Friars building hope


Swinging mightily, a worker slams a sledgehammer into a wall facing Republic Street. It’s quite a sight, as bricks that built St. Anthony Messenger are reduced to rubble.

"They have almost finished with the demolition of what needs to come out on the second and third floor," says Chris Schuermann, referring to the preconstruction phase at the SAM/Franciscan Media building, across from St. Francis Seraph Church and Friary in Over-the-Rhine. As Fr. Jeff Scheeler notes in his column, it’s been messy.

But where passersby see a gaping hole and a pile of bricks, Chris sees an attractive entrance for St. Anthony Center, a new hub for outreach and social services in Over-the-Rhine. As Executive Director of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, an anchor tenant, Chris is a point person for the project. Like any major renovation, it is evolving as it moves forward. Leases have been signed by Mary Magdalen House, The Center for Respite Care, and SFS Ministries. (Also in the mix is Sweet Cheeks, the area’s only diaper bank for families in need.)

"A lot of people have their hands in this project," Chris says. Thus far, "It’s been so positive I can’t say enough. Everybody’s been so nice and easy to work with. The central point has been repurposing a building the friars built – continuing the Franciscan legacy in Over-the-Rhine."

Good stewards

At this point, they’re ahead of schedule. "The one thing hanging out there was all the new lighting." Meeting this week, the Ministries board decided to spend more money to outfit the Center with energy-efficient, LED lights. "The cost savings over the long haul is astronomical," Chris says. "The payback for that is being good stewards for everybody in the building." What’s more Franciscan than that?

Another decision reflects the popularity of the Ministries’ Cooking for the Family program, which teaches nutritious and affordable food preparation. "We’re going to build out space for an instructional cooking kitchen in what used to be the old lunchroom" at Franciscan Media. Instead of renting space nearby as they’ve been doing, "By moving it here we can control the program. We’re not limited on what we can offer. We can have morning, afternoon and evening classes. We’re on target annually to have 300 families go through the program."

One hiccup in the process has been happily resolved. An original partner, Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart, pulled out of the construction phase. For now, "We’re basically going to hang onto that space," leaving it vacant, Chris says, "and not use it until we decide we need it for an expanded Sarah Center program." One possibility is training people to operate industrial sewing machines, a healthy sector of the job market.

"While Haircuts did not physically join, Mary Magdalen House changed its design and put in salon space," so guests who come in for showers, laundry facilities and hospitality can take advantage of grooming services offered several days a week by the staff of Haircuts.

Creating a mood

Downstairs, SFS Ministries is still seeking donors to outfit its new soup kitchen with "state-of-the-art, top-notch commercial equipment." The dining area, to be called The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room as suggested by friars, is designed to seat 200 guests. According to Chris, "We’re going to have more of a bistro look or feel than a cafeteria with long tables. We’ll have square tables so they can look at each other." On the way in, guests can safely stow their belongings in lockers in the lobby.

For people living in uncertain circumstances, atmosphere is important. "We had a two-hour meeting today with a designer to pick a color scheme for the whole project," Chris says. "We want it to be appropriately hospitable and welcoming and calming" for guests.

In the post-demolition desolation of this former office space, it’s hard to imagine all she’s describing. But things are coming together.

Watch the video below for an overview of the St. Anthony Center