Mission in the marketplace

The FRANCISCAN PLACE USE PHOTO

The FRANCISCAN PLACE USE PHOTOThe Franciscan Place chapel and religious gift store offers solace and services at Destiny USA

A Destiny USA security guard walks into The Franciscan Place, nods to the girl behind the register and heads to the chapel in the back to enjoy a few moments of quiet reflection before his hectic day begins.

   Two tourists from Maine wander into the storefront before making their way through the rest of the Syracuse mega-mall. Browsing through the selection of religious jewelry, they are delighted to find the perfect gold cross to give to their granddaughter for her First Communion.

  A tired, middle-aged man juggling two shopping bags brimming with packages quietly shuffles in and fills out a prayer request before leaving to join his wife at the food court.

   Tucked away in the lower level of Destiny USA is one of the mall’s best kept secrets, but certainly one worth sharing: The Franciscan Place. This non-profit outreach ministry of the Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse, works in collaboration with the Conventual Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception Province, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and the Order Franciscan Secular and Dedicated Laity. The ministry offers mall staff, tourists and shoppers a refuge of reflection and reconciliation, as well as a source for religious gifts and books.

   “We’re not a parish,” explained Rosemary Costa, OFS, Director of The Franciscan Place and the first lay director hired to run the ministry. “We are a place where Catholics can share their faith and non-Catholics can feel welcomed.”

   The Franciscan Place is supported by Assumption Church. Priests and friars affiliated with the Franciscan church assist Costa, one of four paid staff members, by celebrating Mass, hearing confessions Monday through Saturday, or simply running the register in the gift shop portion of the ministry.

   “We literally get people from all walks of life stopping in to shop, browse or just sit quietly and pray in the chapel,” stated Costa.  “I think people like that The Franciscan Place is non-threatening. We don’t keep records. There’s no pressure here and those that come in don’t really have to know anyone to be a part of the service or attend confession. It’s not like they are going to see the same people again. This place gives them a chance to unburden themselves and ultimately, get closer to God.”

New leaders, new ideas

   Costa is excited to be the director of this unique ministry. Always an active volunteer for a variety of ministries at Assumption Church, Costa was stunned how an unlikely turn of events in her own life led to an opportunity to coordinate operations at The Franciscan Place.

   “I needed a job and I needed insurance,” laughed Costa. “So I prayed a novena to Mother Marianne. The day I finished, I got a call asking if I wanted this job. Now that’s the power of prayer!”

   Costa wears many hats at the small ministry. As a Secular Franciscan herself, she is always welcoming new faces and is available to listen to those in need. She also coordinates staff and volunteer schedules, oversees the buying of merchandise and inventory for the store and coordinates spiritual programs that appeal to the constant flow of individuals who come through the ministry’s doors.

   Although Costa is pretty much a one-woman dynamo, she is quick to point out the success of the ministry lies within the continual help provided by the staff, priests, friars and especially the ministry’s volunteers.

   “We’re like a little family,” explained Costa. “Everyone works closely together and everyone helps out.”

   Costa was appointed to the director’s position in January 2013 and looks forward to increasing public awareness of The Franciscan Center, and reaching out to more people.

   “Everything we sell in the store goes to support the ministry. We also get help from Assumption Church,” explained Costa. “In the future, when we have more time, I’d like to do more outreach ministry. I would like to see the store host a children’s story hour or an author book signing. I’d even like to do a movie night. I just want to give people every opportunity to share their faith in new ways.”

‘Oasis in the desert’

   One of Costa’s challenges in promoting the ministry is its location. “The ministry has been here for 13 years and there are still people that are shocked and surprised when they find us,” said Costa. “I do believe though, that those who come through the doors are somehow led by the spirit to be here.”

   Sister Robertina Palladino, OSF, agrees. “I’ve been associated with The Franciscan Place since the beginning, first as a volunteer and then since August 2001 as a staff member. I’ve always been impressed with its uniqueness. The ministry is in a class by itself in that it serves people from many parishes both near and not so near. People come to unburden themselves, seek an answer to a problem or just visit with Jesus. Our chapel has been referred to as ‘an oasis in the desert’ and as ‘the jewel in the mall.’”

   Despite being off the beaten path in Destiny USA, in just a three-month period an average of 5,200 people visited The Franciscan Place chapel and 1,400 of them went to confession. Given those numbers, should more chapels perhaps consider a mall as a viable place to find the faithful?

   “Having the ministry and chapel in a mall can present a few challenges,” stated Brother Nick Spano, OFM Conv., a friar from Assumption Church that helps Costa out in the store.

   “We have to be open when the mall is open. But the people who come here are generally the spiritually poor. They are looking for God. What they discover is that God is always around and God is always waiting for them. And in much the same way, The Franciscan Place is also always here, open and always waiting for them to stop by.”

   The Franciscan Place is located in the lower level of Destiny USA, near DSW Shoes. Mass is held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12:15 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday at 4:15 p.m. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Friday 2 p.m. to 4 p.m;  Wednesday 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m; and Saturday from  11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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