The Franciscan Center: A Brief History
The Franciscan Center opened its doors on April 1, 1980, when two Franciscan Friars from Bishop Timon High School rented a house at 395 Cumberland Avenue in South Buffalo. Thus began the “apostolate for runaway adolescents”. Interest in this apostolic work prompted Father Patrick Mendola, OFM Conv. from St. Francis High School to join the two Franciscans in July 1981. The following November, the Center was legally incorporated under the directorship of Fr. Patrick.
The Cumberland Avenue facility soon became inadequate and so on May 28, 1982, The Franciscan Center moved to its present location on the corner of Seneca Street and Roanoke Parkway. The two Franciscans from Timon High School left the program and Fr. Patrick was joined by Fr. Kenneth Ward, OFM Conv. in July 1982. Father Ken, a dynamic force in the growth of the Center, remained on staff until his untimely death on November 10, 1989.
Runaway and homeless youth began coming from all areas of Western New York and beyond. Many of these young people found the Center a haven where they could turn their lives around in a nurturing, homelike atmosphere. The Friars continued to hear and respond to the call of the Gospel and St. Francis – to care for and heal the body and soul of those most in need.
In 1985, a house located at 7 Roanoke Parkway was accepted as a gift from Mr. William McMullen, which allowed for further expansion. The following year this house was dedicated, and the Friary (living quarters of the Friars) was blessed and placed under the patronage of St. Joseph, the Foster Parent.
As the needs of the youth continued to grow, the Friars realized the need for two separate programs: a long-term program for those ready and willing to work on long-term goals of personal growth, education, employment, etc.; and an emergency program to help those in crisis situations, or who are in need of a temporary place to stay. In April 1989, the house at 1920 Seneca Street was purchased, and then opened in September 1989 as the Emergency Shelter. The Franciscan Center also received NYS certification in 1988 for Transitional Independent Living Program. The Emergency Shelter was also eventually certified by NYS Office of Children & Family Services in 1990.
In 1990, Fr. Joseph Bayne, OFM Conv., succeeded Fr. Patrick Mendola as Executive Director of The Franciscan Center. From its modest beginning, The Franciscan Center has continued to provide quality holistic care for young men, ages 16-20. The Transitional Independent Living Program allows youth up to 18 months to develop skills and attributes that will help them to become independent, while furthering their education and working on more long-term goals. In addition to housing several youth each year, The Franciscan Center also ministers to hundreds of men, women, youth and children each year in crisis situations by outreach, counseling and referrals.
An Advisory Committee was formed in 1992, made up of dedicated men and women from the community. Their chief task was to assist in the area of development, i.e. keeping the Center afloat by public relations and fund raising. The Corporate Board of Directors, the Provincial Council of the Conventual Franciscan Friars, encouraged and guided this local Advisory Committee to form a fully active and responsible Board of Directors in 2003. To date this Board does yeomen work in the area of fund raising. The Board approves the annual budget, reviews and approves policies, and evaluates the Executive Director, reporting to the Corporate Board.
Due to decline in the number of friars available, St. Joseph Foster Parent Friary eventually closed (2002) and is now used for the Administration Wing, affording much more space for the Transitional Independent Living Program. At one time there were as many as five friars residing on site on Seneca Street. Currently, Fr. Joe lives at St. Francis High School Friary in Athol Springs. Over the years, The Franciscan Center has served as a formation site for young friars or others interested in the Franciscan Order as well as local seminarians and lay students from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
1995: First Annual +Fr. Patrick Mendola Memorial Dinner, major fund raiser named in honor fo the founder, at which one or two current or former residents are honored with a scholarship. Eventually the Memorial Dinner began to honor some of our significant benefactors and/or staff. The Annual Golf Tournament was begun in 1996 and continues to date, one of our most significant and needed fund raising events, along with our Annual Spaghetti Dinner and Chicken Bar B Q (sponsored by the Fire/EMS Community of Erie County). In 2003, Jon Williams, CEO of Ontario Specialty Contracting, began “The Friends of the Franciscan Center, a group of corporate and business benefactors who make a monthly or annual pledge of financial support to the Center. This “Friends” Group has expanded and is a critical line in our annual budget.
In mid 2001, Maureen Armstrong was named Assistant Director, with her role as Case Manager. She continues in this dual role to date. In 2004 a revised Mission Statement and Philosophy, along with a new logo, capturing our Body, Mind, Spirit approach to caring for troubled youth was approved by the Boards.
In December 2007, the Emergency Shelter closed, after a long discernment process. Trends, studies, and experience show that youth need more than a few days to “get their life together.” With the encouragement and approval of NYS Office of Children and Family Services and the approval of our Board of Directors, we converted the house at 1920 Seneca Street into a “Supported Residence” with three suites for youth, who are committed to carry out an Individual Service Plan, stay for several months, and continue in school and/or employment. The Supported Residence, offered youth a setting and program which more clearly reflected actual “independent living, since the house is not staffed around the clock. The Supported Residence retained that name from January 2008 until June 2011.
Despite no grant funding for the house at 1920, we through our discernment and the support of our Board of Directors, continued to use it for the care of young men. Then called the Mentor Program, served as a safe home for young men, even beyond their 21st birthday, who had done well at our Transitional Independent Living Program. We continued to meet with them and oversee their case management. The Mentor Program had basic rules, but it more closely imitated actual independent living. After some successful cases, we eventually discerned that most youth still needed further structure and supervision. Though heartbreaking, we terminated the Mentor Program as of January 2014, using our funding and resources to keep the successful Transitional Independent Living Program going strong..
The Union of the two East Coast Provinces of the Franciscan Friars Conventual, allowed Our Lady of the Angels Province to be born on May 5, 2014. The Friars did an in depth study of their various ministries and the Friars affirmed their interest and willingness to serve in such ministries. Among these endeavors is our own Franciscan Center here in Buffalo. Feedback from the Friars shows their respect and support of this ministry to troubled youth.
As of January 1, 2018, we have rolled out a new vision, returning more to our roots. We have relinquished the certification from NYS Office of Children & Family Services. New regulations, politically correct demands, and increasingly more paperwork, have made it so unreasonable, even as funding has decreased greatly over the years. So as of 1/1/18, we will serve young men ages 18-24 in our Transitional Home for Young Men. We are no longer a government regulated or funded agency, but a true Franciscan Ministry.
Our original logo, created by Friar Joseph Dorniak, OFM Conv., captures our ongoing mission, depicting St. Francis re-uniting Son and Father/Family. It serves as a reminder that The Franciscan Center was founded and is administered/sponsored by the Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Anthony of Padua Province.
Our new logo, three interwoven rings, bespeaks the Triune God and reminds us of our philosophy of addressing the needs of youth in “Mind, Body, and Spirit”, using the Franciscan Philosophy of Education via Information, Formation, and leading ultimately to Transformation.