Editor's note: Because part of this article was missing from the October print edition of The Catholic Transcript, we are posting it again.
WATERBURY – Archbishop Henry J. Mansell blessed the site of the future Francis Xavier Plaza Aug. 28, saying that it will “make a difference in people’s lives.”
The former St. Francis Xavier School at 605 Baldwin St. will be renovated into 20 apartments and will offer affordable, permanent housing with support services for homeless and low-income families and individuals. Catholic Charities will provide behavioral health counseling, employment programs and early childhood development services to the residents.
St. Francis Xavier School closed two years ago after serving the archdiocese for 87 years.
When the Catholic Church gets involved in providing housing, the archbishop said, it brings together “the whole gamut” of services, including construction; social, spiritual and medical services; and educational and employment opportunities.
“We are addressing the whole person,” he said. “Unless you do that, you can’t have effective housing.”
Francis Xavier Plaza will be the second affordable housing project spearheaded by the Archdiocese of Hartford. In 2009, it opened Cathedral Green in Hartford which provides supportive housing to 28 families.
“The Archdiocese of Hartford is very thankful to be able to help individuals and families in need,” said Rose Alma Cataldo, director of charities, in a statement released earlier. “There are so many people to thank for this project, namely Archbishop Henry Mansell, Father Paul Pace and all the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Parish for being advocates for the homeless and underprivileged.”
At the blessing ceremony, Mrs. Cataldo added, “The Catholic Church has enjoyed a long tradition of helping those in need. This has always been true in the Archdiocese of Hartford, and it has been particularly true under the leadership of Archbishop Henry J Mansell. Francis Xavier Plaza is the latest demonstration of this long-standing and consistent commitment to serve those in need.
It is a $7.1 million affordable housing initiative that will consist of 20 units – nine one-bedroom apartments, three two-bedroom apartments and eight three-bedroom apartments. Individuals and families who are at risk of homelessness or who have experienced long-term homelessness and are 50 percent or more below the average median income will be eligible.”
A number of public and private funding sources contributed to making the project possible, she said, including the State of Connecticut, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Waterbury Development Corporation, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Department of Social Services and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. It is also supported through donations to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
Mrs. Cataldo told the Transcript that the units would range in size from about 625 square feet to about 1,100 square feet. “It’s going to be [for] individuals as well as families, whereas Cathedral Green is all families,” she said.
Lois Nesci, CEO of Catholic Charities Inc. of the Archdiocese of Hartford, told the Transcript, “[This is] an opportunity to really support families and children who are homeless to have an opportunity to have a safe living environment and the services that they need to sustain it.”
Father Paul J. Pace, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, said in an interview before the ceremony, “It’s a big day because we are able to put a school that gave an awful lot of attention to the city of Waterbury and to the archdiocese for very many years to good use, to help people.”
In his remarks, Father Pace said, “For 87 years, Francis Xavier School produced an awful lot of young men and women, more vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life than any other parish in the whole Archdiocese of Hartford.”
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary’s remarks included his expression of sadness that the school had to close because his mother attended the school and she and his father were married there. He overcame his sadness after talking to Father Pace and others about converting the building to affordable housing, he said.
"There is such a need,” he said. “What better use for this school than to provide supportive housing, affordable housing to those who need it the most?”
Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, told the Transcript that for Waterbury, “this is a wonderful use of a parochial school that has been closed. The parochial school situation is terrible with all the closings but this clearly is a major step in the right direction in terms of its use in helping people who are most deserving.”
Msgr. James G. Coleman, episcopal vicar for the Waterbury Vicariate, said the project will have a positive impact on Waterbury and the Church. “It indicates the way we’re moving, the way we recognize that the Church has to change in its structures, and providing for people first,” he said. “That is what this is all about, having something so that we can see that grace builds on nature and the Church is going to build as we recognize we are working with people to make this a better world.”
Mark Casey, a member of the Francis Xavier Plaza Board, set the tone of the project when he read from Deuteronomy 15: 7-8, 10: “If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which the Lord your God has given you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need.”
Construction on Francis Xavier Plaza is slated to be completed in the fall of 2014.