2 women in kitchen

Retiring SFSM executive director reflects on her ministry

As she prepared to retire from her role as executive director of St. Francis Seraph Ministries (SFSM) at the end of the year, Chris Schuermann said, “I feel blessed to be able to end my career with the Franciscans. It’s been a wonderful life experience.”

Chris came to the position in January 2015, drawn to working at SFSM because “the Franciscans are innovators. Living the Gospel message is front and center for them and the servant leadership they provide makes your faith come alive.”

That spirit of innovation and service to others was especially obvious to Chris, when, while working with SFSM, the Franciscans spearheaded a partnership with multiple local non-profit organizations to meet the needs of the impoverished and homeless in one location. Since its dedication in 2017, St. Anthony Center (SAC) has “truly been a model of collaboration,” she said. “Everybody says they want to collaborate, but it’s really happening here.”

“When Chris was hired as the executive director of SFSM she was given a charge to lead the integration of the ministry partners of the new St Anthony Center,” explained Tom Gruber, current board chair. “Five years later, the vision of the SAC founders has been successfully achieved in large part due to Chris’s drive and leadership. She has combined Franciscan values and Christian virtues in her work. She has the unique ability to balance the care and concern of the people she serves using gentleness and compassion as a rule, but employing tough love when necessary. The Over-the-Rhine and larger Cincinnati communities have been blessed by Chris’ efforts.”

“Chris poured incredible energy into making St. Francis Seraph Ministries and St. Anthony Center a success,” said Frank Jasper, who was serving as provincial vicar at the time Chris was hired. “Her knowledge of Cincinnati and her contacts throughout the community brought great resources to the Center. We’ll miss her visionary leadership and her constant drive to improve the organization for the benefit of those we serve in Over-the-Rhine.”

“Under Chris’ extraordinary leadership our ministry has grown and thrived,” added Mike Wilkins, current SFSM board member and past board chair. “She has risen to every challenge to our mission with endless energy and filled it with Franciscan charism, which has prepared us for decades of success. It has been a blessing to collaborate with her.”

Although there have been too many ministry-related blessings to count over the years, Chris recalled one recent, especially meaningful exchange with a regular guest. “He said, ‘this place is a holy gift. Everybody that’s here offers hope and mercy.’”

“Those are the kind of poignant moments when you realize that you get more than you give here every day,” she said.

Chris is extremely grateful for the volunteers and staff who kept SFSM open during the height of COVID and the compassionate and quality care they have continued to provide. Her successor as executive director, Mary Pat Raupach, is “the answer to my prayers,” she said. “She’s so capable and obviously a servant leader. I think she’ll love this ministry and everyone will love her.”

Chris expressed her gratitude to the friars and the SFSM board of directors for their support and guidance over the past seven years. “Not often does one get to work with such a committed and faithful group of colleagues who care so deeply for others, especially the marginalized and poor who are served and cared for at St. Francis Seraph Ministries,” she said. “The opportunities afforded to me to collaborate and partner through my work with so many different groups and individuals as a means to truly living the Gospel is its own joy. My work at St. Francis Seraph Ministries will also be one of the very best blessings of my life.”

What’s next for Chris? For the immediate future, she and her husband, Jay, plan to spend the winter in Naples, Fla. She hopes to eventually be involved again at SFSM at some level, but isn’t making any definite plans just yet, saying, “I’m leaving it up to God.”