Walking in His footsteps

Father Jim Mathews earns kudos for community work
By connie Cissell / SUN editor

Father Jim Mathews has been pastor of St. Lucy’s Church on the west side of Syracuse since 1991. So he’s not only familiar with his parishioners, he knows his neighbors. It is because of his connections with the community that Father Mathews is being honored with the Post-Standard’s Achievement Award along with nine other recipients. All 10 will be honored at a luncheon April 26.

According to the Post-Standard, honorees are “people who demonstrate outstanding achievement or whose efforts have made the community a better place in which to live.” Nominations are sought beginning in the summer months and winners are typically announced in January or February. The first award was given to a group of 10 women in 1949. The Post-Standard Syracuse Women of Achievement became the Post-Standard Achievement awards in 1993 when men were added to the list.

Whether it’s St. Lucy’s Wednesday afternoon Bread of Life ministry in the old gymnasium or the wintertime gathering of many homeless and hungry Tuesdays in the basement of the gym, Father Mathews is often found mingling with and talking to the folks in the neighborhood. Since the west side is one area of the city in need of TLC, Father Mathews‘ commitment is an important part of that community. He has also served as pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in the university area for the past three years and encourages those parishioners to support the St. Lucy’s neighborhood.

According to Paul Driscoll at Home Headquarters Inc., Father Mathews is a driving force behind neighborhood initiatives that would bring about home renovations, parks and other community improvement projects.

“He is excellent to work with,” Driscoll said. “We need a stakeholder in the neighborhood to knock on city hall doors. Government officials won’t ignore him. He’s looked at as a fixture in the neighborhood.”

Driscoll’s non-profit organization assists homebuyers through education and help with closing costs and down payments. He and Father Mathews have also been part of a group hoping to develop a neighborhood park which would be well lighted and equipped with seating as well as clean, green space. Driscoll has such convictions about Father Mathews‘ community involvement that he even suggested it should be called “Mathews Park” in honor of the priest’s efforts.

Father Mathews is interested in not only affordable and appropriate housing for the people on the near west side, but also in expanding business opportunities in the area.

Father Mathews works with David Michel, Director of Economic Development for the City of Syracuse, on planning and developing strategies to attract businesses to the distressed neighborhood. “It’s a tough area,” Michels said. “But Father Mathews is committed to bringing groups together to upgrade what’s already there and to look for new ways to enhance the neighborhood. I’d say he’s a great ‘convener of groups.’ His commitment to the community is outstanding.”

Father Mathews said it is the people of St. Lucy’s and St. Andrew’s Churches that provide the community-building. “St. Lucy’s is a great witness to the Gospel by our outreach and our ministry as well as the various programs there are for redeveloping our neighborhood,” Father Mathews said. “St. Andrew’s and St. Lucy’s come together and are a wonderful mix. The people at St. Andrew’s tie into so many of our needs down here [the near west side]. It’s just wonderful.”

Any type of recognition about the community should be considered an award to the people of the parishes, Father Mathews said. “The award is something we all share. St. Lucy’s has a wonderful capacity to give and to share and that leads to participation. We share in this award.”

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