NEW YORK — A friar who says he is proud to be working with “one of the most unsung social services agencies in Harlem,” has been elected chair of the board of directors of Create, Inc, a multi-service agency founded by Benedict Taylor, OFM.
Neil O’Connell, OFM, was elected on March 29 and succeeds Hugh Hines, OFM, who was assigned to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston earlier this year.
“I am very proud to be chair and to work with Ben Taylor and (executive director) Ralph Perez,” said Neil, the Catholic campus minister at Manhattan Community College and Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx. “Create is a wonderful program — probably one of the most unsung services in Harlem. At any given time, Create serves between 800 and 900 people, from young adults to senior citizens.”
Neil, who has been on the board for more than 20 years, has been “instrumental in starting the annual Christmas gift donations from St. Stephen of Hungary Parish, a tradition he started while he was pastor of St Stephen’s,” said Perez. “Over the years, he brings invaluable insight to the board from his experience in his ministries in the South and collegiate education.”
Founded 30 Years Ago
Create was founded more than 30 years ago by Benedict to “promote the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being of the people we serve through the provision of sensitive, caring services that empower the community,” according to a 2008 article in this newsletter.
The services of Create, whose original name is A Chance to Re-Evolve a Total Environment, include chemical dependence treatment, vocational skills training, and helping the hungry through a food pantry and meals for seniors.
To Neil, the most valuable aspect of Create is not a program but a person. “Ben Taylor is the person who is at the heart of it all,” said Neil. “He began Create in the 1960s with a vision.”
Benedict, who still acts as a consultant to the organization, has been serving the people of New York for more than 40 years. He was one of the first friars of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street to first meet a growing need in uptown Harlem, according to Create’s website.
“I think the residence for single parents and their dependent children is the most valuable program,” said Neil, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who has lived in New York City for 19 years. “It is a very prolife and Catholic approach. The facility and the people are very Franciscan.”
Service to the Poor
Benedict said he is pleased that Neil is leading Create’s board. “I greatly appreciate the willingness of Neil in being involved with us over many years in this direct service to the poor.”
Neil, who lives at Church of St. Joseph of the Holy Family rectory on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is involved in several Provincial and academic roles, including an adjunct professor of history at Lehman College since 2008. For more than 10 years, he has served on the Province’s African Ancestry Committee (formerly called African American Ministry Committee). He also was president of St. Bonaventure University from 1990 to 1993.
Another friar, Gonzalo Torrez, OFM, of Butler, N.J., joined the Create board last fall, said Perez.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.