Rochester's Downtown Community Forum celebrates 25 years - Catholic Courier

Rochester’s Downtown Community Forum celebrates 25 years

ROCHESTER — As if to underscore that the Downtown Community Forum is not just a run-of-the-mill discussion series, on Nov. 7 organizers punctuated its Vintage! Downtown Community Forum 25th-anniversary celebration with a new award: The Worker in the Vineyard Award.

The first recipient was Sister of St. Joseph Joan Sobala, who helped found the forum in 1984 to mark the 150th anniversaries of both the City of Rochester and St. Mary Parish, which hosts the forum’s presentations in its Dugan Center.

"The idea for us as a church community was to reach into our church tradition and to follow the modeling of Jesus, who talked to everybody," said Sister Sobala, who was the forum’s first director.

She said it’s difficult to quantify the difference that the Downtown Community Forum has made in the City of Rochester during the past 25 years. Yet she believes it was apparent to participants during some of the forum’s notable events: the celebration of columnist Henry Clune’s 104th birthday; a talk by Eileen Collins, an Elmira native and the first female space shuttle pilot; a discussion between Vietnam veterans and conscientious objectors; and talks throughout the years on health-care reform.

Recent forums have focused on Rochester’s economic development, education and public safety, thanks to a partnership with Rochester’s One City initiative, said Monica Mattioli, who is now the forum’s executive director. This season, the One City series will explore the past, present and future of the South Wedge, the 19th Ward and 14621 neighborhoods in Rochester. In the spring, the forum also will air the last of four PBS documentaries on forgiveness, which were presented locally by WXXI. Details will be posted at

Partnerships are a way the forum continues to present high-quality programming, Mattioli said. The forum was initially funded with a bequest and now receives support from St. Mary Parish, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, and various other organizations and foundations.

"As Catholics, we have our own point of view, but it’s important that we engage in conversation with folks so that we can be advocating effectively," Mattioli said.

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