As he continues to get acclimated in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Bishop Edward Malesic is visiting some of the Catholic Charities locations. On Oct. 14, he stopped by the Fatima Family Center and St. Martin de Porres Family Center, both on Cleveland’s East Side.
Usually a beehive of activity, the Fatima center was nearly deserted because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic Director LaJean Ray and staff members greeted the bishop and gave him a tour of the building. He was accompanied by Patrick Gareau, president and CEO, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland.
Senior citizens normally fill the building for lunch, socialization, exercise, crafts and other programs. But since the pandemic, no in-person meals are served. Instead, arrangements are made for boxed meals. The center staff also keeps in touch with area residents to ensure their needs are being met.
The Fatima Family Center has been serving the Hough neighborhood since 1973. It has been recognized by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as one of the top five family centers in the country. Fatima offers an after-school program, Embracing the Arts, Fatima Kids Club, summer camp, teen leadership, programs for seniors and adults and has many other amenities including a playground, ATM and meeting rooms available to the community.
Despite the suspension of in-person programming, Ray said Fatima center hosts four “learning pods” for Cleveland school children ranging from elementary through high school age.
Each pod has internet access and a supervisor to oversee the online instruction. She said some families have no internet or unreliable service. Although the Cleveland Municipal School District provided hotspots for students, families with multiple school-age children may not be able to accommodate the learning needs of each child, so the pods offer structure and access to technology.
Students in the pods -- which are spread throughout the building -- are socially distanced and must wear face masks when away from their desks or tables.
“What are you studying?” Bishop Malesic asked one young student who was working on an assignment on an iPad. He told students in another pod that he had studied biology in college before deciding to become a priest.
Ray showed the bishop the kitchen where staff members prepare hot meals, the gym, the community room where senior citizens gather, the popular exercise room, social services offices, computer room, meeting rooms and the family rooms that are doubling as learning pods during the pandemic.
The bishop learned about the African symbols that are incorporated into the building, located on the same campus as St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima Church, and he saw some of the African artifacts on display in the lobby.
Before leaving, he taped a message in preparation for the launch early next year of the Catholic Charities 2021 Annual Appeal.
Next, Gareau and the bishop made a quick visit to the St. Martin de Porres Family Center, about 2 miles away. That center provides services from pregnancy through older adults and serves more than 2,000 families in the Glenville community. It has a food pantry, meal delivery for older adults, emergency assistance, Help Me Grow home visitations, an after-school program, summer day camp, teen leadership and more.
The staff was cleaning up after a group of senior citizens enjoyed a painting in the parking lot program. Taking advantage of the mild weather, about a dozen and a half seniors were socially distanced under a large tent in the parking lot. Canvas, paints and brushes were supplied and the senior expressed themselves by creating a piece of modern art that they could take home. Two of the artists shared their creations with the bishop, who told complimented them and said he enjoyed some forms of modern art.
He chatted with staff members before Karnese McKenzie, center director, showed him around the building.
“We prepare 6,000 meals a month,” McKenzie said, as she showed Bishop Malesic the kitchen and spacious dining room area with socially distanced tables. The floor was also marked to help people observe the 6-foot social distancing protocol imposed because of the pandemic. McKenzie said St. Martin de Porres sends people with enough food to last for a week to ensure they have access to nutritious meals.
She told the bishop that the building, which underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago, also has space for social service offices, meeting rooms and space for resident to gather for crafts, games and socialization. It is part of the building that formerly served as St. Agatha Church and School. In the newer part of the family center, one room is used for resident-led Bible study sessions.
One thing that caught the bishop’s eye was a large fish tank. He admired the fish and mentioned that while serving as bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania before being named bishop of Cleveland, he had a large fish tank.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring it with me,” he said.
The bishop thanked the staff at both centers for their dedication to their ministry.
“The pandemic has given us a new normal,” he said. “Before, we could gather together. But now we have to be creative in the ways we reach out to the young and elderly. But the Church is still serving them."