3 women with masks and gloves

St. Francis Seraph Ministries volunteers Mary Effler, Lynn Jones and Laura Peck

Sponsored ministries are rebounding, but it’s an uphill battle

Six months ago schools switched to virtual learning, soup kitchens closed dining rooms, gyms stood silent and retreat houses were ghost towns. But after the initial shock of the pandemic shutdown, the sponsored ministries of St. John the Baptist Province began to re-imagine the future. Confronting limitations and embracing opportunities, they are finding a way forward.

Roger Bacon High School, Cincinnati, Ohio
Principal/CEO Steve Schad

Roger Bacon teacher Fr. Roger Lopez dispenses hand sanitizer

As I write this, we are in the middle of our fifth week of school at Roger Bacon. Outwardly, there are some noticeable differences. Students and faculty all wear face coverings. The hallways are directional to reduce face-to-face encounters. Plexiglas dividers provide additional protection in the cafeteria. Attendance at sporting events is significantly curtailed due to social distancing requirements. Our community is learning to deal with “remote learning” and all the challenges that entails.

That being said, the core of who we are and what we do has not changed due to the pandemic. Ninety-two percent of our students are receiving instruction in-class, on campus five days per week. The personal connection between teacher and student – a hallmark of a Roger Bacon education – is as robust as ever. All of our sports teams are competing at high levels and our commitment to community service remains as strong as ever. We are full in terms of enrollment and are planning for a rewarding year in spite of the challenges the pandemic presents.

At Roger Bacon, it has always been about family and a sense of belonging. As we start the 2020/21 school year, those feelings are as strong as ever. A caring and challenging environment with a Franciscan flair has never been more important. Through the hard work and dedication of our entire school community, we are meeting that calling.

(Check out this “Welcome Back” video created for Roger Bacon students at: https://www.facebook.com/RogerBaconHS/videos/961143944391630/ )

Friars Club, Cincinnati
Executive Director Annie Timmons

girls on volleyball court

Tuesday’s the night for girls’ volleyball and basketball at Friars Club.

Friars Club is still here. Covid-19 has hit and hurt, but we are still standing. We have had to make a pivot with our programs that cater to and serve large groups and teams to working with children through individual training and smaller groups. We ran our summer program with 18 children, started in September with 25 boys and girls in our Junior Dribbler Basketball Academy and now have our Fall Girls volleyball and basketball on Tuesday nights.

We also have our Xavier University partners tutoring our children in the Jeanne and Jake Sweeney Learning Center weekly. Programs have pivoted, our staff is committed and Friars is still making a difference in the lives of children for whom we provide safe supervision.

St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, Pa.
Team Member Mark Ligett, OFM

trees and statues

The public is encouraged to visit the grounds and grottos in Easton, Pa.

We closed our retreat house on March 16 to all scheduled retreat groups, private retreatants, weekday classes, public worship services and all spiritual direction. We experienced a huge loss of revenue from the 61 retreat groups that had to be canceled.

During our shutdown, we formed a “Reopening Committee” to study our building and our hospitality practices to see what changes would need to be made. This committee met weekly for eight weeks and created a 13-page document entitled “Reopening St. Francis Retreat House”. This document details everything from necessary signage, sneeze guards and social distancing to how food and beverages will be served to our guests. During this time of closure, we encouraged the public to come and visit our beautiful grounds and grottos and we were amazed at the many who took advantage of this opportunity–and are still doing so. We also began to investigate the possibility of “virtual” retreats. Concerned about our loss of income, our administrative team sought assistance from the national Payroll Protection Plan because we did not want to furlough any of our staff members.

priest holding Mass

Fr. Henry Beck, OFM, live streaming Mass on Facebook

Our diocese permitted the reopening of churches in mid-August and we resumed our public Masses following strict guidelines issued by our Diocese of Allentown and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We reopened our retreat house to groups the last weekend of August. Our greatest change is our reduced occupancy. We have gone from 96 beds to just 40. We are able to provide just 40 private rooms with private baths. Because the remaining rooms require that bathroom facilities be shared, these can no longer be used. The number 40 seems to be the magic number at this time, as that is the number we can now house in our large conference room with social distancing. Prior to Covid-19, that room could hold over 100.

Since reopening, we have a limited number of groups using our facility. Folks are hesitant to return. Our own sponsored retreats and programs are now being offered both on site as well as virtually. We have had a huge increase in the number of individuals coming for private and directed retreats and we have created two new private retreat programs called DAYSTAY and STAYOVER at reduced rates. We are thrilled at the number of people taking advantage of these private stays.

Perhaps the greatest loss we have experienced is among the staff. Though we did not furlough anyone, a number of our part-time employees had to seek employment elsewhere. Counting the five friars here, our staff was reduced from 19 to 10.

In spite of everything, we have great hope for the future. Beginning the second week of January, we are fully booked for most of 2021 and 2022 and we are now taking reservations all the way through 2024. Some of our 14 high schools that use our facility have already booked through 2026!!!

Franciscan Media, Cincinnati
Kelly McCracken, President

sunrise over mountains

Franciscan Media has launched a new website.

When Covid-19 hit in March, Franciscan Media quickly transitioned into a “work from home” company. We ran into a few roadblocks with our vendors and customers, but we navigated through them. We continued to meet every morning at 9:30 to pray; we just meet via Zoom instead of on the bridge. We continued our monthly staff meetings and added a new once-a-month 4 p.m. Happy Hour to help us stay connected. We did experience some lost sales in March, April and May, but were able to secure the Payroll Protection Plan money to help bridge
the gap.

For the most part, our team hasn’t skipped a beat and we are as productive working from home as we were in the office. We have had the office deep-cleaned and a few people go in once or twice a week. Once the restrictions are lifted we anticipate more people returning, but not everyone. We are going to move those who want to work from the office to the third floor by the end of the year and allow those who want to continue to work from home to do so.

St. Francis Seraph Ministries, Cincinnati
Volunteer Coordinator Theresa Diersen

friar giving bag of food to client

Staff member Br. David Crank, OFM, visits with a guest of St. Francis Seraph Ministries.

What a year this has been so far at St. Francis Seraph Ministries! We have continued our “Meals to Go” model since the pandemic hit in early March. We cannot thank our staff and loyal Volunteers enough for their continued patience and support during these uncertain times. At SFSM, we are doing our best to ensure the health and safety of anyone entering the building. We have provided over 400 cloth masks to our Volunteers, clients and staff, gloves and hand sanitizer are readily available, and Plexiglas has been put up to help reduce any chance of spreading the virus. Our Volunteers help package meals Monday through Friday for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. They then distribute those meals and clean up/sanitize all areas and items that have been used during this period.

While interaction is limited, a friendly encounter does really help brighten our guests’ days. Our new Volunteers are continually surprised at how much this experience brightens their day as well! Last week we had a client tell a Volunteer that he “was still alive because [SFSM and Volunteers] are here.”

Within the last few months we have seen some Volunteers and an employee recognized for their hard work and dedication. The Cincinnati Enquirer featured two of St. Francis Seraph Ministries’ Volunteers, Steven Smith and Karen Murphy, in their Heartland Angels series. Retail Manager for Sarah Center, Adina Wofford, was honored with the August Deserving Neighbor Award, which is a partnership among Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Cincinnati Magazine.

volunteers giving packaged meals to clients

For St. Francis Seraph Ministries, food distribution means “Meals to Go” at St. Anthony Center.

Our Cooking for the Family Program has been hard at work creating an online curriculum called “Chopping It Up”, because it has become a challenge during the pandemic to host in-person classes.

Finally, September has been a busy month of preparations for the reopening of the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room. SFSM is reconfiguring the Lobby and Dining Room to ensure social distancing. Lois Shegog and I are making extra masks for clients who come in without one. And Jay Olzak has reworked the serving line with Plexiglas to ensure all Volunteers are safe while still providing a nourishing hot meal. SFSM will have a washing station readily available as well as extra hand sanitizers for all persons entering the building. In between each meal shift, the Dining Room and Lobby will be fogged for sanitation. While the meals will still be packed in to-go boxes to cut down on contact, SFSM hopes that these changes will help the Dining Room stay open in the colder months to come. We want to be able to offer a safe and warm haven for the most vulnerable population in our community.

(Theresa Diersen led a behind-the-scenes look at the meals-to-go program in this video.)

A helping hand

boy throwing basketball with instructor

Shifting to individual training at Friars Club

The pandemic has severely impacted sponsored ministries’ operating funds. Volunteers are needed and greatly appreciated.

To find out how to help, please visit:

St. Francis Seraph Ministries
Volunteer: Volunteer
Donate: Donate
Wish List (Amazon Smile):

St. Francis Retreat House
Donate: Stfrancisretreathouse.org

Franciscan Media
Donate: Franciscanmedia.org/Donate

Friars Club
Donate: Friarsclubinc.org/Donate-Now
Volunteer: Friarsclubinc.org/Volunteer

Roger Bacon High School
Donate: Rogerbacon.org/Giving/Donate