After our six-hour journey through the Berkshires into upstate New York, we arrived in Syracuse at 2:45 PM on Saturday, 06/15. For the duration of the service retreat LeMoyne College, a lovely Jesuit school located in northeastern Syracuse, was our home base: https://www.lemoyne.edu/
Our purpose on Saturday was to arrive safely and visit the affluent part of Syracuse, including the well-known and crowded Dinosaur Barbeque restaurant, prior to our first day in south Syracuse on Sunday. While waiting for a table, we observed the Syracuse Juneteenth Celebration in the center of the city. This was a great opportunity for students to get a sense of the community, and they got to watch some hip-hop artists perform.
Our Syracuse Service Immersion retreat program is run by the Brady Faith Center located in south Syracuse: http://bradyfaithcenter.org/about/
South Syracuse has the highest rate of Latino poverty east of the Mississippi River and the highest rate of African American poverty in New York state. Our retreat guides from Brady Faith Center were Emma DiGiovanni
, a graduate of LeMoyne College, and Kevin Frank
. Emma gave our group a tour of the campus Saturday afternoon and Kevin spoke to us about evangelization, when we pray, and God’s love for us. We prayed and reflected on Saturday evening.
Sunday was a very busy day. We attended two masses – the first was the 9:00 a.m. at St. Lucy’s Church on Gifford Street, Syracuse. St. Lucy’s has thriving outreach programs that serve the neediest of Syracuse including a food pantry, hot lunch, drug rehabilitation, counseling, and myriad other programs. Rev. Jim Mathews, the longtime pastor, is a Holy Cross College graduate and recipient of the college’s In Hoc Signo Award for leading an Ignatian life. We gave him a BC High t-shirt that he placed on the altar before a vibrant mass that included a fifteen-minute Sign of Peace. Following mass, we headed for coffee and cake in the basement, where we met with parishioners including people from the St. Lucy’s Deaf Ministry.
Next, we headed for a 12:00 p.m. mass at Brady Faith Center, celebrated by Rev. John Schopfer, who has served there for more than 20 years. People at Brady say: “When we are need, Fr. John comes to us. We don’t need to go to him.” This mass included three girls who received their First Holy Communion. The celebration included families, young kids, and even our own Jay Siegfried ’20 – who presented a celebratory cake. We listened to personal stories from Stacy and Ben. Stacy spoke from her wheelchair about her addiction difficulties and how her love for Ben and their recent marriage has helped her overcome them.
After a few hours spent cleaning up after the party and weeding the vegetable gardens outside in the rain, our group returned to LeMoyne. In the evening we heard a reflection from Kevin about discipleship and the meaning of Matthew 25: Jesus’ message to reach out to the needy, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. Our students were tired, but in excellent spirits after two busy days in rainy Syracuse.
Our group spent Monday working at the Brady Faith Center and Brady Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. In the morning, our young men cooked pancakes and sausages for participants in the Brady Faith program called Pedal to Possibilities. This innovative program encourages participants to take control of their own fitness and well-being by committing to regular bike excursions. Neighborhood residents join Brady staff and volunteers for bike rides three times per week. Bikes are provided at no cost to participants, and after ten rides, each participant receives a free bike, helmet, and lock. Rides are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. http://bradyfaithcenter.org/a-ride-that-changed-my-life/
We also completed three vegetable gardens at Brady Faith Center where we planted beans, sunflowers, flowers, lavender and basil.
Later, we heard from three speakers: Andrew
, and Juanita
. Andrew Lunetta, the twenty-eight-year-old founder of Tinyhome Home For Good Syracuse (https://www.atinyhomeforgood.org
) took us for a walk through south Syracuse to see three of the latest homes. We listened to stories of forgiveness and the need to be forgiven from two active members of Brady Faith Center. Zakeem is a twenty-four-year-old man who was shot five years ago and left paralyzed during an act of Syracuse gang violence. Through what Zakeem calls answers to prayers from his family, he was able to walk again. He spoke to students about the need to stay focused, believe in God, and forgive those who harm you. Zakeem publicly forgave his assailant on live local news shortly after he was shot, while in his hospital bed. His aunt, Juanita, spoke to us about asking for forgiveness when we do harm to others, quoting from 2 Corinthians about the ministry of reconciliation.
In the afternoon, we spent time at Brady Farm. We met Jesse, the manager, who taught us about types of beans, asparagus, leafy and not leafy vegetables, as well as the vegetables consumed by people of various nationalities in Syracuse. For example, some nationalities want zucchini squash to be colossal and hard before cooking it, while others prefer leafy vegetables to be cooked not eaten raw.
Our evening program included a lovely visit from the L’Arche Community Director Bob Sackler
and the community family member Tony
. Bob told us about the International L’Arche Community for people with and without disabilities who share a love for God. He told us about the work of the branch in Syracuse (http://www.larchesyracuse.org/
) There are 16 L’Arche communities in the United States, including Lawrence, MA.
We ended the evening with reflection, discussion, and prayer lead by Kevin Frank and Ella DiGiovanni from Brady Faith Center. Kevin reminded us that when “we go to the margins of society, we erase the margins.”
We met at the Onondaga County Justice Center with Keith Cieplicki. Keith was the long time Syracuse University women’s basketball coach who decided to work in prison ministry once he retired from coaching. A humble, gracious, and hopeful man who said: “I do my best. I know I will never know the outcome of my work and that’s okay with me. I continue to help because people need help.” They serve 2,500 inmates per year and deliver over 5,000 bibles, rosaries, address books, and pairs of socks annually (https://jailministrysyr.org/our-vision).
We ate lunch at a restaurant school, With Love, in north Syracuse (http://withloverestaurant.com/about
). The restaurant is operated by Onondaga Community College. Its student-restauranteurs learn how to operate a restaurant for six months before moving to a new location in Syracuse. The current theme is Vietnamese cuisine.
In the afternoon our group went to two homes to do yard work, trash removal, and cleanup. The work was physically demanding and very much needed by the families we visited. Fr. John Schopfer from Brady Faith Center accompanied us to one of the homes.
At night, we listened to our prayer and reflection from Trevor Williams, Director of the Brady Faith Bible School and the author of numerous newsletters from Brady Faith Center. Originally from Guyana in South America, Trevor told us about his conversion experience to Christianity and urged students to meditate daily. He quoted Romans 13:8 about love and told our young men to “walk with a Spirit of integrity.” We had more reflection, discussion, and prayer that evening with Ella DiGiovanni.
As we concluded our retreat in Syracuse, our final full day of service began with a tour of LeMoyne College, the Jesuit college of the Lakes Region in central New York, work in a day shelter, and a visit to a school that teaches refugees English and job skills. The entire LeMoyne admissions staff and the president, Dr. Linda Lemura
, met with our students and showcased their energy and joy for the school. After learning about the opportunities at LeMoyne, we were treated to an extensive tour of the college. (https://www.lemoyne.edu/Values/Message-from-the-President
Later that morning, we headed back to St. Lucy’s Church in south Syracuse to assist in serving lunch at the day shelter known better as “Bread of Life.” There, students spoke to guests and served in many ways, including sorting through clothing, serving bread, lemonade, and water. We also helped set up St. Lucy’s gym for a graduation event on Wednesday night.
After some much needed downtime, including a visit to the LeMoyne Recreation Center, we headed to the North Side Learning Center. The North Side Learning Center (NSLC) was founded in 2009 and exists to aid in adult and youth literacy development by teaching self-sufficiency and self-actualization to newcomers in the community. Students come from dozens of countries around the world. Beyond the core of teaching English to adults and providing academic support to their children, additional programs are offered as resources allow including sewing classes, digital and financial literacy, soccer, photography, and college prep – just to name a few.
Volunteers from Syracuse University, Le Moyne College, and the general community allow NSLC to provide these enhanced classes and to provide individualized, constructive teaching. Services are provided to over one hundred and fifty students annually – from ages four to eighty-four. The North Side Learning Center approach is to start with where people are, respect their experiences and abilities, and teach what they want and need to learn. Our students were struck by the necessity to find multi-lingual teachers of sign language for refugees who are deaf.
Additionally, we visited the mosque attached to the Northside Center. A former Roman Catholic Church, the mosque uniquely blends the worship space of a mosque while preserving the tradition of the Tiffany stained glass Catholic windows. It was purposely called, The Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary. We listened to a member of the mosque explain the similarities between Islam and Christianity and our young men had excellent questions that opened an informative conversation. This video shows the transition of the Catholic Church to an Islamic mosque in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMQ97FojpPY
. We then played games with children from North Side in the mosque’s parking lot.
Our final reflection session took place back in St. Mary’s Hall on LeMoyne’s campus. Thursday morning we concluded our program with a mass lead by Fr. John and assisted by Kevin Frank from the Brady Faith Center. The mass included symbolic foot washing. It was intended to remind us to serve others and to let others serve us.
It was a privilege to work, reflect, and pray with our wonderful students. We received numerous words of praise about their work, kindness, and generosity over the course of the week in Syracuse!