International News

Schools, Programs Named After Pope Francis Aim to Reflect His Mission

WASHINGTON — When Pope Francis became pope 10 years ago on March 13, the name he chose drew widespread attention.

The Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio picked his papal name after St. Francis, who ministered to the poor, cared for God’s creation, and worked to rebuild the church. 

Now, a decade later, the name of Pope Francis, the 266th pope, has been given to U.S. food pantries, schools, housing for the elderly and low-income families, and a shelter for the homeless. 

Worldwide, Pope Francis’ name has also been given to a diverse range of programs, places, and products. 

In his home country of Argentina, a semi-professional soccer club is named Papa Francisco, and in Australia, a ferry has the name “HSC Francisco.” There is also a cologne named after him called “Francis,” described as having a humble, woodsy scent. 

Closer to the pope’s mission, there is a home for women and children in Italy named after him, and a center for the poor in the Philippines bears his name. 

For many of these places, their name is more than just an association with a modern church leader; instead, it’s an effort to reflect Pope Francis’ ministry — his concern for the poor and desire for the Church to reach out to those on the peripheries. 

In Brooklyn, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens last year opened the Pope Francis Apartments at Loreto in Brownsville — an eight-story complex providing affordable housing for seniors and formerly homeless people. 

One of the new residents, who became homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, told The Tablet at the building’s dedication ceremony that Catholic Charities helped him find this home. 

“What you guys are doing, please keep doing it,” he said of the work of Catholic Charities. “Because I’m not the only one; many other people out here need help. And I know they will be just as grateful as me.” 

More than 600 miles away, the Pope Francis Center in Detroit provides free meals, showers, laundry, and medical clinics every day for those who are homeless. 

The facility, opened by a Jesuit priest 30 years ago at Saints Peter and Paul Church, was named the Pope Francis Center in 2016 “in honor of Pope Francis’ deep commitment to the poor.” 

Along that same line of service to those in need, some Catholic parishes have named their outreach ministries after the current pontiff, including the Pope Francis Outreach Center at Assumption Parish in Washington, D.C., and the Pope Francis Food Pantry at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton, New Jersey. 

The parish food pantry is in the basement of the Immaculate Conception Convent and is open every third Saturday. The parish also runs a soup kitchen. 

The food pantry, which opened in 2013, took its name from Pope Francis to reflect a desire to make the pope’s “vision of the Catholic Church as a field hospital become a reality,” said Father Vince Guest, pastor at the time. “We strive to foster a parish community that seeks to heal the wounds and warms the hearts of all God’s children,” he added in a description about the program on the website of the Diocese of Camden. 

The Pope Francis Outreach Center in Washington, which changed its name in 2014 from the Helping Hand Program the parish established in 1967, is “needed now more than ever before,” according to a description on the parish’s website. 

“While it was once easy for the parish to support the needs of those around us, it is now one of our greatest challenges and concerns,” it added. The outreach center provides food and clothing to those in need. 

Following the example of Pope Francis in caring for those in need is also reflected in the work of Habitat for Humanity, which has built several Pope Francis Houses across the country in partnership with Catholic organizations. 

These homes, according to Habitat for Humanity, “honor Pope Francis for his commitment to social justice and reinvigorating the Catholic Church.” 

They also provide a way for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers to work for a common goal and further Habitat for Humanity’s mission of building and preserving homes. 

When a Habitat Pope Francis House was dedicated in Ohio in 2016, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said the archdiocese was honored to be a part of the project that received “such great inspiration from Pope Francis’ example of love and humble service.” 

But it’s not just housing that gets the Pope Francis name. 

There are at least two schools in the U.S. named after the current pontiff: Pope Francis Preparatory School, a regional high school in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Pope Francis Global Academy in Chicago, a pre-K-through-grade eight school. Both schools are new, and formed when schools merged after he became pope. 

Jodi Thyen, director of admissions and advancement at the Chicago school, told The Tablet that it was unusual to be named after someone still living, but she said it works for their school, which is diverse and welcoming and loves Pope Francis. 

She said the school also has ties to the pope’s namesake, St. Francis, by choosing a wolf as their mascot, following the tradition of the Wolf of Gubbio, said to have been tamed by St. Francis after it had terrorized the Italian city of Gubbio. 

Thyen said the school plans to celebrate the pope’s 10th anniversary of his pontificate but had not decided as of Feb. 28 how they would do it, except that whatever they do would likely be tied into a theme of one of his encyclicals.