San Francisco: Sisters serve manna from heaven

In the end, it is said that all you need is prayer. But what about love, hope or soup? Cooking up and serving out heaping portions of each are Sisters Mary Isabelle and Mary Benedicte, two Traditional Catholic nuns of the Fraternité Notre Dame who, for its entire nine-year existence have operated the order’s local community soup kitchen, located in the belly of San Francisco ’s troubled, though improving, Tenderloin district.

San Francisco

Sister Isabella preparing a small apple pie for the soup kitchen’s bakesale on March 17 at the Fraternite of Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Photo by Regina Vera •

Within their ardent faith lies the notion that from the consumption of a hearty mixture of compassion and optimism, combined with a hot and healthy dose of nourishment, comes not only the experience of a life altering change but a shift in attitude as well.

“Feeling better is what it is all about,” Benedicte said. “The improvement of the homeless, helps the improvement for the whole neighborhood.”

Over the past year, Fraternité Notre Dame suffered through uncertainty regarding their still-current residence, located on 54 Turk St, when they were informed via landlord of a rent increase that would have been impossible to meet.

Opening a soup kitchen for the hungry and homeless beneath a residential building in an ever-gentrifying neighborhood is bound to leave a bad taste in the mouths of tenants. The residents’ fears and concerns regarding alleged criminal and illegal drug activity have given way to what Sister Mary Benedict feels is an undeserved reputation being forced on the kitchen’s patrons. The clash and conflict has inevitably placed the well-intentioned establishment at a crossroads with the less than welcoming residents of the community in which both sides call home.

“Nice breeds nice,” Benedicte said. “We did not want fight.”

Faced with the difficult task of relocating to a new location, the sisters received the blessing they had repeatedly prayed for. Now equipped with the business acumen, and most importantly the financial backing from a few wealthy celebrity supporters, Fraternité Notre Dame will continue their mission to, “feed everybody” who cannot feed themselves.

With new change, there will undoubtedly be new challenges. Sister Mary Benedicte is eager to move forward and away from the burdens of the kitchen’s trying, though just as rewarding, past. This becomes no more apparent than the moment the conversation turns in the direction of the future where a palpable excitement and optimistic enthusiasm reveals itself as part of her reserved yet gleeful demeanor.

In addition to the relocation efforts that are currently underway, Fraternité Notre Dame plans to expand upon an already successful after-school program targeting kids from broken homes and needy families. The creation of a food bank program for the disabled, malnourished and underfed is another future endeavor with hopes of fruition.

Accompanying her unwavering dedication and love for God is a willingness, to never rest from her duties. “As long as I am here, I will serve God, and if it is not here, then it will be somewhere else,” Benedicte said.

Under the leadership and tutelage of someone she describes with reverence as a mentor, Bishop Jean Marie, founder of Fraternité Notre Dame, Sister Mary Benedicte is instilled with a supreme confidence in his direction as well as his guidance. As well she should be, the Bishop is after all, in her belief, receiving his edicts direct from a very well-known and respected authority.

“God speaks to us through him,” Benedicte said.

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