You could say service is in Katie Sullivan’s DNA. “Our family is one of educators, nurses, lawyers, and vowed religious (two great-aunts who were Dominicans and two aunts who are Daughters of Charity),” says Sullivan.
She's the executive director of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM), a ministry founded by the Holy Name OFM Province in 1989.
For the past 18 years, Sullivan has been at the helm of FVM, which is headquartered in Philadelphia and includes locations in Camden, New Jersey; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Wilmington, Delaware.
The organization’s motto, “Love . . . lived in service,” is put into action by its volunteer participants in soup kitchens, prison ministry, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, and more. The current of Saint Francis’ care for and need to be one with the poor pulses strongly at FVM, as it has throughout Sullivan’s life.
Originally from Washington, DC, she grew up in an environment where volunteering was a part of normal family life. “My childhood was infused with doing things for and with others: camp for kids in DC’s shelters and low-income housing, food drives, visits to nursing homes, readathons, and walkathons,” she recalls.
A product of Catholic schooling, Sullivan attended the College of Holy Cross—in Worcester, Massachusetts—where she decided that she would take a year to focus on service work following her graduation in 1995.
After poring over a list of 120 service programs, Sullivan noticed FVM. “I was looking for a program in which the sponsoring religious community was involved not just in name, but also directly and daily in the life of the ministry,” she says.
Instead of volunteering for one year with FVM, Sullivan was so taken by the work of the ministry that she spent two years working closely with Philadelphia’s Saint Francis Inn soup kitchen and living in community with other FVM participants.
In 1997, Sullivan was hired as the second lay director of FVM, and has since seen well over 200 volunteer ministers pass through the program. The majority of the volunteers are recent college graduates, though some participants are high school graduates or people in their 30s and 40s.
Sullivan notes that many have gone on to work as educators and physicians, while some have entered religious communities.
Each FVM site has its own particular flavor. In Philadelphia, volunteer ministers have opportunities to help out at the Saint Francis Inn soup kitchen or work in a women’s day center, an urban center, and a thrift shop.
The Camden location offers outreach at Francis House, a place that provides vital resources for HIV-infected individuals and their families. Both the Silver Spring and Wilmington sites have ESL classes and youth ministry programs.
Common to all the FVM locations is the spirit of life in community for the participants, direct service to those in need alongside vowed Franciscans, and a strong emphasis on praying together.
Sullivan is constantly impressed with and inspired by both the volunteer ministers she oversees and the communities they serve.
“With FVM, I interact with people daily who desire to fully live their faith and integrate their faith into all they do. They are beacons of joy and hope in a world that is in need of healing. They remind me of my family.”
According to Saint Bonaventure, Francis was once called upon to preach before Pope Innocent III and his cardinals. Francis prepared very carefully but, once he began, he forgot everything he had intended to say.
Calling on the Holy Spirit’s help, Francis went on to preach so eloquently that his listeners realized “it was not he, but the Spirit of the Lord was speaking” (LM 12).
There were other times when Francis forgot what he had prepared and asked a blessing for his listeners. —Pat McCloskey, OFM