Inspiration from Our Founder
Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, our program founder, has always had a deep love for America’s cities and their residents. She has a special concern for the urban blight afflicting many of our cities and visible nearly everywhere on their streets. And she is especially mindful of the impact on children growing up in these areas, which are often marked by unemployment, poverty, deportation, drugs, and crime.
Inspired by Francis of Assisi’s example of selfless service to all humanity, especially those on the margins of society, Dr. Conner conceived the program called Francis in the Schools as a way to nurture feelings of love, kindness, and courage in children from inner-city neighborhoods. She felt the timeless message of this internationally celebrated historical figure could become a vital, healing seed that would grow and nourish these children throughout their lives. She thought that Francis's universal messages of love and brotherhood could be powerfully transformative, particularly when music, drama, and dance were used to awaken these qualities in the hearts and minds of children.
Collaborating to Create Francis in the Schools
In the months leading up to the first program in 2011, volunteers under Dr. Conner’s direction prepared a delightful musical play about Francis of Assisi along with activities for a festive outdoor Umbrian Renaissance-style Faire for children. Other volunteers contacted schools and community centers in some of San Francisco’s more disadvantaged neighborhoods to invite them to attend this free event. A lovely venue was found, free bus transportation was arranged, and a nearby park was reserved for the Faire. Businesses were approached for donations of food, flowers, supplies, and matching grants, and they responded generously.
The Program Takes Wing
In May 2011, the first Francis in the Schools program took place in San Francisco, honoring the namesake of the city: Francis of Assisi. The musical play premiered at the National Shrine of Saint Francis in North Beach. After a delicious lunch, a colorful, fun-filled Faire was staged for the children in a nearby public park.
In the two years that followed, nearly a dozen more Francis in the Schools events were offered at the National Shrine following this model, each serving around 350 Bay Area children living in underserved neighborhoods. People from local communities began volunteering and donating even more generously. They seemed to recognize that we are all responsible for the growth, education, and well-being of our country’s children. They understood the importance of sharing with children, in a delightful and memorable manner, the inspiring messages of great historical figures like Francis.
New Venues, New Horizons
In May 2013, Francis in the Schools offered its first program outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. This event was held in the scenic foothills above the small city of Danville, California. We invited 170 children from nearby Oakland to be our guests.
By October 2013, this community-supported program had grown in capacity, and we were able to welcome 1,400 children at a venue in Oakland, California. This event featured the celebrated international recording artist tenor Alessandro Brustenghi, a Franciscan friar. Alessandro flew to California from Assisi, Italy, just to sing for the children attending this Francis in the Schools event. It was his first concert on American soil.
Beginning in 2014, Francis in the Schools received invitations to bring the program to the East Coast. Our core team of more than 100 volunteers responded by flying across the country to bring the program to inner-city schoolchildren in New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
In February 2016, Francis in the Schools was registered as an independent California public benefit corporation. Three months later we officially became a 501(c)(3) corporation, so that all donations made to Francis in the Schools are now tax deductible.
To date, Francis in the Schools has served nearly 12,000 children at a total of 22 events.