Saint’s Place board announces leadership changes

COURTESY OF SAINT’S PLACE

After serving as the chairman of the Saint’s Place advisory board for more than 20 years ago, retired attorney Peter Spinelli is stepping down. Board member Matthew O’Connor, former Pittsford town councilman, is taking on the role.  

“It has been my privilege to serve as advisory board chair for Saint’s Place since our founder, Colleen Knauf, brought the ministry to St. Louis Parish,” Spinelli said. “I have watched the ministry grow as a result of incredible and dedicated staff members and volunteers. The ministry has helped so many refugees and has expanded its reach to assist many agencies who help the poor in the Rochester area. 

Peter Spinelli.

“Saint’s Place has faced and met many challenges over the past 21 years. Warehouse space for storage is always lacking. The need for a clothing closet became an issue. Where would we find locations to provide tutoring? How could we raise funds to provide those items needed by refugees, but not donated? Each time, the Holy Spirit delivered by inspiring our executive directors, Colleen and now Isabel Miller, along with the indefatigable assistant director Michele Quinn, to find funding, volunteers and ministry partners. We developed collaboration agreements with the Catholic Family Center, which brings the refugees to our area and with our ministry partner St. John of Rochester, where we have the largest clothing closet in the Rochester area. 

“Many others have been instrumental — several business managers, Fran Barr, John Lynch and now Stacey McCarthy, who has been skillful in her grant writing; our lead driver and warehouse manager, Michael Flannigan; and, of course, our board members and too many volunteers to mention must be recognized, as well. Finally, none of this could have been accomplished without the support of several St. Louis pastors, notably Frs. Jim Schwartz, Kevin Murphy, Bob Ring, Bob Kennedy and our current pastor, Fr. Mitch Zygadlo, along with the parish’s operations manager, Sally Schrecker, and finance director Laurie Martin. Also worthy of great praise is the pastor of St. John of Rochester, Fr. Peter Clifford, who provided the space and many volunteers for the clothing closet. God bless them all. 

“Many hands meant light work for the board chair. I hope I was there when Colleen and Isabel needed me — to write a few agreements, draft our board bylaws, run some interference once in a while and make sure our funds raised for the refugees were preserved for that purpose. I’m honored to have been asked to continue on the board in an advisory capacity to provide some historical perspective and help with some ongoing matters.” 

Spinelli and his wife, Pat, who is the parish visitor for St. Louis Parish, have lived in Pittsford since 1973. He served as president of the Diocesan Board of Education and was the town attorney from 1996 through 2001. 

“Peter Spinelli is the embodiment of Saint’s Place mission statement to ‘welcome the stranger,’” Miller said. “He has served with such distinction as chair of our advisory board since Saint’s Place was founded in 1998. He was then a partner at Harris Beach PLLC. Not only was his legal counsel sought consistently, but Peter steered Saint’s Place through multiple changes. He believed in Saint’s Place and his leadership was constant proof. He will remain on the board as chair emeritus.” 

O’Connor, has served on the advisory board for the past three years, and on its finance and development committee. He and his wife, Patricia, are members of the Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Anne cluster of parishes. They have lived in Pittsford for 27 years.  

Matthew O’Connor.

“Matt brings a wealth of experience as a former councilman for the town of Pittsford, and as a former executive for Exelis Geospatial Systems and Monroe Community College,” Miller said. “Matt’s relationship with Saint’s Place began six years ago when he was president of Pittsford Rotary. He initiated and maintained a group of Rotarians who came to Saint’s Place once a month to drive the truck/van and deliver furniture to the refugees.” 

O’Connor retired in 2020 from MCC, where he served as dean of career technical education and as an assistant vice president. He serves in volunteer leadership positions for the Pittsford Chamber of Commerce, RESOLVE of Greater Rochester Inc., Monroe County Climate Action Plan Advisory Committee and Habitat for Humanity Coalition of Churches. 

“Saint’s Place is now in a third decade of fulfilling the mission of ‘welcoming the stranger’ by assisting refugees approved by the federal government to relocate to Rochester,” O’Connor said. “The Israelites themselves were ‘strangers’ during their enslavement in Egypt and captivity in Babylon, and we must always be mindful that the young Jesus and his family were refugees in the land of Egypt, fleeing from persecution by Herod. 

“We are all refugees to some degree. So, we can never forget that even the lowliest of refugees in need are human beings. Since every human being is created in the image of God, every refugee is entitled to dignity, compassion and respect. Scripture calls us as disciples to treat refugees as Christ would treat them. Saint’s Place is a ministry privileged to serve that calling. I am honored to have been asked to lead this life-giving manifestation of stewardship. I look forward to continuing to serve those who need us most with our partners in the community.”