Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
People who struggle with homelessness, poverty, or food insecurity can be thankful for Sister Caroline Tweedy, RSM. In fact, even those of us who have a roof over our heads and food on our tables should be grateful that this Sister of Mercy reflects the best of Catholicism to all those around her. As the Executive Director of the St. John’s Bread and Life food pantry program, Sister Caroline and her team provide four and a half million meals a year to 25 communities in Brooklyn and Queens, New York.
From where does this selflessness come? During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Sister Caroline recalled her family teaching her, “As a Christian, your mission in life is to do good. Whatever road that takes you down, everybody has something to offer.” In addition, she helped out in her grandmother’s restaurant and bakery. Sister Caroline told me, “At the end of the day, my grandmother would give whatever was left to whoever was there, whoever needed it. She never turned anybody away.” (St. John’s Bread and Life has never turned anyone away either.)
Though her first reaction to someone suggesting she join the Sisters of Mercy was, “Oh no, I’ve got other fish to fry,” the idea became more appealing because of the order’s mission, work, and the idea of living in community. Sister Caroline went on to hold various jobs at Mercy Home for Children, which cares for developmentally disabled children and adults, both in residential programs and respite care programs. It was a life-changing experience that allowed her to view the world through God’s eyes. She said, “You see the face of God in those that are most fragile, those who don’t have a voice. You become their voice. You take a stand for them.”
That experience proved to be the perfect foundation for Sister Caroline’s current work at St. John’s Bread and Life. Not only do they provide hot meals to those who need them, they have a state-of-the-art digital food pantry, which gives people a sense of being able to shop for what they want instead of simply being handed a bag of food.
When we refer to “the poor” or “the homeless,” we can depersonalize these groups of people. But Sister Caroline and her team are meeting them face-to-face as children of God. She explained, “You are putting a face on someone who is in need of a service, who might be in crisis. And when you look at that person, you see the face of God. If you’re doing this work, that’s really what we’re doing. You can learn about…religious life and service in the Church by reading it or watching somebody else. But until you actually have that interaction with folks and you see progress, that’s when you’ve made a significant difference. For all of us, it’s very important to have that one-to-one relationship. We could walk through the neighborhood, and everybody knows who you are.”
Out of St. John’s Bread and Life’s 35 staff members, 10 are former clients who were able to get back on their feet with the assistance of the program, which also includes counseling on government benefits that can help them through a hard time. And food for the soul is always available to the guests who come there through the compassionate interactions of the staff. Sister Caroline concluded, “For me, personally, I think the greatest gift is to know that you’ve helped someone.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BE GOD’S HANDS AND HEART, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org