Were He Here…

Sept. 22-28, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 32
Were He Here…
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Franciscans strive to serve those without health care

One of the earliest stories in St. Francis of Assisi’s life tells of his embracing the lepers. At first St. Francis was overwhelmed with disgust when confronted with the diseased unfortunates.

But one day, while riding, he spotted a leper and rather than obey his impulses and steer his horse clear, St. Francis leapt from the saddle, embraced him and pressed some coins into his pocket. Overwhelmed with joy after the event, St. Francis rode to a lepers’ dwelling near Assisi. Because he had so often considered the lepers as lowly, St. Francis asked for their forgiveness. He remained in the leper community for some time, distributing money among them. By the time he left, he had kissed each one on the mouth.

Wedded to “Lady Poverty,” St. Francis was immersed in poverty and humility and the story of him kissing the leper is but one of the saint’s parables.

St. Francis died in 1226 and was canonized almost immediately in 1228. Nearly 800 years later, the brothers and sisters inspired by St. Francis’ example still toil in his tradition, dreaming up ways of helping the poor and impoverished.

The Syracuse Northside, once considered a middle class area of some regard, has degenerated into a slum in many areas over the years.

Under the umbrella of the Franciscan campaign in the neighborhood is the Franciscan Northside Ministries project. Since last year, the project’s popularity has swelled with residents in the area.

One of the ministries is a health care clinic. From 10 people on any given night, the numbers have surged. Roughly 30 people come to the clinic for help.

The clinic, located in the Church of the Assumption Parish Center at 806 N. Salina St. next to the Franciscan Northside Ministries office, is open Monday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and sometimes it opens as early as 5 p.m. The staff is hoping to begin a morning and lunchtime session sometime in September.

Those that come suffer from a variety of afflictions. According to Sister James Peter Ridgeo, OSF, a Registered Nurse Practitioner, most of the patients suffer from upper respiratory infections, high blood pressure, dangerously high cholesterol levels, gastric intestinal disorders and acid reflux disease. Many others from the Northside arrive at the clinic suffering from debilitating depression.

Most of those who use the services provided by the clinic are working poor from the multiethnic Northside and occasionally some migrant workers, Sister J.P. noted.

According to Sister Dolores Bush, OSF, the clinic may be the only one of its kind in Syracuse.

“I think we offer some unique services. I don’t think there’s another clinic like this in the city,” she said.

Primarily, the clinic acts as a gateway to other services, according to Sister J.P.

“We try to be a link to other health networks,” she said, adding that the clinic tries to help patients gain access to Medicaid.

A series of seven or eight volunteer doctors cycle through the clinic, along with four nurse practitioners and 14 nurses. There are also some lay volunteers. Among the volunteers on staff are a chiropractor, an eye doctor and a dentist. Sister J.P. said she recently met with a podiatrist who may be interested in serving at the clinic.

But what Sister Dolores believes sets the Franciscans’ clinic apart is its approach. There is no judgement, no contempt, no suspicion from the staff at the Franciscan Northside Ministries.

“People like the atmosphere. We try really hard to be respectful of people and give them space and privacy…dignity,” Sister Dolores said. “They’re very grateful for that. I don’t know if they get that at other places or not, but they’re very grateful for it. They tell us that.”

The clinic was in its planning phase as early as 1998 and opened its doors in 2000. Sister J.P. believes the surge in patients has occurred as people become more and more aware of their presence.

The Francisicans have worked hard to help the poor on the Northside.

Along with the clinic, Franciscan Northside Ministries offers legal counsel Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A team of 14 attorneys rotates in and out of the office. While the attorneys do not take cases, they may offer advice and help attendees negotiate the legal system.

Sister Dolores noted that many attendees have problems with their landlords, for example.

“They come for the legal services because they know they will be received by honest people,” Sister Dolores said.

The Franciscans also offer a coffee and donuts session from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The door is open to anyone who wants to attend.

“It’s a community atmosphere where people can get together and chat,” Sister Dolores said. Lending Support

The Franciscans rely on both grants and individual donations to keep their operation on the Northside up and running. While grants take care of major projects, the Sisters rely on donations to keep up their day-to-day operations.

Friday, Oct. 21, the Franciscans will offer a fundraising event at St. Clare’s Gardens Auditorium. The building, formerly called the Academy Court Apartments, was a nerve center for criminal activity on the Northside before the Franciscans took it over and renovated it.

The event, which is called Sweet Sensations, will feature entertainment from local musician Maureen Harrington and will be hosted by Maureen McCann of Channel 5 news. Local bakeries and confection shops are donating their products to the event, which will cost $25 per ticket

“I think it’s going to be fun. That’s number one,” said Sister Dolores.

The event will be informal.

To make a reservation, call Assisi Center administrative assistant Kristin Gallagher at (315) 473-0952.

Sister Dolores hopes to seat 200 people for the event.

When asked what the highlight of her time on the Northside has been, Sister Dolores said, “I am absolutely amazed when I think of the generosity of the people who make this happen and how it all comes together. I can coordinate it, but if nobody volunteers there’s nobody to coordinate.”

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