Saint Francis – Manchester, the assisted living community in Richmond “where love never grows old,” welcomed all to a celebration 50 years in the making on Oct. 1. The voices of dozens of choir members filled the air as residents, staff, volunteers, donors, neighbors and Bishop Barry C. Knestout joined in the golden jubilee.
The late Bishop Walter F. Sullivan decided to start this passion project in the Manchester area after seeing some of Richmond’s elderly poor in need of housing and care.
Though Manchester is now experiencing a revitalization of businesses and housing, it has seen periods of poverty and hardship. The Diocese of Richmond donated a 5,000 square-foot building, which originally served as a maternity home for unwed mothers in the 1950s, to establish a new assisted living center.
Bainbridge Catholic Home, as it was first called, opened in 1973, and served eight residents. From these humble beginnings grew a thriving community that hundreds have since called home. In 1978, it was renamed Saint Francis Home before being rebranded as Saint Francis – Manchester in 2022 in honor of its community.
“Here at Saint Francis, we look out for and take care of the elderly and make sure they have a wonderful home in their later years and experience the love that Christ has for them by the love manifested by all here: volunteers, staff, everyone who comes to visit and to support them at this time in their life,” said Bishop Knestout.
“That is a manifestation of the Spirit and that also makes up for whatever is lacking in terms of circumstances of life. That’s the beauty of this home, and I’m very grateful for that,” added the bishop.
‘This is my calling’
“The staff and the management team take great pride in a legacy of Saint Francis – Manchester being special. Many of the individuals who work for Saint Francis are from the local community and are as much a part of our mission as are our residents,” said executive director Bruce Slough.
One of these dedicated workers is Edna Mae Harris, who has been at Saint Francis since 2002 and is the food service director.
“I love Saint Francis and the home’s mission; I think this is where I’m supposed to be,” said Harris.
In addition to the usual three meals a day, she also started a “Cooking with Edna” program where she can get to know the residents on a more personal level. She creates themed meals, such as “Diner Days,” “Breakfast in Bed,” “Tailgate Parties” and “Carnival Festival” – not to mention large holiday meals for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“The residents we serve represent my family, and of course you want to make sure your family member receives excellent care,” she said. “That’s why I’m here, and this is my calling.”
There have been many renovations and additions over the decades in response to the growing needs of the community. The original building served as the foundation for what is now a sprawling campus, complete with courtyards, gardens, walking paths, a fish pond and a small waterfall.
Residence halls were added; a large nutrition center was built to store food donations; and the Kirby Center, named for a previous board president, features a multi-purpose room and patios. Saint Francis can currently house 115 residents, with that number expected to grow.
The community welcomes people from all walks of life, regardless of faith or income. A new chapel was completed in 2019. Christy Heinen, Saint Francis’ development director, recalled, “Last year, a new resident commented on how happy she was when someone invited her to Mass during her first week here. She had not attended Mass in five years due to lack of access, and now she treasures the opportunity.”
Saint Francis – Manchester relies heavily on fundraising and partnerships. The average cost of care is $4,100 per month per resident. Most of the residents use a government subsidy through the State of Virginia Auxiliary Grant, which currently pays $1,680 per month per resident, resulting in a funding gap of $2,320.
Saint Francis – Manchester has partnered with many charitable organizations, churches and other groups over the years.
Holy Rosary, Richmond, visits every Monday to pray the rosary with residents; St. Gabriel, Chesterfield, delivers Christmas gifts; Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, rebuilt the community garden; the St. Mary’s, Henrico, youth group built and donated patio furniture; Catholic Heart Work Camp offers cleaning, maintenance, and repair services.
Powerback Rehab offers onsite physical, occupational and speech therapy to residents. Cycling Without Age enables residents to go on a weekly bike ride around the neighborhood. Bicycle “pilots,” many of whom are members of St. Edward the Confessor, Richmond, pedal while residents sit in an attached cart and enjoy the outdoors.
One of Saint Francis’ main partnerships is with Thrifty Sisters, a thrift shop in Richmond. “After meeting and touring their facility, we knew immediately we wanted to partner with them in serving our senior community,” said Gerard Shaia, Thrifty Sisters’ board president.
Thrifty Sisters donates its profits directly to Saint Francis – Manchester. In addition to financial assistance, the shop also donates books for the library, art for the walls, and clothes for the residents. Slough called the partnership a “godsend” that has greatly helped fulfill Saint Francis’ mission.
Another vital partnership is with FeedMore, a local organization dedicated to stopping hunger in Central Virginia. It serves tens of thousands of people in the area, including residents of Saint Francis – Manchester.
“We receive about 30,000 pounds of food a month, which has radically affected our budget and food service program,” Slough explained. “Our residents eat extremely well at a relative fraction of the cost it would without this partnership.”
COVID was one of the biggest obstacles Saint Francis – Manchester had to overcome. During the height of the pandemic, Saint Francis’ entire kitchen staff was diagnosed with COVID, FeedMore wasn’t able to provide as much food, and the residents were grappling with the emotional effects of being quarantined.Heinen recalled “witnessing the incredible outpouring of support from the Richmond community during COVID and being so incredibly proud and awed by the staff.”
“They pulled together, not only to take care of the residents and keep them safe, but also to make sure they knew they were loved and still had some sense of connection even though they were in isolation,” she added.
“Our staff was stretched beyond all reasonable expectations, though they responded heroically!” said Slough.
Volunteers from some of Saint Francis’ community partners were on hand at the jubilee celebration to serve hot dogs and ice cream, set up tables and chairs, and help out in other ways.
Sacred Heart’s bilingual chorus was chosen to perform because it is based in Manchester. Sacred Heart’s pastor, Father Shay Auerbach, is on Saint Francis – Manchester’s board, and Father Don Ward serves as Saint Francis – Manchester’s chaplain.
The One Voice choir, which also performed, is a diverse group of singers, much like the residents of Saint Francis.
After their performances, Slough reflected, “I like to think that’s what heaven sounds like – a choir of angels.”