In the Shadow of the Steeple
Who is Brother Ronald Giannone, and what drives him to do the things he does?
(page 7 of 10)
The dialect doesn’t stop Giannone from nurturing relationships with the most powerful corporate leaders in the state. His list of benefactors make up an impressive group, such as the Cawleys, Giaccos, Abessinios—with support from foundations like Longwood, Laffey-McHugh, and the Welfare Foundation. The ministry benefits also from donors in 45 states.
Giannone attracts talented employees, too,—former national Republican committeewoman Priscilla Rakestraw as development director is one. His most meaningful endeavor, though, was persuading the cloistered Capuchin Poor Clares to leave Mexico to serve the ministry. (The full story of this complicated and poignant negotiation is found at capuchinpoorclares.org.)
“The cloistered sisters came at great sacrifice,” says Giannone. Among many duties, the Poor Clares prepare meals five days a week for residents of Hope House II and III (emergency shelters), and create newsletters that reach 14,000 people. “They are the backbone of the ministry,” Giannone says, “because by the power of prayer, they support us in our work.”
Giannone’s temper and outspokenness have gotten him into trouble. In 2000 George W. Bush came to town during his presidential campaign. He was the guest speaker at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, where Charles Cawley was receiving the Marvel Cup Award, and Giannone had received it the year before. Giannone scolded Bush.
“I told him it was a scandal in America that there should be even one homeless person in the country,” he says.
The next day, Ted Koppel reported on national television that a Franciscan friar embarrassed Bush.
“I felt bad initially,” says Giannone. “But then I realized that we should all feel bad. We should all be embarrassed. The fact that we feel embarrassed says we’re not indifferent to poverty.”
Giannone acknowledges his mistakes. “In the beginning, we were getting people jobs, and we found people apartments,” he says. “We thought we were the cat’s meow. Then all of a sudden, they were recycling back to us.”
He discovered that the poor did better in transitional residential settings, where they learned skills and developed a sense of belonging. Transitional housing was new in the ’70s, so Giannone learned through trial and error, and realized that there was no silver bullet for homelessness. That’s why he is opposed fervently to the Obama administration’s Recovery Act, which allocates $1.5 billion to the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.