St. Mary's Center offers activities to West Side neighborhood

by SISTER KATHLEEN DOUGHERTY
Mon, Apr 18th 2016 10:00 am
Sister of St. Mary of Namur

It was a wintry day last March 12, with snow was piled high. The parking lot was icy as moving vans and cars approached the new building on Lafayette Avenue in Buffalo. The building stood impressive but silent as 27 Sisters of St. Mary of Namur approached.  Some were glad, some fearful, some relieved. Soon the building was alive with chatter, laughter and wonder as the sisters explored their new surroundings and tried to find their way around.

A decision was made in 1993 to sell Mount St. Mary, the building that had been the sisters' motherhouse since 1927. A search began to find a new home that could house a wellness center to care for infirmed sisters, as well as an active community. Unable to find a suitable place, the sisters turned to their existing convent on the West Side. After much prayer and discernment it was decided to expand the present building which housed provincial offices and an infirmary. After all, the West Side was the sisters' first location in Buffalo. With the help of a capital campaign, the new structure was finally built and ready for occupancy on March 12, 2015.

At previous meetings it was unanimously agreed that all sisters would be involved in the ministry of hospitality among the people living on the West Side. Various African and Asian groups had made their homes there and were in need of religious instruction, tutoring, health care, housing, and most of all, a welcoming hand.

It wasn't long before these needs began to be met. At present, besides opening the chapel for morning Mass, the sisters are engaged in various activities. One sister is the director of faith formation in the neighboring parish. She also represents the community on the Voice Buffalo board, continues outreach to the neighborhood and brings together the neighbors and friends of the community by sponsoring a Peace Prayer the second Friday of each month.

Another sister works for the Concerned Ecumenical Ministry helping clients with household chores. Two sisters visit homes to inform people of the various activities and services available on the West Side. Another sister, who is a nurse, works with the refugees that come to Jericho Road Community Health Center.

About the same time the sisters moved in, the Somali Bantu community expressed the need for an after school homework program for their children, and asked the sisters for assistance. Three sister volunteers began the program in a small storefront on Grant Street. As the number of students increased, the sisters renovated a large storage room in the convent basement and moved the program there in September.

Three sisters now work there, with the help of college students from Canisius and Daemen and adult volunteers, tutoring 40 students Monday through Thursday. Because of many benefactors' donations, they have been able to provide students with hats, gloves, socks and coats. Many children are now learning English and receiving homework assistance.

This year has been a blessing for the sisters and the people of the West Side. Together they are building up a section of the city which has long been neglected. The sisters are grateful to God who has inspired and sustained them in a special way during this year of transition. The sisters look to continue to provide spiritual, educational, and economic possibilities for all those who are seeking a welcoming and peaceful life.   

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