First he saved them from being evicted. Now multimillionaire business coach and self-improvement guru Tony Robbins has gone one step further: He has bought the imperiled French nuns of the Tenderloin their own soup kitchen.
The new digs are on Mission Street near the 16th Street BART Station — and appropriately enough, next door to the one-stop Navigation Center for the homeless. Robbins forked over $750,000 in cash this week for the property’s purchase, the offer was accepted, and the two nuns of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen plan to tote their pots and pans over there by the end of April.
Sister Mary Benedicte, who with Sister Mary of the Angels serves meals to hundreds of homeless people a week at their soup kitchen at 54 Turk St., was flabbergasted.
“It feels like God’s providence,” she said in a thick French accent, pausing during a week of Easter prayers to ponder the gift. “This is God’s blessing. Wow.”
Robbins read of the nuns’ plight last month when The Chronicle reported that their little soup kitchen in a tatty corner of the Tenderloin was being evicted by their landlord so he could make more money on the building. Robbins flew into town, brokered a deal with the landlord to let them stay until the end of the year, and dropped $25,000 cash on them to help them with their troubles.
He kept talking with the nuns and Mother Superior Mary Martha, their leader at the Chicago headquarters of the Notre Dame order — and as the weeks went by, they all agreed it would be best to get out from under the instability of renting a place.
Needing a place to live
Mary Martha flew to San Francisco in mid-March, the nuns found a real estate agent, and in short order they had their kitchen at 1930 Mission St. All they need now is a condominium or apartment for the sisters to sleep in because, unlike at Turk Street, they can’t live in their new space.
Robbins — known internationally for infomercials, books and for counseling bigwigs from former President Bill Clinton to actor Leonardo DiCaprio — is tapping some of his billionaire friends for help and advice on the housing front, too. A solution, Robbins said, shouldn’t be long in coming. Meanwhile, he’s also kicking in $50,000 to help the nuns outfit their new kitchen.
“It’s been a wild journey,” Robbins said by phone from his home in Florida. “My original intent was just to get them a place to lease, but this building opportunity looked too good.”
‘Inspired by their story’
Robbins said the nuns’ plight resonated with his philanthropic work to feed the poor around the world. Having spent time homeless before he hit fame as a business coach dubbed “the CEO Whisperer” by Fortune magazine, Robbins said, he takes the issue personally.
“I was so inspired by their story,” he said. “I was deeply touched that not only are they feeding people, but their entire lives are spent toward loving and taking care of people.
“I was struck by it, and I trust my instincts. I have a deep love for the nuns, and I want them to be able to put all their efforts into doing the wonderful things that they do.”
After The Chronicle wrote of the nuns’ plight, hundreds of people from around the world called or wrote the newspaper offering to help — including several real estate agents, who began scouring the city for buildings that could house the soup kitchen. But in the end, the agent who did the trick was found by Mary Martha and the sisters on a stroll through the Mission District on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I had just closed the office when I heard something outside, went to the door — and there were these nuns,” said Antonio Gamero, an agent with Re/Max Future on Valencia Street. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to talk about religion right now,’ but then they told me who they were and what they wanted. And, like, the next day we got working.”
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