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Bishop Fisher Features Ministry

Response to Love opens room to honor generous spirit of Phil Friona


Bishop Michael W. Fisher stopped by the Response to Love Center in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood to bless a clothing store dedicated to Philip Friona.

Sister Judy Beiswanger, OSF (from left), Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, and Father Fred Betti, SJ, along with board members and guests, gather to unveil A Room for Phil’s Friends at the Response to Love center in Buffalo. The clothing room is atribute to the generosity of Philip Friona by his family. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“Phil Friona was blessed with a heart filled with loving kindness, goodness and compassion for those in need,” said Father Fred Betti, SJ, chaplain of the multi-faceted social service center.

“My father was the kind of guy who just wanted to help everybody. His main thing was helping veterans and children, but whoever needed a helping hand, he was there for them,” said Mary Friona-Celani, Friona’s daughter. “He was in the blacktop and concrete business. He really taught us a work ethic and how important it is to not just work really hard, but give back to the community whenever you can.”

Bishop Fisher stopped by the new clothing store, now known as A Room for Phil’s Friends and adorned with pictures of the namesake and his beloved racehorses.

“This is a room where people will be coming in and getting their new winter jackets, their essentials, shoes. Whatever is needed – hats, gloves. All will be given free,” explained Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, executive director of the center.

Many visitors from the neighborhood who come to the Response to Love Center for food or education classes, have to walk through the often brutal wind and cold Buffalo is known for.

The Totally Buffalo Store, owned by Friona-Celani, will provide the clothes, much of which come in the red, white and blue colors of the Bills.

In the Dining Room, Bishop Fisher saw the staff preparing a meatless meal in honor of St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day. The bishop blessed the staff and the farm fresh vegetables.

“Broccoli, my favorite,” he said when he eyed the boxes of fresh produce.

Lastly, he visited the Peace Garden, where he said a prayer.

The Response to Love Center seems to have a magnetism to it. When people see the good work that takes place, which includes feeding, clothing and educating the needy, they can’t help but come back to help.

Friona-Celani first visited while doing a news story for WGRZ-TV 25 years ago, it meant so much to her that she came back again and again, eventually bringing her three children to help give out food.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher leads a prayer in the Peace Garden of the Response to Love Center. Joining him are, Sister M. Jean Sliwinski, CSSF, Father Fred Betti, SJ, Deacon Michael Ficorilli, Sister Judy Beiswanger, OSF, and Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, as well as guests and boardmembers. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Mark Eister, president of the board of directors, tells a similar story. When Rich Products held a day of service, he was assigned to the center.

“At the end of it, I said to Sister (Johnice), ‘How can I help?’ She said, ‘Sit down and I’ll tell you,’” he said.  “The reason I stay involved is, it’s about the mission. It’s not about the money. It’s about the people. It’s about what we can provide for them. And more importantly, it’s about giving them a hand up, not a hand out.

“The need is greater now than it has ever been, and the opportunity to help them with food, with groceries, with hygiene, with clothing – especially in our winters – has never been more important. What Sister tries to do, and the whole staff, is minister to them. Simply, show them that other human beings love and care for them. That’s why I think it’s so attractive and important to everyone,” Eister said.