The Franciscan Friars who minister in Coal Township, Shamokin and Trevorton are undertaking a new ministry that will address sustainability in the Coal Region.
The Franciscan Center, located in a former rectory at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township, will serve as a meeting space and housing facility for groups and interns focusing on ways to address socio-economic and environmental issues in the area.
Bishop Ronald Gainer blessed the center on Memorial Day in front of a crowd of community members, local leaders, priests and seminarians of the Franciscan Friars.
“We draw our inspiration for this effort from our Holy Father and his encyclical, Laudato Sí,” said Father Martin Kobos, OFM Conv., pastor of Mother Cabrini Parish in Shamokin.
In the encyclical, Pope Francis appeals for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet….since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Those associated with the Franciscan Center are trusting that it becomes a place where the “new dialogue” can take shape.
“Under the Franciscan Center, we have already formed the Anthracite Region for Progress, which regularly pulls together business leaders from Coal Township, Shamokin and Trevorton to discuss projects that would revitalize the area and care for the environment,” Father Kobos said.
This summer, the center will begin welcoming interns from the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & Environment, from Bucknell University in Lewisburg and the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty – a consortium of 26 colleges and universities that leads the development of undergraduate poverty studies. Seminarians for the Conventual Franciscans will also spend two weeks there, working at various ministry sites.
Partnerships currently include local legal services, support agencies and a police department.
“The fall of the Anthracite Coal Industry and the economic decline of Shamokin/Coal Township and the surrounding area have placed a heavy burden on the people of this area, not to mention the effects on the land,” said Kathy Jeremiah, director of the Franciscan Center. “But our community spirit is still very much alive and acts as a ray of hope for people looking to see their hometown thrive once again. Working with local, state, federal officials and academia alongside our faith-based community has a much larger impact when trying to achieve economic and environmental revitalization as we are accomplishing.”
Collaboration for Ministry
The establishment of the Franciscan Center was inspired by the Mother Maria Kaupas Center in nearby Mount Carmel. A ministry within Divine Redeemer Parish, it was founded in 2015 as a center for volunteerism and community service.
Eager to have a similar networking site in the interest of community sustainability, the Franciscan Friars met with staff of the Mother Maria Kaupas Center and the Franciscan Friars’ Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry in 2017.
“The Mother Maria Kaupas Center was our inspiration, and the people there have been helpful to us,” said Father Kobos, who also credits Father Michael Lasky, OFM, Conv., Chair of the JPIC Commission, and Father Steven Frenier, OFM Conv., pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, for the center’s establishment and the fruits it has already borne.
“One of the greatest challenges is sharing the good news of what has been accomplished with the people of the community in a way that invites them to participate in the various collaborative efforts with which we engage,” Jeremiah said. “We truly believe everyone has a gift to give, given by God, and we pray they come to share that gift through the Franciscan Center and our work for revitalization of our region and common good of everyone.”
Father Kobos is optimistic for the center, and for the collaboration and engagement it will foster for the future of the region. He is also hopeful for involvement from additional community members, leaders and business men and women.
“The center and the people who are working from it are doing so much extraordinary work in an effort that builds bridges and strengthens community. I am almost beside myself because so much good is happening,” he said.
(Learn more about the Franciscan Center and is partners by contacting Kathy Jeremiah at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness