For immediate release
For further information contact: Christina Abt / 716.799.5244
Franciscan Center Closing After Three Decades of Service
Community Ministry Provided Home and Life Skills to Young Men in Need
April 3, 2018 Buffalo, NY—Since 1980, the red brick house at the intersection of Seneca Street and Roanoke Parkway in South Buffalo has offered safe haven to thousands of runaway and homeless young men from Western New York to China. For most of those years, Father Joseph Bayne, OFM Conv., served as The Center’s Executive Director. In that role, he successfully stewarded a “tough love” program of independent living skills that earned recognition in publications as exalted as the New York Times. According to the respected friar, that dedication to excellence is what has compelled him to close the ministry’s doors. “We have done wonderful work here for 38 years and, while the need is still present, our services are not being sought out as in previous times,” Fr. Bayne stated. “My assistant director, Maureen Armstrong, and I spent the last year studying the needs of youth in our community, consulting with other forums and compiling data comparison statistics on ministries similar to ours. After reflection on those results we realized the changing needs and issues of young people in today’s world have surpassed what we are able to offer in our Living Skills and Emotional Life Steps Program. After prayer and consultation with our center’s local board of directors and our corporate board, we decided to take the tough but necessary step of closing The Franciscan Center.”
In making the announcement, Fr. Bayne reflected on the many who have experienced The Center as, “home.” One such young man is Michael Brown who came to the ministry in 1990 as an abused teenager. Today, married and the father of two daughters with a successful 20-year career in banking, Brown gives credit to the people and the process of The Franciscan Center.
“I was abused by my mother and terribly malnourished when I came to The Center and they took such good care of me,” Brown stated. “They fed me and helped me exercise and get stronger. They also helped me finish high school and get in to college. Truthfully, I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the center. It was truly a lifesaver. Even today I go back and talk to Fr. Joe. He is just such an incredible human being.”
James Olesky spent the better part of three years at The Franciscan Center, describing it as, “…a most crucial part” of his life. “They put clothes on my back and taught me time management and life skills. Within two weeks of being there I got a job and then went on to get my GED and a college education. It was a miracle. I look up to Maureen and Fr. Joe as my parents. Father Joe is a true father to everyone at The Center.”
Buffalo restaurateur, Lou Billittier has been involved with TFC as a long-time supporter and board member. He notes the closing in terms of community impact. “There is no doubt the closing of The Franciscan Center will be devastating loss for Western New York. These days there are very few places that open their doors to young men at the ages and under the circumstances as Fr. Joe and his staff have done. Fr. Joe has done everything to keep the doors open and this news is very tough. It’s a shame.”
To mark the official closing of The Franciscan Center, Fr. Joe and his staff are planning a celebration of the many lives that were changed and saved during the ministry’s operation. It is the only way the devoted friar can imagine leaving behind his life’s work with at-risk young men.
“It has taken me some months, along with the counsel of others, to accept that this is a good and just decision,” Fr. Bayne stated. “This closing is not based on failure as we helped almost 4,000 young men and made a difference in their lives but, truthfully, I learned more from these young people than in any other place I have been assigned. I cried with them. I laughed with them. I even drove them to their proms. This was their home.”
ABOUT THE FRANCISCAN CENTER: The Franciscan Center (TFC) 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 as an “apostate for runaway adolescents.” In July of 1981, Father Patrick Mendola, OFM Conv. joined the two Franciscans and by the following November, The Center was legally incorporated under the directorship of Fr. Patrick. On May 28, 1982, TFC moved to its present location on the corner of Seneca Street and Roanoke Parkway. Runaway and homeless youth began coming from all areas of Western New York and beyond to this haven where they could turn their lives around in a nurturing, homelike atmosphere. 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 the house was dedicated as the Friary (living quarters of the Friars). 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 and employment and an emergency program to help those in crisis situations or in need of a temporary place to stay. In 1988, TFC received NYS certification of their Transitional Independent Living Program and the following year a house at 1920 Seneca Street was opened in as the Emergency Shelter. In 1990, the shelter was certified by NYS Office of Children & Family Services and, that same year, Fr. Joseph Bayne, OFM Conv., succeeded Fr. Patrick Mendola as The Center’s Executive Director. Throughout its history, TFC has provided quality holistic care for young men, ages 16-20. The Transitional Independent Living Program offers a timeline of up to 18-months to develop skills and attributes that will help at risk young men to become independent, while furthering their education and working on more long-term goals. In addition to housing youth, TFC also ministers to hundreds of men, women, youth and children each year in crisis situations by outreach, counseling and referrals. TFC is 90% funded by donations and governed by an advisory committee formed in 1992, made up of dedicated men and women from the community. The committee’s chief task is to assist in development—keeping The Center afloat by public relations and fund raising. In 2003, The Corporate Board of Directors and the Provincial Council of the Conventual Franciscan Friars, encouraged and guided the local advisory committee to form a fully active and responsible board of
directors. The board approves the annual budget, reviews and approves policies, and evaluates the executive director, reporting to the corporate board. In mid-2001, Maureen Armstrong was named TFC’s Assistant Director / Case Manager, a role in which she continues today. In December 2007, the Emergency Shelter was converted into a “Supported Residence” with three suites for youth committed to carrying out an Individual Service Plan in which they participated for several months while continuing in school/employment. The Supported Residence provided a setting and program that more clearly reflecting independent living, since the house was not staffed around the clock. The Supported Residence retained that name from January 2008 until June 2011. On May 5, 2014, The Union of the two East Coast Provinces of the Franciscan Friars Conventual led to the formation of Our Lady of the Angels Province. From that evolution there followed an in-depth study of the friar’s various ministries and affirmed their interest and willingness to continue ministries such as Buffalo’s The Franciscan Center. As of 1/1/18, TFC relinquished certification by and affiliation with the NYS Office of Children & Family Services, and Erie County Youth Services. The action was taken to maintain the Franciscan mission and philosophy of the ministry. It also led to a redefining of the ages of the young men served in TFC’s transitional program to ages 18-24.
More information is available on the TFC website.