Father Hugh Noonan, OFM
Father Hugh Noonan, OFM, was born into an Irish-Catholic family in Sacramento, California. As one of five children, Father Hugh began studying for the Franciscan priesthood at the seminary in Santa Barbara. Following his ordination he taught at the seminary for nine years and then served as chaplain for the armed forces stationed in the Caribbean. In 1946, he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Los Angeles, as director of the lay Franciscans.
With the help of the lay Franciscans, he created The Hour of St. Francis, a 15-minute dramatic radio program using Hollywood talent. The weekly radio series had a loyal following and at its peak broadcasted to over 500 radio stations across the country.
Father Hugh also wrote books on St. Francis of Assisi, books of prayer and reflection, and articles for the Franciscan Newsletter. His most notable work – Listen, the Clams Are Talking, a series of stories, articles and pictures – was written to inspire readers to see the beauty in life. Published in 1973, the book is still selling copies, and the earnings are sent to Father Hugh’s community project, St. Francis Center.
As a resident of St. Joseph parish, Father Hugh saw the growing number of poor families and homeless individuals who knocked on the doors for food and help. Before St. Francis Center was founded, the parish had a small food pantry as part of its social ministry; but Father Hugh wanted to do more. In 1972, with the help of the lay Franciscans, he started St. Francis Center. The center – which accepted food, clothing and donations to be distributed among the poor – used a small building next door to St. Joseph.
Two years after St. Francis Center was founded, Father Hugh unexpectedly passed away. The lay Franciscans honored volunteers like Juanita Vaughn and Helen Payne, and the St. Joseph parish kept the center running. Over 30 years after its inception, St. Francis Center still remembers Father Hugh’s words of inspiration and influence over its daily operations.
Juanita Vaughn began volunteering at St. Francis Center in its humble beginnings. After 20 years of service to the Center, she saw her work “as a way to help people, and it was something to get up in the morning for after I retired.” Her legendary status did not end with her service. Years after she stopped volunteering, homeless people still asked for her by name. She was honored on June 13, 1997 as the “soul” of St. Francis Center.
A homeless man commented, “At one time, Juanita was known among Latino migrant workers in the Midwest and throughout Northern Mexico as a saint who would help them when they arrived in Los Angeles.”
Juanita also wrote scripts with Fr. Hugh Noonan for The Hour of St. Francis radio dramas. The stories conveyed simple, uplifting truths over hundreds of stations and later were developed into a television series. Her life was a script of generosity, service and simple values.