Ministry has helped Rochester neighborhood for 25 years - Catholic Courier

Ministry has helped Rochester neighborhood for 25 years

ROCHESTER — After the conclusion of the singing and applause for St. Martin’s Place’s 25th anniversary, Greg Mercer of Rochester was one of several volunteers helping to put away chairs and tables.

He paused long enough to tell why he was working up a sweat at St. Martin’s Place, which serves up lunch and conversation to people from the Marketview Heights neighborhood.

He said he was homeless from 1986-88, but found a home at St. Martin’s Place. Sister of St. Joseph Marie Brown, who died in 1996, gave him and his family something to eat, gave them clothes to wear and gave him encouragement.

"She told me God loves me," Mercer said.

Out of gratitude, Mercer volunteers daily at the ministry and helped to start a youth-mentoring group there. He said he is grateful for the Sisters of St. Joseph — which sponsor the ministry — and the other volunteers who work at St. Martin’s Place.

"They are good for me," Mercer said of the sisters and volunteers. "They are good for my community."

Although St. Martin’s Place faces an uncertain future, volunteers and past recipients celebrated the ministry’s anniversary June 9 with a program that featured singing by the St. Martin’s Youth Gospel Choir.

St. Martin’s Place opened in the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School on Ontario Street in 1984. Father Jim Hewes, then pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, recalled how Sister of St. Joseph Peg Brennan and Sister Brown told him they wanted to start a parish-based ministry.

"I said, ‘Come here, and we’ll figure out how to do it,’" the priest recalled.

At the time, Father Hewes said, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s parish council also was weighing a competing offer to use the former school space that would have brought more money into the parish. Instead, the council’s members opted for a food ministry to try to meet the needs of the neighborhood, he said.

"We can say we know we are Christians, but what are we going to do about it," Father Hewes remembered some on the parish council saying at the time.

After opening, St. Martin’s Place worked with other ministries in the former school: apartments for low-income people called Mt. Carmel Housing, a clothing store and a furniture ministry.

Codirector Joanne Corcimiglia noted that today St. Martin’s Place aims to help people with their day-to-day problems.

"We serve lunch, and we find that that just brings people in," Corcimiglia said.

She said the ministry has recently forged a partnership with Eastman School of Music to bring college music students by on Wednesdays and Fridays to play music and serve lunch. A harpist from the school even played one day, and music students have supported the youth gospel choir by helping to get a piano for it, she said.

In addition to feeding people’s stomachs and souls, the ministry also provides Christmas baskets and other items to families in need during the holidays. It is supported in its weekly work and in its annual basket drive by a host of organizations, including local parishes. For example, members of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Brighton routinely get together to make soup that is brought to the ministry, said parishioner Joanne Hammond.

Students at area schools also have volunteered at St. Martin’s, said Sister of St. Joseph Clare Ehmann, codirector. Sister Ehmann said that was how she personally got involved: She was a teacher and brought student volunteers to the ministry to help out. She said after her teaching days were over, she found herself being called to minister at St. Martin’s Place.

"It has been the most wonderful experience," Sister Ehmann said of her 12 years with the ministry. "It’s all of us working together to bring about change that is necessary in the neighborhood and in the world."

Nicola Sanese is one of those who was changed by the ministry. Sanese said he had gone from being a fashion photographer with famous friends and fast cars to being a drug addict scouring the streets of Rochester for his next fix.

Homeless, broke and not sure where his next meal was coming from, he found his way to St. Martin’s Place. He began to eat a daily meal there. One day, he threw himself on his knees in front of the statute of St. Martin de Porres to ask for help kicking his addiction.

Sanese attributes his sobriety to the Peruvian saint’s intercession.

"Now, I have been 10 years clean," said Sanese, who volunteers weekly at St. Martin’s Place.

Despite such dedicated volunteers, ministry leaders admit the future of St. Martin’s Place is murky. The building in which it is located is for sale, since the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church next door closed last year.

Corcimiglia said although the ministry has had offers to move to other areas, volunteers are hoping the new owner of the building would let the ministry stay so it can continue serving the neighborhood.

"We are praying to stay here," she said.

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