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Editor’s Note: An article in The Chicago Tribune about the Fraternite Notre Dame came to our attention after the publication of this piece. We still find Robbins’ actions to be edifying, not to mention the work of feeding the homeless, but we want to make clear that the order mentioned here is not in any way affiliated with the Catholic Church.
When motivational guru and best-selling author Tony Robbins read about what was happening to the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen, located on one of San Francisco’s sketchiest streets, he decided to stop in while he was visiting the Bay area last week.
The small soup kitchen on Turk Street, run by three French nuns, was in dire straits. The sisters have been feeding hundreds of homeless from the site for eight years, living in the back, but now the landlord had an ultimatum for them: pay 60 percent more in rent each month or get out. The sisters’ only source of income comes from the cakes and pastries they sell at local farmers’ markets. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the court proceedings facing the sisters meant they would have to pack up in about a month.
The religious sisters are part of the Fraternite Notre Dame religious order, which was founded in France in 1977 (but not currently recognized by Rome). According to a piece in The Washington Post, they feed more than 300 people every day at the soup kitchen and deliver meals to senior citizens as well as to AIDS patients. They want to start a food pantry program for families. All of this was about to come to an end, when in walked Robbins.
After meeting with the sisters for an hour, Robbins was so touched by their plight he handed them a check for $25,000. His efforts went further than that, however. With the assistance of Mary Valerie, from the religious order’s Chicago headquarters, and the nun’s pro bono lawyer, Robbins and his staff talked with the landlord’s lawyer and worked out a “truce.”
“The owner of the building is a businessman, and it’s his business — I understand that,” Robbins said. “So instead of putting everyone at conflict, he needed to have a way out. It’s a model of how to do things. Everyone wins.”
Robbins told the press that the sisters can use the check he gave them, plus another $25,000 he promised in the coming year to move to a new location if need be. He also said that if he has to, he’ll enlist some of his “high-powered” friends in the city to help find a new building.
Other people are already beginning to respond to the sisters’ needs. The Good News Network reports that the president of the Mason-McDuffie Mortgage Corp. in San Ramon, Marilyn Richardson, set up a fundraising page that in two days had already raised more than $10,000.
While Robbins may be a savvy businessman and millionaire many times over, that was not always the case. He grew up poor and at one point was homeless.
“When I was homeless, I had a car to sleep in — I was lucky,” Robbins told Mary Valerie and Sister Mary Benedicte, who met with him while the kitchen’s only other nun, Sister Mary of the Angels, was out distributing food at tent cities. “But I never forgot what that was like. It changed me …”
None of the sisters had any idea who Robbins was — they’d never heard of him — but they were surprised and thrilled with his generous help. Robbins too seemed genuinely moved by their encounter:
he kissed the hand of Mary Valerie, gave her a hug and pronounced: “You’re beautiful.” The sister — who like the other nuns had never heard of Robbins — sat for a moment with a stunned look on her face.
“No more crying for us no more?” Mary Valerie said in her thick French accent.
“No more crying no more,” Robbins said, beaming the smile that has made his face instantly recognizable to practically anyone who watches TV.
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content producer for Aleteia.