Bishop Nelson Perez blessed the new St. Elizabeth Center in Lorain on Oct. 31 and celebrated the news that the 2017 Catholic Charities Annual Appeal exceeded its $12 million goal by raising $12.4 million from 48,542 donors — the most in recent history.
The double celebration was attended by more than 150 people at the newly completed facility at Caroline Avenue and East 28th Street. Previously, the building was home to the Polish American Citizens Club. However, it had been empty for several years before being purchased and renovated by Catholic Charities.
“Thanks to all who made this happen,” said Patrick Gareau, president and CEO, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, which operates the shelter. “The St. Elizabeth Shelter is one of the beneficiaries of our second Catholic Charities ask (collection) in May,” Gareau said.
The shelter, which previously operated seasonally at the now-closed St. Joseph Church on West 15th Street, now serves up to 50 men all year. Shelter hours are 5 p.m. to 7:45 a.m. Meals are served 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and other services are offered 2-4 p.m. Services that previously were offered at Catholic Charities Family Center on West Eighth Street were consolidated at the new facility.
Gareau acknowledged Deacon Lou Maldonado who recognized the need for a shelter in Lorain and created one at St. Joseph Church in 1995. When the church closed in 2010 during the diocesan reconfiguration, the shelter continued to operate on part of the first floor and in a section of the lower level. However, Gareau said it was not cost-efficient to continue operating there because of challenges including compliance with building and safety codes.
In addition to the men’s shelter, the new facility hosts a variety of programs including emergency assistance with utilities and rent, a choice food pantry that allows guests to “shop” for food and personal items from available inventory, educational services, job training and readiness, case management services, financial literacy and more.
The spacious new shelter has shower facilities, a lounge area, washers and dryers, mail distribution and a computer room for guests. It also supports those who are physically disabled, physically or emotionally abused, mentally disabled, chemically dependent, developmentally disabled, have an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, co-occurring disabilities and are 62 and older.
St. Elizabeth Center serves as the point of access for homeless services in Lorain County, Gareau said. It is named for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron saint of Catholic Charities, who worked to help the poor throughout her life.
“Thank you for sharing your time and talent,” said Lynn Wrice-Head, program director at St. Elizabeth Center. “When someone shares their time, their talent, their kind words and help in whatever way they are able to, it truly makes a difference in our community.” She said volunteers who assist with the St. Elizabeth Center programs are carrying out the mission and values of Catholic Charities while offering much-needed help to vulnerable, which in turn helps strengthen the organization and the community.
“We couldn’t do this without you,” Wrice-Head said about the center’s volunteers.
Other speakers included Bishop Perez, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer, Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo, Lawrence Murtaugh, executive director of the Diocese of Cleveland Facilities Services and Catholic Charities Housing Corp., and Brooke Smith, senior government relations specialist for Federal Home Loan Bank in Cincinnati.
The large brick building, which Murtaugh said was identified about four years ago as a possible new site for the shelter, was purchased for $60,000 at a sheriff’s sale. Renovations cost more than $1 million, of which more than half was from an Affordable Housing Program grant from Federal Home Loan Bank.
“The work of the Church didn’t come easily,” Murtaugh said, referring to the lengthy process of completing the shelter project, “but it was worth it. It was a labor of love.” Murtaugh thanked Bishop emeritus Richard Lennon, Toledo Bishop and former diocesan Apostolic Administrator Daniel Thomas and new Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez for their support, as well as the bank, volunteers, contractors and others who made the project a reality.
“It’s great to be thanked for doing nothing,” quipped Bishop Perez, explaining that he was installed on Sept. 5, just a few weeks before the new shelter began operating, and acknowledging that his predecessors were instrumental in the project’s success.
“Why do Christians do this? Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a matter of human decency and compassion,” the bishop said. He compared the shelter project to the Gospel story of the loaves and fishes. He said Jesus preached to a large crowd, but after several hours, the apostles wanted to send the people away since there was no food available.
“Jesus told them to handle it,” he said, noting there were a couple of versions of the story in the Gospels. After locating someone with a few pieces of bread and some fish, Jesus blessed it and there was more than enough to feed the crowd.
“Jesus identifies with the poor and needy. He told us that whatever we do for the poor, we do for him. As the work goes on here at this shelter, you’re serving Jesus. You’re doing a good thing, the right thing. Thank you for what you do and for what you will do,” Bishop Perez said.
He shared a story from when he was a young priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“I was living at the cathedral rectory and we were in an area with a lot of poor. One night, a hungry man knocked on the door and asked if I could give him something to eat. I made him a cheese sandwich and he looked at it and asked where the meat was,” the bishop said, adding that “sometimes serving the needy isn’t easy and it can be messy.”
The bishop said Catholic Charities “envisions a community in which opportunity and growth are available for and to all.”
After a short blessing and dedication, there was a ceremonial ribbon cutting. Staff members also offered tours of the shelter.
For more information on St. Elizabeth Center, visit ccdocle.org/facility/stelizabethcenter.
Additional information on Catholic Charities, including services offered and how to volunteer or donate can be found at ccdocle.org.
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, is one of the largest comprehensive health and human services organizations in the region. In 2016, more than 20,000 meals were served and more than 9,500 nights of shelter were provided at the facilities that were consolidated at St. Elizabeth Center.