BUFFALO, N.Y. — St. Patrick Friary sits in a neighborhood on the brink of change.
One street south, hundreds of young professionals pack Larkin Square each week for Food Truck Tuesdays and free concerts on Wednesdays.
But a few streets north of the friary sit rows of houses with patched roofs and windows, buildings that are in need of care that their owners can’t afford to give, a group of people untouched by the revitalization happening blocks away.
The Franciscans have served the Larkinville community since Holy Name Province assumed care of St. Patrick Parish in 1858 at the invitation of Bishop John Timon. This year, four longstanding ministries have come together under one new entity to strengthen Franciscan service to the area. It is being called Franciscan Ministries of Buffalo.
Helping Ministries Help the Poor
St. Patrick Food Pantry, St. Francis Thrift Shop, Ministry to the Poor, and Summer Fun are now operation under the direction of a board consisting of laypeople and one friar, Jud Weiksnar, OFM.
“Day-to-day operations remain essentially the same under the direction of the dedicated, competent and faithful laypeople who have been serving the poor for years,” Jud said. “However, the business side of things is now in the capable hands of the board and the not-for-profit group Buffalo Collaborative Opportunities & Management Enterprises, Inc.”
This allows friars and their partners-in-ministry to concentrate on direct service to those in need, while professionals handle financial, technological, administrative and development aspects of the ministries.
“There are many advantages to doing things this way,” Jud explained. “The friars no longer have to oversee the business end of the ministries. The board brings a high level of expertise in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. BCOME ensures that ministries will be following best practices and complying with federal, state and local rules and regulations.”
This new entity will also make it easier for the Franciscan Ministries of Buffalo to attract funding from grants and foundations without having to involve Holy Name Province’s Treasurer’s Office.
Jud has been involved in this effort since his arrival in Buffalo last July, following his appointment as guardian of St. Patrick Friary at the Provincial Chapter. He worked closely with the province’s lawyer and financial adviser to assess the situation and develop a plan for the ministries.
“I’m grateful for David Tiger’s and Bob Craig’s help, since without this reorganization effort, the future of these important ministries could have been in jeopardy,” he said. “The food pantry has existed since the Great Depression. Vianney Justin’s Ministry to the Poor catches people who slip through the social services safety net. For decades, the Summer Fun program has helped dozens of kids from a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. And the thrift store, operating on a shoestring budget, assists those who don’t even have shoestrings.”
A Tale of Two Cities
Despite the remarkable revitalization happening in parts of the city, Buffalo remains the third poorest city in the nation. Roughly 30.7 percent of residents live below the poverty level — more than twice the corresponding national rate of 14.9 percent, according to the 2013 census.
Some of those most in need live close to the friary. Roughly 150 individuals visit St. Patrick’s Food Pantry each month, where — through a client choice setting — they’re invited to select the foods they’d like. The pantry began offering food this way in 2013, when it moved into a renovated garage on the friary property. Produce from the friary’s garden is also being provided to guests.
“Our clients are now able to pick the foods they like. Hopefully, this will help their self-esteem, knowing that they now have a choice,” said Monica Kwiatkowski, OFS, the pantry’s director, in an interview with HNP Today in 2013. Allowing clients to choose the food they like results in less food being discarded.
The pantry also invites representatives from various health care and food service agencies to the pantry to provide educational services and resources to clients. During the holidays, the pantry will collect toys and clothing for Christmas presents and make up Easter baskets in the spring. The pantry has also provided food during weather emergencies, such as the snowstorm that hit Western New York last fall.
Several blocks away on Clinton Street, St. Francis Thrift Shop offers clothing and other items to the community. Prices are kept low, ranging from .05 cents for smaller items to $10 for coats. Last month, the shop made roughly $330, according to director Sherry Zeches.
“We try to keep our prices reasonable,” she said. “If someone comes in and can’t afford something, we try to help them. Each month we’ll change what we have out front to give people a variety. What we don’t use, we’ll donate to communities in Nicaragua so nothing is wasted.”
The City of Good Neighbors
One of the friars’ greatest challenges in Buffalo is helping people who live around the friary form relationships and organize to benefit their community.
On a recent visit to St. Patrick Friary, Jud gave this reporter a tour of the neighborhood. As we walked, he gestured to a pile of trash mingled with weeds on the roadside. “If I was still at St. Anthony’s in Camden, we would organize a group to clean this up. Here, we’re still looking for ways to help bring the neighborhood together.”
Wearing the Franciscan habit wherever he goes helps with that. Whether he’s on a bike ride with Buffalo’s “Slow Roll” community or ice skating at the new rink at Canalside, the habit has helped Jud meet people both who can help the Franciscans as well as those who could use help from the friars’ programs.
“One day, I was walking through the neighborhood while wearing my habit and a woman approached me and asked me if I was a priest,” he said. “I said yes, and she asked if I would bless her apartment. I never would have met her or had that conversation if I wasn’t wearing the habit.”
Wearing the habit has also helped Jud meet some of the friary’s new neighbors from the developments that are taking the place of the area’s warehouses. Ministries are now benefiting from the proceeds of a hipster-friendly granola stand. The local microbrewery helps support the food pantry. And tattooed bicyclists covered in piercings are liking Franciscan Ministries of Buffalo on Facebook.
“Friars and our partners-in-ministry have been serving on this site since 1891. As we like to tell people, we were in Larkinville before Larkinville was cool,” quipped Jud, who grew up in nearby Amherst, N.Y.
Next month, Flying Bison Brewing Company, located a short walk from St. Patrick Friary, and The Good Neighborhood will hold a lawn fete-style party to “celebrate the hardworking Franciscan friars and laypeople who day in and day out donate their time, energy, money and love into helping our Larkinville neighborhood’s less fortunate families.” Located on the brewery’s grounds, the Aug. 1 event will feature live jazz, local food trucks, carnival games, a 50/50 raffle and more. All proceeds will go directly to providing Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to St. Patrick Food Pantry’s clients.
The friars of Buffalo are extending an invitation to anyone who would like to visit the city.
“If you haven’t been to Buffalo in the last five years, and especially if you haven’t been here since the 1970s, you won’t believe the changes that are taking place here,” Jud said. “We’ve got plenty of guest rooms at St. Pat’s. And if you get here before the Buffalo River freezes, I’ll take you on an amazing kayak tour of Elevator Alley, the world’s biggest collection of grain elevators.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province and a native of Western New York.