Stepping inside the Regis Center is like walking into a friend’s living room. The large, comfortable sofas in shades of cheerful blue beautifully compliment a framed and smiling picture of founder Father Regis Rodda; there’s a scent of fresh roses in the air and somewhere soft music is playing. It is a place of prayer in the busy city of Syracuse: a place of peace for people burdened with decisions regarding pregnancy. “We talk about options here,” explained Regis Center Crisis Counselor Susan Ellingworth. “We pray with [the people] who come here and let them know how loved they are. Too many girls believe they have no choice but to get an abortion for an unplanned pregnancy. We provide a loving and supportive environment and help them in any way we can, whether it’s assistance in telling their parents, emotional support, help in getting their GEDs, the offer of parenting classes, finding clothes and supplies for the baby or providing inspiration for the future.”
As Regis Center board officers, Ellingworth and her sister, Lisa Picciotto, the center’s spiritual director, help run the Syracuse facility that opened its doors in August 2004. The center helps women, men and couples dealing with unplanned pregnancies, loss of a baby, infertility and post abortion trauma through prayer.
The Regis Center initially began in 2003. Franciscan Father Regis Rodda, OFM Conv., had a vision that God called him to acquire property on Genesee Street and bring into existence a prayerful center across from what he believed to be “the darkest place in the city”: the offices of Planned Parenthood. It was Father Regis’s hope that through dedication to prayer, the center could offer assistance, acts of sharing, teaching and healing in support of and in solidarity with issues surrounding pregnancy and/or abortion, but avoid any anti-abortion activity. Father Regis planned for the center to remain a peaceful and non-confrontational house of prayer, as well as a resource center where he could share the many books and tapes he collected over his 50 years as a priest.
To turn the vision into a reality, Father Regis recruited members of his “Life in the Spirit” classes, which included Picciotto, Ellingworth and future board officers of the Regis Center.
“Lisa met Father Regis first, and then she talked all of us into coming to Father Regis’s classes,” laughed Ellingworth. “Life in the Spirit was life changing for me,” she explained. “I fell in love with Christ and felt His love for me. It literally changed my life and how I lived.”
In 2003, a couple purchased the property for Father Regis’s non-profit corporation, The New Millennium Spiritual Renewal Foundation of Upper New York State Inc., and under Father Regis’s direction, the team crafted a vision and a mission statement for the future facility that remains in effect today. The vision statement for the Regis Center is, “to become a center of hope, reflecting the light of Christ on the dignity and value of every human person, encouraging a culture of life.” The center’s mission statement includes, “…to be a community devoted to prayer, emphasizing prayer for inner healing, recognizing that every human life is sacred and provide unconditional love and support while maintaining a peaceful, prayerful atmosphere.”
Just as plans began to take shape to launch the project fully, in April 2004, Father Regis passed away.
Without the guidance of their spiritual leader, Picciotto and her fellow board officers Susan and her husband Mike, Gary Bobbett, Teresa Koulouris and Mary Ellen Annesi prayed for direction.
“We knew we needed to continue our work to open the center,” explained Picciotto. “We knew with prayer God could change minds and hearts.”
With renewed commitment, the team began renovations and donations of help, construction materials, furniture and supplies began coming in.
“So many faithful people helped to get the project finished,” stated Picciotto. As the team readied to open their doors, then-Bishop James Moynihan blessed the facility and the team instituted a code of conduct to ensure that the Regis Center would always be the peaceful, prayerful place that Father Regis had envisioned. But the team’s work was far from over.
“We also prayed for another group to come in to help with our mission, “stated Ellingworth. Those prayers reached out to New Hope, a Crisis Pre Pregnancy Center in Syracuse.
New Hope provides free pregnancy tests, peer counseling, education and practical assistance, adoption planning and post-abortion counseling, abstinence education and ultrasounds, as well as supplying basic needs for new mothers that include food, formula, clothes, games and toys. New Hope continues to house its main offices on James Street in Syracuse, but utilizes the space it leases from the Regis Center as an important satellite office.
Although the two organizations have separate budgets, the spiritual partnership has seen encouraging results in their combined efforts.
“New Hope has a loving approach and provides compassion for the mother and her child, just as we do,” explained Picciotto. “All of us work well together and believe in the dignity of life. All our volunteers have all gone through a ‘Love Approach’ course to do peer counseling with New Hope Family Services. It was God’s plan that we work together or else we wouldn’t be here,” stated Picciotto.
To date, Regis Center helps approximately 200 women a year, but as Picciotto explained, it’s the results, not the number of people that matter to the Regis Center team.
“If we can help 200 women then it’s 200 women who won’t be going next door to Planned Parenthood to end their pregnancy,” stated Picciotto.
The center offers prayer for individuals, hosts monthly prayer meetings and holds Mass each Monday at 12:10 p.m. at the facility. The center hopes to add more Masses in the future and a Christian counseling service in February 2014.
“Pope Francis spoke of taking the Church out into the street and that’s what we are doing here at the Regis Center,” stated Picciotto. “We are a quiet and peaceful presence and we are here for the people who need us. It isn’t work for us; it’s part of our lives.”
For more information on volunteering or donating to the Regis Center, call (315) 422-0219.