GENEVA — Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes staff members celebrated the dedication of their new regional office building Oct. 4 with an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony with state Sen. Michael Nozzolio.
The building at 94 Exchange St. was previously used as a convent and was owned by St. Francis de Sales Parish, which together with St. Stephen Parish forms the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva.
The building now houses one of the two finance offices for diocesan Catholic Charities, as well as offices for the staff of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes. Several of the agency’s programs also take place there, including a supervised visitation program that Ontario County subcontracts to the agency, said Anthony Barbaro, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
Catholic Charities and the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva are now neighbors, since St. Francis de Sales Church is located at 130 Exchange St. and the parishes’ religious-education program is headquartered at 110 Exchange St.
St. Francis de Sales Parish stopped using the building as a convent in 1999, when the last resident moved out, Barbaro said. The parish soon decided to demolish the building rather than risk having it become a vacant eyesore, said Father James Hewes, who became parochial vicar for the parishes shortly after the decision was made.
By the time Father Hewes arrived at the parish and asked for a tour of the former convent, St. Francis de Sales had already accepted a company’s offer to demolish the building at a cost of more than $50,000.
“I was amazed at what good shape it was in. I was blown away,” Father Hewes recalled. “This would be a shame to let the building be taken down.”
At Father Hewes’ request, a professional from Providence Housing Development Corp. evaluated the building and determined it to be structurally sound, he added. With the right tenant, Father Hewes thought the building could still benefit both the parish and the Geneva community, so he met with the parish council and asked it to reconsider the decision to knock down the building.
Discussion about the former convent’s future continued even after Father Hewes left Geneva in June 2000 to become pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah. While the parish debated what to do with the building, officials at Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes were trying to make a few decisions of their own, Barbaro said.
The Catholic Charities agency, which provides human services for people in Yates, Ontario, Seneca and Cayuga counties, had for a number of years been headquartered in leased office space at 1 Franklin Square in Geneva, Barbaro said. The agency also maintains a satellite office in Auburn which deals primarily with needs within Cayuga County.
“The board decided we could probably be better off in the long haul if we owned property rather than leased,” he said. “It was an attempt to anchor ourselves in Geneva, and to find more cost-effective property.”
In 2004 Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes purchased the former convent from the parish for $100 and began renovating the building shortly thereafter. The agency’s staff and the staff of the diocesan Catholic Charities finance office moved into their new space in July 2005.
The finance office had previously been located in leased space on Washington Street in Geneva, Barbaro said. It is one of two such offices for diocesan Catholic Charities, with the other located in Elmira. The move has been beneficial for both the finance department and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, which plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2006-07, he added.
“Together, we have a little more square footage than we had before, at a lower cost per square foot,” Barbaro said. “It’s working out wonderfully.”
“I think it was one of those things that was really a win-win (situation) for everyone,” Father Hewes added.