Impromptu BBQ—A Lesson in Respecting the Dignity of Hospitality

Christina Hicks led some of us into a backyard adventure in hospitality this past Tuesday. Our first indication that something might be afoot came on Monday, when Chris called Mtr. Terri to request a ride home from the Martin’s Grocery Store on Ellwood Ave. The ride was not for Monday, however. Chris said she was buying a box or two of meat that she was to pick up the next day at 3pm.

“Sure, I can give you a ride home tomorrow!”

“Could we stop by the church on the way, so I can divide the meat up and put it into bags?”

“Um….okay. We can do that. As long as I can make it back to the church in time for 6:30 Mass.”

An hour or two later—just after 3pm, in fact—Chris called back.

“Chris, I thought you said you needed the ride tomorrow?”

“I do. I just wanted to ask whether we have any charcoal and a grill at the church.”

“I’m not sure. The grill we use may be John’s. I’d have to check.”

“Okay, well I’ll just pick up some charcoal, and you let me know about the grill.”

Mtr. Terri did ask John Zanka the next day, and discovered that the grill was, in fact, in the Holy Trinity garage, having been rescued from a neighbor’s trash by John a few years earlier.

“What does Chris have in mind?”

“I honestly don’t really know. I’m picking her up and helping her divide up some meat into packages. I’m guessing she wants to grill some of it to eat today, and, knowing Chris, she will make enough to share, but I have no idea what quantity we’re talking about. How about we give you a call once we reach the church?”


When 3 o’clock rolled around, Chris loaded a shopping cart full of food—including two large boxes and one small box of meat into the back of Mtr. Terri’s car. They went to the church and unloaded the groceries into the kitchen. After getting Chris set up with bags and counter space, Mtr. Terri dialed John’s number and handed Chris the phone to discuss what Chris wanted to do with the grill. John was in the middle of something just then, but said he could get to the church in about 15 minutes.

While Mtr. Terri went into the office to print up readings for the evening mass, Chris started dividing up the meat. Suddenly Chri appeared in the office door, holding a double slab of beef ribs.

“Where do you want me to put yours, Mtr. Terri?”

“Chris, that’s huge! You don’t need to give me that!”

“But I want to!”

“Um. . .Well. . . I’m going to be here at church until after mass and bible study, so we had better put it in the freezer.”

What you need to know here is that Chris often needs assistance with her own groceries. Her income goes to a payee, who pays her rent and is supposed to give her enough money for groceries and incidentals, but the payments are not always regular, and sometimes Chris needs to rely on the assistance of friends. She can tell you where to get a free meal at what time on what days, because she walks that circuit with some regularity.

Chris is also a member of the Church of the Holy Trinity, worshiping with us on Tuesdays and Sundays. When she has a few dollars she puts some in the plate. When she has extra canned goods she donates them to the food pantry. She gives her priest a Mother’s Day card every year.  She has a kind word for everybody. Chris is a real disciple.

So what to do when she wants to give the priest a slab of ribs, and when it turns out that she wants to give the priest a gallon bag of smoked turkey tails and another of pork rib tips as well? What to do when someone we think of as poor starts handing John a slab of ribs, and another to Miss Pat down the street, and another to Donny, and another to Miss Betty and probably to other folks when Mtr. Terri wasn’t looking because she was trying to get the charcoal lit? Do we stop her, protecting her from her own generosity, or do we honor that generosity, and enjoy with her the memory of having done the same with her family and friends in years past?

Lighting the charcoal is hot work, especially when your experience of charcoal lies more in the area of thuribles. Miss Pat came over to keep Mtr. Terri company as she tinkered with the fire. Chris came and went with bags of meat. She brought out chairs. She wandered off again. Suddenly she returned with three pints of ice cream from the convenience store. As we waited for the coals to heat up, we sat and chatted and ate our ice cream.

“Now do we think this food will be ready before 6:30? That’s when I need to go in and do mass.”

“Why don’t you do mass out here?”

“Well, Pat, I suppose I could . . . I’d need a table. . .I wonder whether that garden table can be turned around or whether John has it bolted to the wall. . .”

The table, rickety though it was, could be turned around without collapsing. By that time we had been joined by Miss Anne from next door, who added her brats and some salmon burgers to the grill. Mtr. Terri fetched the books and vessels, setting up for mass on the table outside. She posted signs on the doors, directing folks around back.

When Randy and Will and Stephanie arrived for mass, they came around back and found us. Miss Anne volunteered to participate from beside the grill, where she could keep the meet from scorching while we directed our attention to God. Chris did the first reading and Randy the second. Mtr. Terri noted that Chris had already preached us a sermon for the Feast of the Visitation—women coming together and celebrating God’s ability to lift up the lowly. The seven of us took communion.

After mass we settled in to eat. Randy and Miss Anne engaged in a friendly argument over whether the pork was cooked through. As we sank our teeth into smoked turkey tails, we compared notes on what foods were more tasty when a turkey tail was added to the pot. Pork in the greens or special seasonings? Which greens?

Eliezar and Johnny Jonathan wandered over with their mom. We kicked the soccer ball around, and Eliezar showed us some fancy footwork he picked up from watching how the college players dribble the ball. Jonathan ran to get his preschool graduation pictures to show us how dignified he looked in his cap and gown. Chris snuck back into the kitchen to wash the dishes while Mtr. Terri doused the fire.

It was 9 o’clock by the time Mtr. Terri finally dropped Chris off at her home. Out of three boxes and a bag of food, Chris was down to one bag, and she spoke of how pleased she was with her afternoon and evening’s work. She was particularly pleased with having taken everybody by surprise. No one had known they were being invited to a feast that day, but there in the backyard, she got to give them a taste of the heaven.

Just another Tuesday in the Garden of Ste. Therese!

Field of Greens

The essay below was posted the other day on Facebook by our master gardener, Will Campbell. I’m reprinting it here with his permission. Will has dozens more stories like this, as does anyone who’s spent much time around the Garden of St. Therese. What a joy it is to watch the Holy Spirit’s plans unfold around us!
One of the awesome things about doing things inside of the community is that you get the opportunity to meet some awesome people with awesome stories to tell. One of my garden favorites is Tanika Trotter. I first met Tanika last year when I first got involved with the St. Therese Unity Garden. She was one of the first people to approach me to see what I was up to. From that moment on we forged a friendship that is still growing to this day.

Tanika has been a huge inspiration to my life and many others. Her life is one of faith and perseverance. Being born 3 months premature and barely weighing over a pound. She fought through that only to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 17. This is something that she still endures to this day. But not without a genuine smile painted on her face.

Last year, towards the middle of the garden’s growing season, she approached me and asked if I could plant her some spinach and some other types of greens. She then explained that juicing the spinach and other greens helped eased her pain from the disease. I instantly stopped what I was doing, looked her dead in the eyes, and told her that if greens helped helped her pain I was going to plant her a “field of greens.” And so the seed was planted and the idea began to grow. Before planting the garden this year I went and found every green seed I could find and this is the manifestation. I am happy to report that she is a garden regular. Smiling away. She is really big on the spinach, kale, swiss chard, and arugula. She also claims that not only is it easing the pain of the disease but it is also helping with her digestion due to the side effects of her prescription medications.

Field of Greens

Field of Greens—Will Campbell and Tanika Trotter, standing in front of the greens Will planted in the Garden of St. Therese for the smoothies that help relieve the symptoms of Tanika’s MS and the medications she takes for it.

I can’t begin to explain how much Tanika has inspired my life and my drive to give. She is a amazing Gal with a beautiful heart. So when you stop out at the garden don’t hesitate to give a shout out to Tanika Trotter. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this post. I hope all of you have a great weekend.

— with Tanika Trotter.

The Plot Thickens (or is that “Thins”?)

My daughter and I were leaving the library parking lot mid-afternoon today (it being my day off), when suddenly my cell phone rang. I did not recognize the number.


“I think I have your statue,” said the voice at the other end.

“You do?”

“Yes, my daughter and I found a statue of St. Francis beside a dumpster at the cemetery where we were helping a friend of ours purchase a plot. The friend insisted we take it home so my daughter could refurbish it for a memorial to my son we have in our backyard. It looks just like the one in the photo the newspaper published. I tried to take it to the church, but no one was there. Could you come to the house to see if it’s yours?”

“Certainly. I can be there in about 15 minutes!”

I took down her address and hung up the phone. After driving about a block I decided to call Susan, who had gotten the ball rolling with her Letter to the Editor and who would be better than I at making a positive identification of our statue. She couldn’t believe it!

After swinging by Susan’s house to pick her up, the three of us drove out to the woman’s house, which was out past the edge of town. On our way, we passed the cemetery she had mentioned. She was waiting for us in the driveway.

After we had introduced ourselves, she called into the house for her daughter and another woman to join us. The daughter unlocked the trunk of her car, and there was St. Francis! Susan made a positive identification, which was complicated by the fact that the daughter had already started work on removing the peeling paint.  Then we transferred St. Francis from her trunk to mine.

St Francis in the driveway

St Francis emerges from the trunk


As we were standing there in the driveway, the daughter told us more of the story.

The friend who was purchasing a burial plot that day had been dying of cancer—that was why his insistence on her taking the statue from the dumpster was so important. He died shortly thereafter. He had been quite a jokester, and while standing in the cemetery, she suddenly had a vision of painting St. Francis pink and putting him at her friend’s grave. She was horrified, thinking she would never do such a thing to a statue of a saint, but she knew the deceased would appreciate the joke. She then couldn’t get the funny image out of her mind. She shared the image with her friend’s wife, who laughed and thanked her for lightening such a difficult day.

Then, yesterday, our story appeared on the front page of the South Bend Tribune.  The story included a photo John Zanka had taken a few weeks before the statue was stolen. Because of the angle of the shot and the time of day when the photo was taken, the faded and peeling brown paint on St. Francis really appears pink! Imagine her amazement at seeing this seemingly abandoned statue on the front page of the newspaper, reflecting her graveside vision!

We thanked the women profusely, sharing with them our former concern that someone had taken the statue only to destroy it. We may never know how Francis made it from our garden to that spot next to the dumpster. What we do know, however, is that he made it into good hands and that he briefly lightened the burden of a grieving widow.  Not bad work!

Statue of St. Francison a table in the parish hall

Welcome Home, St. Francis!

Francis has now made his way back to our parish hall, where he awaits important decisions like how to finish refurbishing him and how (or whether) to better secure his place in the garden. For now, we’re just happy to have him home again.


Purslane in the Garden

During our Neighborhood Summerfest yesterday evening, I took a few minutes to wander through the garden and pull some weeds.  I had just pulled some volunteer purslane (see inset photo) and had straightened up to look for my next victim, when a neighbor stopped me:

“Are you pulling weeds?”




“But that’s purslane. My family eats that. If you leave it, we will come and harvest it.”


My initial reaction was to be happy that one of our neighbors had motivation to pull what I was still thinking of as a weed from our garden. But once I was home, after the party was over, I got to wondering about how one went about eating purslane, ’cause there’s plenty to go around!

A quick survey of the web brought up the following recipes:

Purslane and Basil Pesto

Purslane and Basil Pesto

Purslane and Basil Pesto


Shirazi Style Purslane Salad


Pickled Purslane (try saying that 5 times fast!)


Stir-Fried Purslane, Chinese Style

So, the next time you pull out some Purslane, you might not want to throw it away!