By Toni Cashnelli
Two years ago this was office and warehouse space no longer needed by Franciscan Media after downsizing and outsourcing. Today the freshly painted building is abuzz with energy and expectation as civic and religious leaders join friars, friends and tenants to bless a ground-breaking project based upon a simple, sensible plan: Let’s join forces to help the homeless.
It took vision, prayer, persistence and generosity to create St. Anthony Center, a new home for seven non-profits working to improve the lives of their neighbors in inner-city Cincinnati. St. John the Baptist Province, owner of the property, invited groups to move here rent-free and refurbish the interior. Obstacles in construction and paperwork slowed but did not stymie the year-long project.
The end result is an impressive example of collaboration, a bright, modern, safe facility where outreach services for the poor are conveniently clustered, from meals to medical care, from showers to social services.
All of this is acknowledged in remarks by former Vicar Frank Jasper after a ribbon-cutting by friars and heads of the agencies involved. Frank worked closely to guide the process with Chris Schuermann, Executive Director of the friar-sponsored St. Francis Seraph Ministries, now housed here.
“What a big day!” exclaims a woman scrambling for a seat in front before a short program starts. Shifting to make room, her friend responds, “It is huge!”
In thank-yous to all involved, one name is central and often repeated. Community activist Tom Klinedinst, whose dedication fueled countless province projects over the years, first suggested the Center to Frank. “Well, Father, what do you think?” Tom asked, outlining his plan. Frank’s response was, “I think you’re nuts.”
Tom persevered, and the project moved forward. Sadly, he died last summer before his dream was realized. “I’m really grateful to Tom for his heroic efforts,” Frank says. “He’s watching us and blessing our efforts from heaven.” Frank addresses Chris, the dynamo whose determination kept things on track. “You’re the feet on the ground that made this happen.” He thanks Franciscan Media for donating furniture to the project and for graciously enduring the disruptions of “noise, dust, dirt, hot air in summer and lack of heat in winter” while partners refurbished their parts of the complex.
Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmember Yvette Simpson have official roles to play today. But they also have a message. In recent years Over-the-Rhine, this diverse and historic neighborhood, has seen much progress through gentrification. “But if we look carefully, we know many are not being reached by this renaissance,” David says, referring to the poorest residents. “Lord knows their needs are beyond what these agencies [at St. Anthony Center] can do.” We should never rest “until every human being receives support and love from the community at large.” Yvette agrees. “We know collectively we have a lot of work to do.”
She reads a proclamation listing the many contributions of Tom Klinedinst and unveils a street sign with an honorary designation. Hereafter, the intersection of Liberty and Republic streets will also be known as “Thomas J. Klinedinst Jr. Way.” Tom’s family, overwhelmed by the surprise, poses proudly with the sign. “It’s humbling,” says son George.
It’s also a reminder of the power of one, and of how faith can move mountains.
“Let us ask God’s blessing on all those who will be served here,” he says. “May all who enter this space be healed in spirit and body.” And he has a prediction. “This is just Day One for the Center. Thousands will receive help; thousands will receive hope.”
Later there are tours of the renovated areas and a reception in the Mother Teresa Dining Room, named for the revered champion of the poor. Formerly housed in the basement of nearby St. Francis Seraph School, the new facility that seats 250 guests is expanding service from three to five weekday dinners and adding breakfasts Monday through Friday.
Among the guests is Sr. Bonnie Steinlage, FSP. In 1988 she founded [Franciscan Ministries’] Haircuts from the Heart, which operates a mini-salon in St. Anthony Center. Now Bonnie is a volunteer providing a grooming service that helps the homeless regain their dignity and self-esteem. Two years ago when she toured this vacant space and heard about plans for the Center, “I didn’t believe it was possible,” Bonnie says.
As John Quigley joins other friars at a table, a woman stops by to shake his hand.
“I just want to thank you and all of the Franciscans,” she says. “What a fabulous gift to Cincinnati” – a gift that with God’s grace will have an enduring impact.
Meet the partners
- St. Anthony Center: www.saintanthonycentercincinnati.org
- The Center for Respite Care provides medical and nursing care to homeless people who are sick and recuperating as well as assistance in breaking the cycle of homelessness: www.centerforrespitecare.org
- Franciscan Ministries’ Haircuts from the Heart provides haircuts for people who are homeless, elderly, disabled or poor at its mini-salon or mobile salon: www.franciscanministriesinc.org
- Mary Magdalen House, a personal care facility for the poor and homeless, offers guests a place to shower, use a toilet, receive clean clothing, use a telephone and receive messages and mail: www.marymagdalenhouse.org
- Prince of Peace Lutheran Church Welcome Home Collaborative is a transitional housing program through which the homeless and working poor can gain work experience by turning distressed or vacant buildings into affordable housing: www.poplcmscinci.org
- St. Francis Seraph Ministries, sponsored by St. John the Baptist Province, feeds the urban poor, provides bag lunches to day laborers, teaches women life and work skills through its Sarah Center and helps families learn to cook healthy, affordable meals: www.sfsministries.org
- Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank provides diapers to low-income families and helps raise awareness of community needs. Website coming soon!
- The Tri Health Outreach Ministries Community Health Worker Program inspires clients to live a healthier lifestyle to improve birth outcomes and infant survival: www.trihealth.com