NEW YORK — It certainly won’t be a blue Christmas at St. Francis Residences in New York City. The Province’s apartments, run by St. Francis Friends of the Poor (SFFP) for homeless men and women with chronic mental illnesses, are bright and festive this Advent and Christmas.
“Christmas at the residences is a great time of celebration for our tenants,” said John Felice, OFM, who runs the residences with John McVean, OFM, and Thomas Walters, OFM.
“Many of the tenants have no family but us,” said John Felice, pictured above, “and we go out of our way to make the holidays a joyful time. The holidays are full of mixed emotions for our residents, and we do what we can to make these days special.”
While the emotional spirit may be fragile, the holiday spirit is robust, he added.
Meals and Gifts
The recession is not dampening Christmas joy at SFFP, where gifts and holiday meals are abundant. Generous donors are still playing Santa, said John, which allows the Friends to continue to make the holidays festive and plentiful. “Even in this economy, our donors are wildly generous.”
Holiday festivities begin by trimming the Christmas trees at each of the three residences, a project spearheaded by Thomas. The residences are beautifully decorated for the season, according to John Felice, with three separate Christmas parties, including caroling and presents for the 255 residents.
This year, tenants will receive specially designed sweatshirts showing a SFR logo for St. Francis Residences. Christmas dinner is provided at each residence, with staff helping to serve the meals. Staff from the Jewish faith often volunteer to work on Christmas Day, according to John, so others can be with their families. The main course includes ham, turkey and roast beef, with all the traditional trimmings. To end the season, each residence has a New Year’s Eve party, he added.
“We have a party for everything,” he laughed.
Board Supports the Mission
While the holidays could be a sad time for those in emotional pain and mental illness, the Residences are committed to making Christmas joyful. This is made possible, in part, by the dedication of the SFFP board, which includes many prominent New York City business and civic leaders.
The board was formed in 1980 when the Residences opened, according to John, and consists of 12 people — eight lay members and four friars.
The chairman is Mark Lebow, managing partner of the New York office of the law firm Lebow and Sokolow.
Other members include Gerald R. Uram, a real estate attorney with Davis & Gilbert; Mitchel Rudin, president of CB Ellis Richard, one of the largest real estate management firms in the country; Martha Tucker, a certified social worker at Rockland State Psychiatric Center in upstate New York; Carl Cohen, M.D., a psychiatrist at Downstate Hospital in New York, specializing in psychiatric gerontology; Ellen Baxter, vice chair and founder of Broadway Housing, with five supportive housing projects in uptown Manhattan; and Pamela Brier, president of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Friar members are Frederick Dilger, OFM, Philadelphia; Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, Silver Spring, Md.; Provincial Minster John O’Connor, OFM, and Benedict Taylor, OFM, New York.
The board gathered with SFFP staff members for its annual Christmas party, this year held at the St. Francis of Assisi Friary on 31st Street in Midtown Manhattan, above the Province’s offices. At this gathering, Uram was awarded HNP’s Francis Medal.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.