Thank you so much to everyone who attended Cups for Caritas this year. We are incredibly grateful for your support. Please stay tuned for photos and announcements of our plans for the ‘leftovers.’
We had a few requests to post the remarks that were part of Sunday’s Mass, which follow below.
Remarks by Ben Mankowski '18
Good morning and welcome to this year’s Cups for Caritas event benefiting the Bethesda Project. My name is Ben Mankowski and I am a senior at Malvern, and a member of the Art and Advocacy class that spearheaded the event this year.
If you have been to our events in the past, you know this as Empty Bowls. But as a newly assembled class in the fall we decided to put a new face on this year’s event and change a few things for a couple of reasons.
This is our tenth year having the privilege to put this all together and some families have been coming for all ten years. They have experienced the same event every year and the bowls really start to pile up. We took this into account and expressed interest in cups this year.
Part of the fuel behind the cup idea was derived from a great mentor of ours Chris Staley who is introduced to every Ceramics I student by reading his article titled, “How a Handmade Cup Can Save the World.”
I urge all of you to read it in your program, but in short, taking a moment to appreciate something handmade such as a cup is a great experience for all of us in this fast-paced world. Holding a cup and using it is so much more intimate than any other dinner table item. Add on the cup being handmade, and you could look at it thousands of ways. Trust me, I have.
Today you will go home with a cup, and maybe you will forget about it, leave it in a cabinet, but I just ask one thing. Take a moment and think about how many people had a part in the process of creating that cup.
One person threw it.
Another might have trimmed the cup and added the handle.
Someone else probably fired the cup.
And finally, someone probably put those beautiful colors on the surface through glazing.
This is a celebration of community. I thank you all for coming and contributing to this great cause.
I’d like to end this with a quote from Chris Staley: “Now more than ever we need to look at the cup of life and hold it in reverence, drink from it and pass it on to share with others.”
Remarks by Tina Pagotto, CEO, Bethesda Project
Good morning, everyone. I’m Tina Pagotto, the Chief Executive Officer of Bethesda Project. And I’m so very honored to be with you this morning.
By now most of you know about Bethesda Project, but I’d like to share a brief overview as a refresher or for some new friends that are hearing about us for the first time. Bethesda Project is a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, founded in 1979 by Father Domenic Rossi and a prayer group at Daylesford Abbey. Our mission is to find and care for the abandoned poor and to be family with those who have none.
We started as a small volunteer-run outfit operating just one house for women who were living on the streets. It was a group of compassionate people who felt compelled to make a difference in the lives of people in need. They didn’t have any formal training, and relied on the basic concept of treating others as if they were family members. It turns out that was a pretty great formula.
Bethesda Project today has grown to operate a continuum of care – emergency shelter, a safe haven, permanent housing, and case management for single adults with mental illness, substance addiction, and complex medical conditions. We now operate 14 different sites and programs, we have a budget of $4.7M, and employ 130 staff members at our peak during the winter season. In the course of a year, we serve approximately 2000 unique individuals experiencing homelessness. Since our time together last year, we’ve expanded our programming for chronically homeless women, operating a new emergency shelter called The Well and a new permanent housing program called Bethesda Serenity. Responding to the changing needs of people experiencing homelessness, we also introduced Narcan at all of our sites, and training for all staff on usage of this emergency medication in the event of an opioid overdose. And we’ve also got a new five-year Strategic Plan in place, which will focus on Enabling the Organization, Building Long-Term Sustainability, and Advancing our Mission.
True to Father Domenic’s original mission, we have become experts in working with the most vulnerable – men and women who struggle on the margins of society, people experiencing chronic homelessness. We provide safe and stable homes and work with them, at their own pace, to reintegrate into society and regain their dignity and self-worth.
This morning I want to share a story about one such resident, named John. John came to Bethesda Project long before I did, and lived with us for many years. I had the chance to get to know him when I began working at Bethesda Project’s administrative office back in 2005. He lived upstairs in one of our one-bedroom apartments at Domenic House. He was the kind of person that didn’t smile much, and didn’t go out of his way to talk unless he had something important to say.
But I won him over somehow and we became unlikely friends. Over time, I learned that John had been an orphan as a child and never had a family. When he was old enough to leave the orphanage on his own, he would walk around South Philly’s Italian Market neighborhood and peer into windows on Sunday afternoons – hoping to see what a family looked like as many gathered for traditional Sunday dinners. He longed for connection, for an understanding of what family means.
Thankfully he found his way to Bethesda Project, and managed to develop an understanding of family through the relationships he formed with other residents, staff, and volunteers. Soon after John and I got to know one another, he learned that he was diagnosed with cancer. Our relationship deepened, as I found myself checking in on him to make sure he kept track of his medical appointments and treatments, that he had groceries, and to help him clean his apartment as he grew weak.
It’s been several years since John passed away and I still keep a photo of John and me on my bulletin board. It’s a great shot from our annual family picnic and John has the biggest grin, despite his best attempts to grimace and avoid the camera. John was how I learned what family meant at Bethesda Project. He helped me gain an appreciation for how much I could gain by giving. Somehow, by caring for this new friend, my own life was transformed – just as his was transformed by experiencing my service and love.
This kind of mutual transformation occurs daily at Bethesda Project, experienced by our shelter guests and housing residents, and equally by our staff and volunteers.
Caritas: “love in action,” service to others, love for those at the margins.
We have a treasured tradition at Bethesda Project, that is used to honor residents like John, staff members, volunteers, and special friends who demonstrate a deep affiliation with our mission to be family with those who have none. They receive a Bethesda Medal, which depicts a man sitting on a grate in an urban environment, huddled in a blanket against the winter cold. The reverse side has the inscription: “Through the darkest night I am with you.” The figure of the man has several interpretations, depending on your faith tradition and life journey. Some see the man as Jesus, awaiting to be approached through our care for ‘the least of these’; others see the prophet Elijah who promised to return to the earth each Passover to see if our compassion for the poor yet merited the coming of the Messiah; and others see the person representing all homeless men and women, who deserve our love simply because they are our brothers and sisters.
In the early days of Bethesda Project the medal was presented to all our homeless guests at the end of the winter shelter season to recognize that they had literally survived another year and not died on the streets. There were many residents who had multiple medals, worn like a badge of honor, a sign of their survival. But today the medal represents a broader celebration of the family we work to create together, through sharing our love and service with those most in need.
When the medals are given, we perform an actual ceremony, to properly commemorate the honor. It’s customary for each recipient of the medal to present a medal to the next person, a sign that all our gifts and blessings are meant to be passed on to others. For us, the Bethesda Medal is a precious reminder of our solidarity with one another as members of one family.
This morning, it is my great honor to present the Bethesda Medal to 5 special young men, the Art & Advocacy Team here at Malvern Prep.
These students, under the remarkable leadership of Ms. Plows, have truly demonstrated their commitment to serving the vulnerable among us, and we are honored to present the Bethesda Medals to each of them as a token of appreciation, and a sign of membership in our family.
So we’re going to have a Bethesda Medal Ceremony! Here’s how this works…As I call your name, please come forward and receive your medal. Then wait to present the next medal. You will all stay up front in solidarity until each have received their medals.
May these medals always serve as a reminder of your deep commitment of service to others. I want to finish by saying THANK YOU—to these incredible leaders of tomorrow, to the faculty and parents, and for the larger community of supporters and cup-makers who have helped to raise awareness about homelessness and financially support the critical mission of Bethesda Project. We are so grateful and proud to call you members of our Bethesda family.
Remarks by Ms. Kate Plows
My assigned job today is to stall you while the students get into positions in Stewart Hall. I’ll do my best.
A few years ago, one of my heroes passed away – Malcolm Davis, at the age of 74. I heard his keynote at NCECA—which is basically like a Star Trek convention for those of us who love clay— and practically memorized its text on the way home.
Mr. Davis did not touch clay until he was 40. He left a life in activism, social justice, and campus ministry work to become a potter, after a friend invited him to a recreational ceramics class in a basement one night in the seventies, in the midst of protests and anxiety about the Vietnam War.
Davis was hooked. He went back to that studio again and again, and soon created a studio in his own basement. He went on to become one of the celebrities of the field, known for his specialty work in a type of glaze called shino.
Glazes are named after Mr. Davis. Our students know that to have a glaze named after you is a big deal.
So, at NCECA, I’m sitting at the keynote, expecting the usual academic or esoteric discourse on this little niche called clay. And instead, after introducing himself and telling a bit of his story, Mr. Davis said,
“…My greatest personal struggle, however, has been to come to terms with the fact that I left the active struggle for social justice to make pots and dishes for the privileged, adding more clutter to the cosmic dump. Look at the mess we are in: wars in two foreign lands and on terror; an economy in shambles; millions are losing their jobs, homes, and healthcare. Corporate giants control the Congress. The fragile planet that we so eagerly exploit shows signs of imminent demise. And here we are playing in the mud. Why do we make pots? Do we serve any useful social function? Is it merely self-indulgence? Are we just fiddling while Rome burns?”
I sat forward in my seat. Malcolm Davis was putting the questions that kept me awake at night into something far more articulate than what I’d mutter to friends or my dog.
At that time, in 2010, I was in my third year of teaching ceramics here, and my sixth or eighth or tenth year of teaching it anywhere, depending on the context. We’d done two Empty Bowls events here, and I’d done five or seven or eight of these anywhere. My work weeks were 60-hours-plus, much of it spent up to my elbows in slip or slop.
Meanwhile, as I was teaching the privileged how to make pots, an earthquake had killed over 200,000 people in Haiti. North Korea was bombing South Korea. We were learning from Bethesda Project about the challenges of homelessness in Philadelphia, while Reading, PA—less than an hour from us in another direction—had the highest poverty rate in the U.S.
When a beautiful pot would come out of the kiln—no matter how gorgeous the glaze, no matter how perfect the form—it was tempting to dismiss that pot to more urgent, pressing, important things.
I still struggle with this, every day. Everything seems more important than a handmade pot. At a school, it’s deadlines and grades and teams and academies and strategic plans. In our country, it’s the challenges of economy and education and globalism and—dare I say—decency. In our world, we wonder how our choices affect our environment and our relationships with other people, other places, and who, if anyone, is actually the ‘other.’
Are we just fiddling while Rome burns?
Davis—who found that once he’d discovered clay, he was fully committed, he had no other choice—went on to speak some words of comfort.
“Let us take pride in the choice that each of us has made to work with clay, to give it all our knowledge and our skills, our energy and our insights, our intuition and our spirit. The important thing is to make good, honest work, personal work that comes from the heart, work that speaks your language, sings your song, and leaves your hand/heart print. It requires hard work and discipline, but most of all it requires love. Love of the material and of the process, love of the focus and discipline. Love of creating for the self and for others.”
When you stop to think about it, what Davis said that day was not so different from what St. Augustine once said: “Do what you can. God asks no more.”
The big lesson behind a project like Empty Bowls, or Cups for Caritas, is that when each of us discovers and develops a talent, we have a charge and a responsibility to seek out ways to use that talent with exceptional love.
That talent might be for sports. It might be for finance, or for science. It might be for being a parent, or taking care of others. It might be for clay.
But whatever it is, when we find what it is that “sings our song, and leaves our hand / heart print,” we cannot be selfish with that gift. We are called to do more. We have to reach out.
I tell my students that high school is an inherently selfish time. It’s about your grades, and your wins, and your college acceptances, and your accomplishments. That’s why it’s so remarkable, inspiring, and energizing when I get to see young men use their talents in the service of others.
Funny, for these young men, it’s become a given. It’s become expected. “When are we starting on Empty Bowls this year?” “No open studio this weekend? Really?” Our student could be making pots for themselves—or doing any of the other engaging things that teenagers do—but they keep coming back to make pots. Our alumni come back five, now ten years after they’ve graduated to make pots that they will not keep, and to stay connected to the community that made them. They tell us about how the lessons of this project play out in the choices they are making about how to live with purpose. If that’s not speaking to our responsibility to use talent for service, I don’t know what is.
We always think about all of those things that are more important than a handmade cup. But when you use the cup you chose today—most created by at least three makers, and all safe for 6,000 years of dishwasher and microwave use—I want you to consider the metaphor of the cup itself.
It is a gesture of talent in the service of others,
created in community,
designed to be part of your everyday life,
and built for the long run.
That day in 2010, this is how Davis closed his speech:
“We have been given a gift, a challenge, and a charge. We must keep working and doing our part to keep life human and the spirit alive. Our passion will inspire and lead us. May we not lose our voice, our song. May we remember the words of Martin King who said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter…”