Casa Franciscana is a unique international ministry of the Franciscan friars of the St. Barbara and Blessed Junipero Serra Provinces, as well as lay people from both Mexico and the United States. For more than 40 years, Casa Franciscana provided a broad range of critical assistance to the people of the struggling port city of Guaymas, Mexico.
Casa Franciscana exemplifies the Franciscan spirit in today’s world through its collaborative efforts. Inspired by the vision and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, the organization offers a variety of direct services to the poor and outcast:
Meson de Jesús (Table of Jesus): Guests at the Meson de Jesús reflect the poor neighborhood in which it is located. Small children with their parents, the mentally and physically challenged, alcoholics, travelers, workers and the elderly come together to share a hot meal and a respite from a life full of hardship.
Meals on Wheels: Not all can travel to the Meson de Jesús. The elderly, mothers with infants and those living in the deepest parts of the barrios are not forgotten. The Meson delivers daily meals to three sites located in the centers of Guaymas’s poorest neighborhoods. There the children bring their bowls to be filled with food, frequently rushing back home to take food to other family members and then returning for their own meal.
Food Delivery for the Homebound: Once a month, baskets of food are delivered to homebound elders and others who cannot physically access the Meson or neighborhood distribution sites.
Education Services: In Mexico, nearly free public schooling is provided through the ninth grade. But many of the very poor helped by Casa Franciscana need assistance in the form of food, clothing and medical care even to attend elementary school. The Casa Franciscana Outreach program raises funds to help these children get the essentials of life so they can attend school. Tuition costs for education past the ninth grade make it impossible for poor children to continue school without scholarships. Casa Franciscana Outreach has begun an educational scholarship program to allow promising students to continue their education through high school, vocational school and even college.
Health and Dental Care: At Casa Franciscana, the sick are welcomed and treated for basic ailments by a local doctor. A pharmacy provides poor patients with various medicines. Working with local dentists, Casa Franciscana also offers dental care to the region’s very poor.
Medical Mission: Once a month a group of children and their mothers travel about 450 miles north, from Guaymas to Phoenix, for diagnosis and treatment of unique health problems. These conditions may include severe burns, cardiac and respiratory abnormalities, and serious orthopedic problems for which no effective treatment is locally available. Children receive free medical treatment until they are 18 — and sometimes beyond.
The Medical Mission is a cooperative effort of the Casa Franciscana Medical Clinic in Guaymas, the Shriners of North America and Casa Franciscana Outreach volunteer host families. Brother Ivo Toneck, OFM, accompanies the children and their mothers to the Shriners’ Phoenix Clinic. Following morning appointments and lunch, Brother Ivo brings the children and their mothers to the Franciscan Renewal Center where they meet their host families.Volunteer families welcome them into their homes, giving them food, rest and loving hospitality.
Evangelical Service: The Franciscan friars of St. Barbara Province also assist the friars of the Mexican Province of Blessed Junipero Serra in providing spiritual and pastoral care of the Guaymas community.
This commitment to serving pastoral needs in Guaymas stems out of a 1969 request of the bishop of Obregon, the local diocese. Responding to this request, Father Fidelis Kuban, OFM, of the St. Barbara Province, arrived in Guaymas to serve the English-speaking tourists and residents of nearby San Carlos. He immediately began helping not only the American and church community, but those in the general community as well. More friars soon followed.
In 1971, the friars opened the first “Dispensario Medico” or medical clinic for the poor. This immediately filled a major need of the poor. In March of that year, Father Marty Gates, OFM, arrived in Guaymas and immediately fell in love with the area and the community. He had contacts and benefactors in the United States, and began to build a strong foundation for what is now Casa Franciscana in Guaymas.
In 1972, Brother Miguel Lozano, OFM, opened his home to six orphaned children and established the “Hogar Paz y Bien’ (Home of Peace and Good), an orphanage that now also offers daycare so that parents can work to support their families.
In 1984, Brother Ivo Toneck brought his building skills and passion for the arts to Guaymas. He came to oversee the remodeling of the Portiuncula, Our Lady of the Angels Church that overlooks the city. His talent, ingenuity and dedication were utilized in the building of the Meson de Jesús to feed the poor each day and the building of the Asilo, a nursing home for homeless elderly women. He also developed an innovative fine-arts school for the arts for poor children, Bellas Artes, which provides the young with instruction in both classical and folk traditions.
These pioneering friars, along with a multitude of generous benefactors and many others, established an enduring Franciscan presence in the city of Guaymas, responding to the local needs of the community in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi. Their work and legacy continue to this day, and have made a critical difference in the lives of tens of thousands.