Buffalo Friars Collaborate with Community

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

BUFFALO, N.Y. —  An event designed for city agencies to let the community know what services are available ended with people getting to know the friars and their work.

Last month, representatives from nearly 20 social service programs came to St. Patrick Friary to provide information to area residents. They set up a trade-show-like event in an area known as Br. Moe’s Garden to educate visitors about housing, health care, job training, summer camp, credit counseling and food assistance.

“We wanted to offer people a way to join together in helping the community,” said Francis Pompei, OFM, who has been stationed in Western New York since 2007. “The city has so many services for those in need and we figured by giving them a space where they could get together, more people could be helped.

“We began talking about the idea for this event last fall after we opened our new food pantry,” he added. In November, Francis blessed the new and improved St. Patrick Food Pantry when it moved to larger quarters on the friary grounds. The pantry’s client-choice format allows guests to select their own items.

The June 17 service fair, organized by Francis, Monica Kwiatkowski and Jim Duziak, brought together city agency experts who chatted with passers-by and distributed printed information. Some also offered snacks and promotional items, and conducted health screenings.

Collaborative Effort
“They were able to help people in a more effective way by being together, compared to being on their own,” said Francis (shown in photo above). “When visitors arrived looking for housing help, they could easily be referred to nearby tables for assistance on other services, like nutrition guidance or financial tips, for example.”

It was a comprehensive event, said Tom Koch of Harvest House Ministry Center, which offers an education center, a baby and children’s ministry, and health care counseling. “People could get their blood pressure checked and then, just a few steps away, see someone about nutrition.”

“The event was very helpful as a way to attract new volunteers and to tell people about what we do,” said Meals on Wheels representative Jolynn Keane.

“It was a fun day,” added Marilyn Leslie of St. Gregory the Great Parish’s Ladies of Charity, part of Catholic Charities. “We hope Monica (Kwiatkowski) continues holding fairs like this.”

“The Franciscans show people they care,” said Koch. “Since so many of our city’s neighborhoods are changing, it’s good to see that neighbors care.”

The organizing team showed hospitality by distributing cold water, playing lively music and offering jokes told by Francis.

Underneath his jovial energetic exterior, Francis, who on the day of the event commemorated the 25th anniversary of his solemn profession, reflected on the value of the service fair. “It’s a way to build relationships with our brothers and sisters.”

Francis has offered to the participating agencies use of friary property in the future. “I suggested they get together and utilize the space here. The agencies have given us a lot of good feedback about the event. Many of the agencies told Monica and me that the fair was very well organized. It was a place for one-stop shopping.”

Rosie Evans, who works for Buffalo’s social services department and whose son attended a high school staffed by Franciscans, said, “The friars have been such a positive influence in my life and in many people’s lives.”

Ongoing Services
For decades, the friars have lived on Seymour Street, not far from the busy Seneca and Emslie streets, offering prayer and social services. “So much goes on here, but few people seem aware of what the friars do,” said Kwiatkowski, director of St. Patrick Food Pantry.

“We want people to know that in this large old structure, which may look haunted, are people who want to help,” said Francis, a former guardian who spends much of the year on the road leading retreats, giving missions and guiding the Franciscan Mystery Players.

He was pleased to have been able to invite two young homeless people who he had met the day before in a park about the service fair.

“It is about connecting the dots,” said Francis. “We were able to, very efficiently, not only tell Theresa and Matthew about how to get housing help, but to introduce them to people who can assist them in an ongoing way. We want to connect people with people and with services.

“There are no coincidences in life,” Francis said, referring to the chance meeting of these people and the ability to help them.

During the fair, a flyer about St. Patrick Friary was distributed to visitors. “Our main ministry is to be good neighbors and assist those in need the best we can with the means we are given,” says the handout, which lists the services of St. Patrick friars, including a food pantry, St. Francis Thrift Store, a few blocks away, healing services in the friary chapel, senior citizen gatherings, and a children’s summer fun program day camp. The friars are involved in a variety of ministries, some more formal than others.

  • John Alderson, OFM, guardian since 2012, has been on staff at Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School in Buffalo for several years and has helped at two workshop sites of a Buffalo parish.
  • Timothy Dauenhauer, OFM, (at right in photo) cares for the property’s gardens and hosts groups in the St. Francis Boys Club building on the friary property.
  • Vianney Justin, OFM, helps families of inmates of two area prisons, driving spouses and children from train and bus stations to visit their relatives.
  • Stephen Pavignano, OFM, is pastor of St. Clare Parish on nearby Elk Street.

The next event planned for the friary is an Aug. 13 picnic and healing service. Community members are welcomed to the 5 p.m. gathering. Other groups, including the pantry and thrift store staff members, are also planning to use the garden.

The theme “all are welcome” is surely practiced at St. Patrick Friary.

 Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.