Diocese of Trenton’s Francis House of Prayer, affectionately known as a “meeting place with God,” marked its golden jubilee with a June 9 Mass of Thanksgiving and a luncheon.

“For 50 years, St. Francis House of Prayer has been the holy ground that we and so many others have approached for those very things: for renewal, for peace of mind and heart, for the strength we need to experience God and share his love and presence with others through prayer and contemplation; for the support that faith alone can provide; for rest; for something to take away,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said in his homily to the several hundred staff members, friends and supporters at the outdoor Mass.

PHOTO GALLERY: Francis House of Prayer's Mass of Thanksgiving

“Today is our opportunity to celebrate with gratitude the rest that Jesus has offered for 50 years at St. Francis House of Prayer; the nourishment that satisfies our hungers; the Word that teaches us eternal truth; the faith that enables us to transform our lives into the dwelling place of God in the Holy Spirit. St. Francis House of Prayer is a place that for the past half-century has been and will remain ‘holy ground,’” the Bishop said.

Trappist Father Joe Tedesco, a former priest of the Diocese and one of the original Francis House founders, was among the priest concelebrants. Father Tedesco now leads Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina.

Rich History

The Diocese established Francis House in June 1974 in a spacious 200-year-old farmhouse located on a 72-acre tract of farmland in Westampton. In 2019, however, the ministry was relocated to Allentown, when the Diocese was approached by the township, which was under court mandate to comply with fair share housing plans. The township asked for permission to include the parcel of land on which Francis House sat in the plan it had to submit to the court. The painstaking decision to relocate was one that Sister of St. Joseph Marcy Springer, Francis House executive director, and diocesan officials considered carefully before searching for new quarters. Today, Francis House is now on Walnford Road, situated between a preserved horse farm and quiet parkland.

While Francis House has been served by a number of directors since 1992, it has been under the charge of Sister Marcy with the assistance of many devoted volunteers, who help with office work as well as maintaining the house and grounds. The scope of programs includes a full three-year formation program for spiritual directors and 20 programs that meet monthly from September to May that “are so nourishing and are such an opportunity for community as people learn more deeply the dynamics of the spiritual life,” she said. There are weekend and same-day directed retreats and one-day personal retreats. Since the pandemic, many of the programs continue to be offered online as well as in-person.

“Seeing Francis House celebrate 50 years as a house of prayer, retreat house and spiritual center in the Diocese of Trenton reminds me that when we give generously, the little we have with our whole hearts, God multiplies it like the loaves and fishes and enables it to feed many people,” said Sister Marcy.

Faithful to the Mission

Before arriving at Francis House, Sister Marcy served as an elementary school teacher for 10 years, the formation director for her religious community for 11 years and was a pastoral associate in St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, for five years. “All those experiences were a gift to prepare me for my graced work at Francis House,” she said.

“My greatest learning as the director of Francis House of Prayer is that nothing is impossible for God, and that God’s power working in us can do infinitely more then we could ask or even imagine. It is a great privilege to watch God at work in the people who come,” she said. “May Francis House of Prayer continue to be a house of prayer for all peoples for many years to come.”

Celeste Giancola, a retreat attendant since 2016 and volunteer with the decorating committee, said she believes Francis House is important because “it’s a special place to seek God out and to connect with like-minded people.”

“This place refreshes my soul and gives me hope,” said Giancola, a member of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. “I wish others, who want a relationship with God or to deepen their relationship with God, would experience the love and warmth at Francis House, especially the younger people.

Spending time with God

“My experience is that God will not knock on your door. You need to knock on his door, and he will open it with endless possibilities,” Giancola said.

Eileen Hart, a member of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, has been with Francis House for 12 years. She initially went for spiritual direction and then went on to participate in monthly series, day workshops and group retreats while serving on the faculty of Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville. She continues to be a retreatant, volunteers as a cook and assists with gardening and administrative work.

Hart said anytime she visits Francis House, “I feel I am on holy ground … I cannot explain it. … When I step out of my car and enter the main house, I feel God’s peace surrounding me. I leave my troubles and worries at the doorway. My time spent at Francis House, whether in a workshop, spiritual direction or interacting with others, is one of connectedness with God and a sense of unity with whom I come into contact.”

“I encourage all in our Diocese and beyond to come to Francis House of Prayer and witness first-hand what it is all about,” Hart said. “It is truly an oasis of prayer and love in our world and an awesome place to encounter God.”

Joanne Hall of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, attended her first silent retreat weekend in Westampton in 2017 and has since attended various retreats and programs.

“I come to Francis House to spend time with God,” Hall said, adding that she has invited fellow parishioners from St. Luke to programs and that many went on to attend programs on their own.

Deacon Moore Hank and his wife, Theresa, have attended many one-day retreats and an occasional overnight, and he also participated in programs for his diaconate formation.

A place for renewal

“Francis House is important because it allows those who are active in ministry to find a place to renew themselves for a day, a few days or even a full week,” he said.

“Having witnessed so many anniversaries at Francis House, it was a joy to be there for the 50th,” he said, then added with a smile, “I’d love to be at the 100th, but I guess that would be pushing it.”

Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, addressed the congregation after Communion, saying, “We come together to tell the stories of transformation and blessing from our days at Francis House and look forward in hopeful expectation for all that God will draw forth from this place and this community.

“We come together to listen closely to the voice of the Lord at this House of Prayer and draw strength for carrying his grace from here to our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes and society,” Ginther said. “We come to recognize in beauty and song, in laughter and companionship the astounding goodness and faithfulness of God that we have experienced here.”


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The Diocese of Trenton’s Francis House of Prayer, affectionately known as a “meeting place with God,” marked its golden jubilee with a June 9 Mass of Thanksgiving and a luncheon.

“For 50 years, St. Francis House of Prayer has been the holy ground that we and so many others have approached for those very things: for renewal, for peace of mind and heart, for the strength we need to experience God and share his love and presence with others through prayer and contemplation; for the support that faith alone can provide; for rest; for something to take away,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said in his homily to the several hundred staff members, friends and supporters at the outdoor Mass.

PHOTO GALLERY: Francis House of Prayer's Mass of Thanksgiving

“Today is our opportunity to celebrate with gratitude the rest that Jesus has offered for 50 years at St. Francis House of Prayer; the nourishment that satisfies our hungers; the Word that teaches us eternal truth; the faith that enables us to transform our lives into the dwelling place of God in the Holy Spirit. St. Francis House of Prayer is a place that for the past half-century has been and will remain ‘holy ground,’” the Bishop said.

Trappist Father Joe Tedesco, a former priest of the Diocese and one of the original Francis House founders, was among the priest concelebrants. Father Tedesco now leads Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina.

Rich History

The Diocese established Francis House in June 1974 in a spacious 200-year-old farmhouse located on a 72-acre tract of farmland in Westampton. In 2019, however, the ministry was relocated to Allentown, when the Diocese was approached by the township, which was under court mandate to comply with fair share housing plans. The township asked for permission to include the parcel of land on which Francis House sat in the plan it had to submit to the court. The painstaking decision to relocate was one that Sister of St. Joseph Marcy Springer, Francis House executive director, and diocesan officials considered carefully before searching for new quarters. Today, Francis House is now on Walnford Road, situated between a preserved horse farm and quiet parkland.

While Francis House has been served by a number of directors since 1992, it has been under the charge of Sister Marcy with the assistance of many devoted volunteers, who help with office work as well as maintaining the house and grounds. The scope of programs includes a full three-year formation program for spiritual directors and 20 programs that meet monthly from September to May that “are so nourishing and are such an opportunity for community as people learn more deeply the dynamics of the spiritual life,” she said. There are weekend and same-day directed retreats and one-day personal retreats. Since the pandemic, many of the programs continue to be offered online as well as in-person.

“Seeing Francis House celebrate 50 years as a house of prayer, retreat house and spiritual center in the Diocese of Trenton reminds me that when we give generously, the little we have with our whole hearts, God multiplies it like the loaves and fishes and enables it to feed many people,” said Sister Marcy.

Faithful to the Mission

Before arriving at Francis House, Sister Marcy served as an elementary school teacher for 10 years, the formation director for her religious community for 11 years and was a pastoral associate in St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, for five years. “All those experiences were a gift to prepare me for my graced work at Francis House,” she said.

“My greatest learning as the director of Francis House of Prayer is that nothing is impossible for God, and that God’s power working in us can do infinitely more then we could ask or even imagine. It is a great privilege to watch God at work in the people who come,” she said. “May Francis House of Prayer continue to be a house of prayer for all peoples for many years to come.”

Celeste Giancola, a retreat attendant since 2016 and volunteer with the decorating committee, said she believes Francis House is important because “it’s a special place to seek God out and to connect with like-minded people.”

“This place refreshes my soul and gives me hope,” said Giancola, a member of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. “I wish others, who want a relationship with God or to deepen their relationship with God, would experience the love and warmth at Francis House, especially the younger people.

Spending time with God

“My experience is that God will not knock on your door. You need to knock on his door, and he will open it with endless possibilities,” Giancola said.

Eileen Hart, a member of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, has been with Francis House for 12 years. She initially went for spiritual direction and then went on to participate in monthly series, day workshops and group retreats while serving on the faculty of Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville. She continues to be a retreatant, volunteers as a cook and assists with gardening and administrative work.

Hart said anytime she visits Francis House, “I feel I am on holy ground … I cannot explain it. … When I step out of my car and enter the main house, I feel God’s peace surrounding me. I leave my troubles and worries at the doorway. My time spent at Francis House, whether in a workshop, spiritual direction or interacting with others, is one of connectedness with God and a sense of unity with whom I come into contact.”

“I encourage all in our Diocese and beyond to come to Francis House of Prayer and witness first-hand what it is all about,” Hart said. “It is truly an oasis of prayer and love in our world and an awesome place to encounter God.”

Joanne Hall of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, attended her first silent retreat weekend in Westampton in 2017 and has since attended various retreats and programs.

“I come to Francis House to spend time with God,” Hall said, adding that she has invited fellow parishioners from St. Luke to programs and that many went on to attend programs on their own.

Deacon Moore Hank and his wife, Theresa, have attended many one-day retreats and an occasional overnight, and he also participated in programs for his diaconate formation.

A place for renewal

“Francis House is important because it allows those who are active in ministry to find a place to renew themselves for a day, a few days or even a full week,” he said.

“Having witnessed so many anniversaries at Francis House, it was a joy to be there for the 50th,” he said, then added with a smile, “I’d love to be at the 100th, but I guess that would be pushing it.”

Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, addressed the congregation after Communion, saying, “We come together to tell the stories of transformation and blessing from our days at Francis House and look forward in hopeful expectation for all that God will draw forth from this place and this community.

“We come together to listen closely to the voice of the Lord at this House of Prayer and draw strength for carrying his grace from here to our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes and society,” Ginther said. “We come to recognize in beauty and song, in laughter and companionship the astounding goodness and faithfulness of God that we have experienced here.”

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