Welcome. Start here if you're new. I write often about Philadelphia, nonprofits, and culture. Subscribe for a weekly recap.

Contemporary mythology

The full significance – canonically, ecumenically and theologically – of Francis’s bold move will be picked over for a long time. But its real point is to bring healing. Many suffer hugely as result of abortion, but it is a silent suffering, that in contemporary society can barely ever be acknowledged. Those who have taken the lives of the unborn long to unburden themselves, to admit to their sorrow, confusion and regret, and to find healing. “This is what the Church – God’s heart amid humanity – exists for: a battlefield hospital, ready to tend the wounds inflicted by contemporary mytholog about individual sovereignty.   Yet many are persuaded – by the strident voices asserting women’s “right” to abort – that the Catholic Church is a place of judgement and condemnation. If just some among these women in pain hear a different message – which given yesterday’s massive coverage is very likely – and if among those some take up this offer of liberation from guilt and a path back to God – which is also very likely – then Pope Francis’s grand gesture will have succeeded spectacularly.

Reaction to Pope Francis’s announcement, which hopefully brings some peace to both men and women.

Donor relations

In light of yesterday’s complaints about the tediousness of old school practices, I want to shift gears slightly with a more tangible recommendation for university donor relations.

I’ve never been a major donor to Penn State or any other organization, but I’ve conceived and managed many campaigns for significant gifts and endowed funds. Speaking of Penn State in particular, one of the things that surprises me is that there seems to be no processes for them to stay in touch with volunteers like me who clearly have enthusiasm and the ability to follow through on significant development efforts.

I get that it’s impossible for a $4+ billion organization like Penn State to maintain relationships with any and every volunteer. Yet I’d imagine that assigning one development staffer to maintain a database of the few thousand enthusiastic volunteers like me wouldn’t be impossible. A simple quarterly or even twice annual note keeping us in the loop with case studies in successful volunteer efforts, or a behind the scenes look at fundraising techniques (or whatever) could keep us engaged beyond the specific development projects we started with.

What I’m saying is this: it’s surprising to me that Penn State isn’t maintaining relationships with those who go a step beyond simply donating by organizing other volunteers. There’s momentum among that crowd that could be encouraged and grown.



Fred Wilson wrote recently about his experiences using DocuSign to sign the many different documents that come across his desk. I’ve used DocuSign, and I’m a big fan of it for all the reasons Fred Wilson cites. I thought of this in light of some paperwork I had to sign recently.

I’ve been working with some Penn State alumni on a small five year development campaign, which will establish an annual $7,250 scholarship for undergraduate members of The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station. We started this five-year period last June, and at that time Penn State Development staff had to physically mail me copies of the agreement for signing, which then had to be sent back to be mailed to three other University officials for their signatures. It took about a month to obtain all of those signatures, which is just tedious.

I recently had to repeat this process, thanks to the fortunate circumstance of a major donor who will be contributing to the scholarship endowment. We’ve chosen to recognize him by naming the fund in honor of him and his wife.

But this means another month of revised paperwork being mailed across the Commonwealth for four signatures, eventually being approved by the Board of Trustees, and eventually (probably in December) being updated with the new name on Penn State’s giving site.

Aside from the hassle of the signatures, this is an example of a case where our entire development process is slowed, because we’d really prefer not to announce the named donor and launch our next phase until donors can see this scholarship fund on Penn State’s site.

A small example of the state of things, with the hope that the process will get speedier through an embrace of technology.

Anticipating Pope Francis

It’s September, which means we’re less than a month away from the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia. It’s the first time since Pope John Paul the Great’s visit in the late 1970s that a Holy Father will be celebrating mass in Philadelphia. It’s a big deal, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

Our Archbishop Chaput spoke recently to the national Religion Newswriters Association in light of the coming World Meeting of Families. Specifically he speaks to the power of narrative. I’m sharing the condensed version from First Things, because it’s great:

What do we hope Pope Francis will take away from his September visit to Philadelphia? I hope he realizes that American Catholics in general, and Philadelphia Catholics in a very special way, love and support him wholeheartedly. I hope he sees that there’s tremendous good in our country, and a lot of it began here in Philadelphia, where our nation was born.

I hope he sees how deeply shaped we are —as a city and as a people —by the immigrant experience. I hope he sees that the Church here is alive and eager for a new spirit of life. I also hope he sees the gravity of the challenges we face in advancing a Christian approach to family life, marriage, human sexuality and religious freedom. And I hope he leaves with a sense of how the American Church really conducts her mission.

What do I mean by that last sentence? Critics sometimes claim that America’s bishops talk too much about issues like abortion and religious freedom while they overlook the poor. And of course we do talk about those issues, and we’ll continue to do so— vigorously, and for as long as it takes —because the right to life and religious liberty are foundational to human dignity. Without the right to life, all other human rights are compromised.

But consider this: In Philadelphia we spend less than $200,000 a year on the archdiocesan office that handles sanctity of life, family and laity issues. It has one full time employee. Most of our specifically “prolife” work is done by volunteers, and at the parish level. 

In comparison, we spend more than 4.2 million privately donated archdiocesan dollars each year— every year— on social services for the poor, the homeless, the disabled, troubled youths, battered women, immigration counseling, food pantries and nutritional programs. And we manage another $100 million in public funding for the same or similar efforts. We have 1,600 full time employees spread across these Catholic social ministries doing the works of mercy—and fewer than 200 of them are involved in parenting, family and pregnancy support services. 

What’s the lesson? If there’s anything “lopsided” about the real witness of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, it’s weighted heavily in favor of the poor. It always has been. And that’s the reality in nearly every diocese in the United States. But it’s not a fact that fits comfortably into a storyline of “compassionate Pope Francis vs. conservative American bishops.” 

When Francis was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, Argentine political leaders reviled him publicly as “the leader of the opposition.” When he defended Church teaching on issues like sexuality and marriage, they accused him of conducting “an inquisition.” He wrote about his frustration with that ugly government and media narrative in his 2010 book, On Heaven and Earth. It’s worth taking to heart.

So I hope that as he flies home on September 27, the Holy Father will understand that American Catholics share every ounce of his passion for Christian service and human dignity—beginning with the unborn child, but not ending there; including the poor and the immigrant, but reaching from conception to natural death … and confirming that the “joy of the Gospel” comes from a Gospel of Life.


StoryCorps is a great nonprofit whose mission is:

to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

The conversations and recordings they collect are archived at the Library of Congress and on their website. I consider what they’re doing to be an example of cultural conservation, and simpatico with The Nittany Valley Society’s mission of conveying cultural knowledge from one generation to another that reflects the specialness of place of the local community. It’s also in this vein that I like that StoryCorps sorts their stories for browsing by state as the primary filter.

But I think their work deserves to have a much broader impact than it is at present. I think an enormous opportunity exists for StoryCorps to partner with colleges and universities, specially their alumni associations. This could bring in earned income for StoryCorps while also providing major alumni associations a compelling program component and membership enticement.

We shouldn’t just share the stories of people and place, but also stories at the intersection of people, place, and the institutions they shape.


A side project I’ve been working on intermittently over the past few years is helping my family get its history in order. So much of any family’s history is lost as mementos and heirloom materials is divvied up and typically rarely thought of. I know this has been the case in our family from time to time. What I’ve been doing is getting things together for long term storage and fireproof safekeeping.

Over the course of this project I’ve encountered so much that I had seen at one point or another but had slipped from active memory. One example of that is the World War I Victory Medal I’m sharing here. This is something from my great grandfather Phillip A. Bruce‘s service in the Great War, specifically in the Army at St. Mihiel from September 12-16, 1918 and at Meuse-Argonne from September 26-November 11, 1918. After the war, Phillip became a Philadelphia police officer and served for five years before being killed in the line of duty. His Victory Medal has survived nearly a century, and it’s something we want to take better care of to ensure it lasts another century.

The idea that “the past is a foreign country” becomes very real when you’re able to encounter relics from that foreign country.

Ed Rendell

There’s only so much you can expand Center City. Here’s an amazing statistic: When I took over as mayor in 1992, there were 58,000 people living in Center City. There are now almost 200,000, and the median income of those folks is like $90,000. That type of spending power gives downtown an incredible vitality.

Well, when you have that downtown, it also helps the neighborhoods. Because the people holding the jobs in Center City — in the restaurants, the hotels, the shops, the stores — are people who live in the neighborhoods.

Billy Penn’s interview with Ed Rendell has been sitting in my Safari since it was published two weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while.

I’ve respected Rendell for a while, but it wasn’t until I read A Prayer for the City last summer that I really came to understand and love what he did for Philadelphia. He’s a great example of the cheerleader politician, and the closest thing Pennsylvania’s had to a realist in office in many years.

The Billy Penn piece is great reading for understanding Rendell’s perspective on the changing city, especially for suburbanites who might lack perspective on the scale of change that has occurred and remains underway.

Penn State training days

I spent an hour rewatching this ESPN feature on Penn State football during the Bill O’Brien era. It came across Twitter because someone on the team tweeted it out.

It’s a great way to mentally prep for the season that’s about to start, and it’s a great reminder for how far the program has come and how remarkable it is that its pride and identity have survived undimmed and unchanged through times of incredible crisis. They’ve emerged stronger.

The segment where Chris Herren addresses the team about what they’re ultimately there playing for is powerful. Those are the old school, Paterno era values in miniature: you’re there together to be a team, to win games as far as the team can, but most importantly to learn how to be men.

Penn State doesn’t subordinate academics for the sake of athletics, and I hope that never changes.

Evolving etiquette

A new study from the Pew Research Center reveals just how attached we all are to our phones—and how we’re writing new etiquette rules around them.

Among the 3,217 respondents, there was a surprising degree of consensus on certain cellphone do’s and don’ts. 77 percent of Americans think it’s OK to use a cellphone while walking down the street, and 75 percent think it’s OK on public transportation. Meanwhile, upwards of 80 percent consider cellphone use to be off limits at family dinners, meetings, church, or movie theaters.

These results belie the generalized grumbling about gadget-obsessed “kids these days” that tends to dominate op-ed pages. Although younger people are more tolerant of cellphone use overall, Americans of all ages agree that mobile devices are permissible in public settings and not in quiet, intimate ones.

This comes from Vicky Gan at CityLab, and includes a really important point, which is that the study doesn’t clarify what constitutes “cell phone use.” If older people interpret “use” to mean “making calls,” there’s a wide gap between that older view and the new reality, which is that these mobile devices are pocket supercomputers.

In any event, it’s fascinating to see that a loose etiquette for new devices has formed organically within the same decade that the iPhone’s debut.

New Philadelphians

New York to Philly Among Largest Metro-to-Metro Migration Flows, Says Census Bureau:”

As mentioned earlier, Philly’s metro-to-metro inbound mobility proved in large part to be dominated by New Yorkers, with up to 26,957 per year moving to the Greater Philadelphia Metro during [2009-2013]. We’ve known this has been happening for awhile, so Property dug a little deeper to find the next two metros whose residents up and left for Philly.

The results? An estimated 5,182 folks from the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metro Area moved to our neck of the woods during that time as well, as did almost 4,759 from the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson Metro Area. Interestingly, included in the metro-to-metro chart were international regions, with Philly’s largest influx of residents from abroad hailing from Asia for an estimated 13,762. … next time you meet a fresh transplant, whether from the ‘burbs, New York or wherever else, indirectly thank them for all the pretty things Philly is getting.

Philadelphia too often compares itself to other cities in ways that don’t make sense, or that neglect the distinctiveness of the city and its surrounding counties. This on the other hand is a reminder that sometimes Philadelphia looks to New York because there’s cause to.