The Buffalo Model
We discovered the essence of The Joanna Project not in North Carolina, but in Joe’s boyhood home in Buffalo, N.Y.
house is a very comfortable and well-built single-family home, but is
an economically depressed area. It was the only house Joe's father
ever owned and Joe knew how much his father loved the place -- as
evidenced by all the work he put into it in the decades before he
After Walter's death, we developed a strong feeling
that we should find a good use for the property that would be a continuing tribute
to Joe’s father and Joe’s mother, Rita, who died in 1986.
explored numerous options and eventually discovered a group
of Catholic Franciscan sisters who were looking for a new place to
live. They seemed very excited about the house and even
agreed to completely clean and paint the inside. The
arrangement particularly appealed to us since Joe’s parents were
very religious and the “Prayer of St. Francis” was their favorite.
portion of the prayer is even inscribed on their headstone.
theorized that if we could use the property to provide low-cost housing
for the sisters, it would not only help them, but would also be the
continuing honor for Joe’s parents that we were seeking. Once again the
house would be alive with people who cared about it. And we would also
in a small way be aiding the ministries of the sisters who taught in
local schools and worked in an area parish.
Our mind was made up
for good when one of the sisters asked whether it would be alright with
us if they used one of the rooms – Dad’s old office – as a chapel,
complete with a tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament. Joe couldn’t
believe the request. His father had spent a couple years at his
assisted living facility lobbying management to turn some available
space into a chapel. They never got around to it. But with this
arrangement, Joe’s father was finally going to get his chapel – except
it was going to be in his old house that he loved so much!
arrangement with the sisters worked beyond our wildest dreams. We
installed various new appliances in the house and they, in turn, had
the house completely cleaned and painted, with new carpeting installed.
But the best part was simply knowing we were helping them and their
ministries in a way that would be very pleasing to Joe’s parents.
the second anniversary of Joe’s father’s death we traveled to Buffalo
to celebrate a Catholic Mass in the living room with the sisters.
sisters lived in the house for six years at or below operating costs.
In the fall of 2010, new assignments prompted them to move and we
began looking for a new use for the property, eventually allowing a family member to live there.
But the entire
process that began in 2004 helped clarify our thinking about the beach
house and led us to the idea that we should provide use of it --
at no cost -- to people who are engaged in ministries not for the money
but because it is their calling.
Relying on what we learned
during the years with Joe’s father, we decided to mostly focus on those
who were dedicated to helping the unfortunate and the ill.