Mercedarian Priest’s Inner City Renewal Efforts Became a National Model

The energetic transformation of a gritty Cleveland near-west side neighborhood thirty years ago stands as a model for urban renewal today. Most of the credit for the decades-long effort — a truly Gospel-insired project — goes to Fr. Marino Frascati, a Mercedarian priest who emigrated from Italy.

Fr. Marino Frascati, O. de M.
Fr. Marino Frascati, O. de M. rescued others from the grip of poverty.

As pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Cleveland, Fr. Marino faced many challenges including the changing neighborhood around the parish. The result of his work included a large housing unit for the poor as well as vibrant new businesses which were encouraged to come into the area.

The soft-spoken optimist only persisted amidst obstaces, and often asked, “Why not?”

His many awards include congratulations from President Jimmy Carter, the Star of Italy from his homeland’s consulate and a Medal of Honor from Pope John Paul II.

The Mercedarian priest’s undertaker and longtime parishioner, Jim Craciun, called him a renaissance priest who inspired the rebirth of one of Cleveland’s important neighborhoods. The priest died in November 2009, but he is remembered today as true leader who put Gospel values to work for his fellow man.

Power Used for Good

Plain Dealer columnist James Neff once called the white-robed priest “the most popular and powerful man in the neighborhood.” Ray Pianka, Cleveland Housing Court judge, said, “He would never give up at City Hall or in the halls of Congress.”

The priest prophesied a neighborhood of condos and restaurants instead of noisy trains and idle factories. One of many skeptics called the area “the Coal Coast.” But the prophesy came true.

Fr. Marino was a founder, president and eventually president emeritus of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. Pianka, the group’s long-time director, later the neighborhood’s councilman, said the priest helped the 1973 group become a national model, with breakthroughs such as the first federal urban development grant outside of a downtown.

Public and Private Investments

Villa Mercede, or “Town of Mercy”
Villa Mercede, or “Town of Mercy,” was built as an affordable residence for the poor, and was one of Father’s projects.

Overall, the group has raised about $100 million and spurred more than $1 billion in private investments.

Frascati formed other organizations at Mount Carmel, which added a few million dollars’ worth of more projects to the near West Side neighborhood. He led the construction of a seniors’ high rise called Villa Mercede for his order, The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. He created condos and houses through the Nolasco Housing Organization, named for the order’s founder, St. Peter Nolasco.

Father’s Journey to the Priesthood

Fr. Marino was born in Castel Viscardo, Italy and entered the Mercedarian Order at 14. In 1948, he began to study theology at a Franciscan seminary in Teutopolis, Ill. He was ordained as a priest in 1951.

He briefly worked at Our Lady of Mercy Monastery in Middleburg Heights, St. Rocco Church in Cleveland and other local sites. Then came 13 years as Mount Carmel’s associate pastor and 25 as pastor. Fr. Marino said a weekly Mass in Italian. He helped dry up controversial bars. He blessed new homes and an ice cream shop called Blessings. He served as dean of Holy Name Societies for the West Side.

Founded Youth Groups

He started many activities for youngsters. He founded and led a Boy Scout troop. He took children to the Alleghenies, the Great Smoky Mountains and more. Fr. Marino left Cleveland in 1995 to become his order’s vicar provincial in LeRoy, N.Y. Nine years later, he chose to return as Mount Carmel’s pastor emeritus.

The Mercedarian friar died November 1, 2009 at age 84 from heart disease at Regina Health Center, Richfield, his home in his later years.

“We remember Fr. Marino as a great example of a Mercedarian who gave his life to free those captive to marginalization and poverty,” noted Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., the Order’s vocation director.

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