Catholic Courier

Posted: April 3, 2017

Courier photo by John Haeger

Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency has been using the former convent of St. Mary Church in Waterloo as office space and will turn the building into a homeless shelter for women in 2018.

Parish campus to house shelter

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier

Changes are coming to the campuses of St. Francis and St. Clare Parish’s worship sites, St. Mary Church in Waterloo and St. Patrick Church in Seneca Falls.

St. Mary’s former convent, which the parish sold to Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency in 2013, will be converted into a transitional shelter for homeless women and the agency will begin leasing office space in St. Mary’s former rectory. And over in Seneca Falls, the former St. Patrick School will be put up for sale in the spring of 2017.

St. Francis and St. Clare has not used any of those buildings for parish functions for several years, according to Father James Fennessy, pastor. Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency began leasing the former St. Mary’s convent and using it for office space before Father Fennessy arrived at the parish in 2007, and Father Fennessy and Father Roy Kiggins, priest in residence at the parish, reside in the rectory on the grounds of St. Patrick Church.

Parishioners’ reaction to the news that the agency will be opening a shelter has been positive, Father Fennessy said.

“I heard a number of wonderful comments about that. I think it’s very much a part of the mission of the church,” he said.

Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency’s plans for the shelter have been several years in the making, according to Laurie Piccolo, the agency’s executive director. The idea for a shelter for homeless women first surfaced in discussions between Piccolo and Menzo Case, the president of Generations Bank. Case is a staunch advocate for the homeless, and provided the funding for the agency to purchase the former convent in 2013.

In December 2015 the agency received a $383,000 Community Development Block Grant to use for the project, called the Seneca Housing Stability Project, and in December 2016 it received a $1.04 million grant from New York state’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Program. Piccolo hopes renovation work will begin in November 2017 and be completed by June 2018, at which point the shelter will open.
“There is no shelter in Seneca County at the time for women,” Piccolo said. “Most of the women are hoteled or moteled. That doesn’t make a great living environment for anybody, especially if you’re in crisis.”

The shelter will be a nine-unit facility for single women without children. It is not intended for victims of domestic violence, since another agency in Seneca County already provides services for these women, Piccolo said. Women will be able to stay in the shelter for as long as 24 months and will receive case-management services while they’re there. Once the women are in the shelter and no longer have to worry about finding housing, they’ll be able to concentrate on overcoming the other challenges in their lives, Piccolo said.

“It could be loss of employment, there could be health issues, a divorce. It could be they’ve been evicted from their property because they lost their job and couldn’t make rental payments,” Piccolo said.

Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency staff members who currently work out of the former convent soon will move over to the former rectory.

The former St. Patrick School building, meanwhile, has not been used as a school since 2007. St. Patrick School merged with St. Mary School at the end of the 2004-05 school year, and the new St. John Bosco School opened at the Seneca Falls site in September 2005. St. John Bosco School closed after the 2006-07 school year. In 2008 the town of Seneca Falls began leasing space in the building for its offices and town court, but the town moved out of the former school and into its new municipal building in February.

Father Fennessy consulted with St. Francis and St. Clares’s pastoral and finance councils and penned a bulletin column asking parishioners for their input, and the consensus, he said, was that the parish should sell the building.

“Both the parish council and the finance council overwhelmingly decided to sell it,” he said.

Catholics in Seneca Falls and Waterloo remain committed to Catholic education, and some of St. Francis and St. Clare’s families send their children to Catholic schools in Geneva and Auburn. Over the years the parish has donated most of the school’s furnishings to other Catholic schools in the diocese, and this summer those that remain likely will be donated to the parish’s Nicaragua Project, which gathers and sends items to the needy in Nicaragua, Father Fennessy said.