What We’re Doing In Steubenville

Over the summer, my friend Joseph Antoniello

and I

on a porch in Steubenville, Ohio discussed — as only sleep-deprived undergraduate philosophy students can discuss — the radical nature of action, the terrible possibility of doing something, the near-infinite apathy of our age and our selves, and the Herculean effort it takes to shrug the malaise of just-letting-things-happen in order to act. We were both reading the texts of Karol Wojtyla…

Forever our homeboy.

…who argues it is precisely in action that the person is revealed to himself, and that all true, self-determined action can only ever come from the person — it is his possible crown, this capacity to stand up from the couch, to drive some stake into the flux of history and shape the very content of the universe.

The second topic was downtown Steubenville. The story of Steubenville is, in a way, typical of the Rust Belt that ropes around Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. A once-thriving industrial city, now without industry. A city built around steel, now without the mills, suffering an economic depression with all its bitter seasonings — dilapidated buildings, empty streets, homelessness, poverty, prostitution, drug abuse and packed soup kitchens all around. From this:

to eerily empty streets after the sunset and a lot of closed-down buildings.

The crux that kept us yelling, quoting, and throwing bottles at each other until sunrise, however, was the fact that Steubenville houses our school — Franciscan University.

I love my school. Great philosophy program. But there is a serious — if unintentional — dichotomy between the wealth that exists on our campus and the poverty that exists “down the hill.” There is a bifurcation between the culture lived and loved at our Catholic school — with its constant call to love our neighbors and its rich investigations into the nature and inestimable worth of every human person — and the anti-culture our city struggles with below — with the heroin-running “Chicago boys,” the prostitution on North Street, and the tragic Steubenville rape case, where the weak were left to the wolves.

Don’t allow me to oversimplify the situation. There is good, real good in Steubenville, Ohio. Businesses may well be framed by empty buildings on either side, but owners hold to hope and serve their community, striving daily against difficulties. There are beautiful areas in Steubenville, places of incredible history and architecture, and their owners work hard to maintain them. Churches open their doors to the poor — the Urban Mission, for instance, offers food for the hungry from Monday through Wednesday, the Rescue Mission gives the homeless a bed, and the Third Order Regular Franciscan Sisters, from their thrift store on Washington Street, minister to the needy, giving clothes, coffee and kindness. I have found more hope in the difficulties of Steubenville than I have anywhere else.

Neither should I oversimplify the distance between our school and the downtown. Franciscan University reaches out be a source of comfort and joy — sending volunteers to the soup kitchens, missions to help revitalize impoverished areas, and, on a purely practical note, it operates as the area’s largest employer.

But by going downtown and speaking with people — fascinating, unrepeatable, difficult, frightening, beautiful people — I realized that the student body of Franciscan University, myself sorely included, were missing something. Downtown Steubenville is not a charity case. It is not a “mission territory.” It is our home. What’s needed is not a “going-to” and a “coming-down” from our campus to “that other place,” a well-intentioned attitude that nevertheless cements the dichotomy of otherness. What’s needed is love, and loving where we live. What’s needed is an organic integration between the student body and the downtown, a unity founded in the absurd, shocking fact that we are family, that we share a city and thus a life together, whether we acknowledge it or not. Not a coming together, but a daring recognition that we already are together, and need to start acting like it.

Franciscan University has the capacity to exist as an entirely self-contained culture. Being a fervently Catholic school, it already comes with a certain attitude of “being set apart,” which is not unequivocally bad, but can have the consequence of small-scale isolationism. Most students are required to buy a 1500-2000 dollar meal plan at the beginning of the school year, which can only be spent at locations on campus, thereby cementing the main college-social-interaction event — eating — on the campus. There is a certain stigma — not without some warrant, but overblown nonetheless — of downtown Steubenville being a scary, dangerous place, and another stigma of Franciscan University being a haven, a time of formation — not a time of going out and doing. There is a lack of transportation to the downtown area. There is a lack of things to do downtown, and a lack of knowledge of those things that are there to do, and this is hardly unique to Steubenville. I have been told a similar situation exists between Notre Dame and South Bend, Indiana.

But looking to Pope Francis that summer, and reading the social encyclicals of the Catholic Church, and it occurred and still occurs to me that a certain radicalism, indeed, that a certain absurdity is required of the Catholic in this situation. If the area is dangerous, we ought to be more willing to run to it, not less. If there is little to do, we ought to be more willing to act in the downtown area, not less. Difficulties should be a far greater incentive to love our neighbors than all than all the incentives offered by thriving college towns — bars, restaurants, bookstores, coffee houses, and the entire lot. “Where there is despair let me sow hope,” right?

These two ideas — an immature and over-thought conviction of the necessity for action and a recognition of a dire need for presence in Steubenville, for simply living where we live — crashed into a third — beauty.

Beauty is awesome, and the particularly shining bit of awesome that gripped our hearts and grabbed our attention on that summer porch was this: Beauty unifies. The man gazing on the Van Gogh is in real unity with the man gazing next to him. They are united in the aesthetic object, or to simplify, in a shared experience of something bigger than themselves. Beauty ennobles us, and does away with the differences that estrange us from our neighbors. Concerts make communities and artists build respites from isolation.

What if — we reasoned — we planted something beautiful in downtown Steubenville? What if we worked to set up a fantastic music scene, one that invited excellent artists about the business of creating real beauty? This would give students a reason to come, and more than that, to enter into communion with their city, to be united with their neighbor in the mutual enjoyment, the mutual contemplation, even, of something good. This idea was the conception of the still-fetal Harmonium Project, a project that aims to establish a thriving music scene in the heart of downtown Steubenville, to be a source of revitalization by way of beauty.

Ideals are powerful things. Given grace, they always rise to practical incarnation. And practically, the idea has potential. If we could hold regular concerts in the downtown area, we would attract a regular influx of college students — not just from Franciscan, but from Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. This would introduce to our city a new market, a possible culture, the regular presence of hundreds of people who have come to downtown Steubenville to experience something beautiful. This presence would be a spark, a reason for business owners to “open up shop,” to create jobs, to have a mighty reason for hope. We could, essentially, help Steubenville become a college town.

So we are building a music center, restoring the ballroom of an old Oddfellows building…

Photo by Isabelle Farineau

…to turn it into a music venue.  It’s a severely cool place, and it’s come a long way.

We are doing this because we know that when hundreds of college students regularly come down to hear great music, a coffee shop next to the music venue makes a whole lot of sense. A record store is a natural conclusion. An art studio finds in downtown Steubenville a possible niche. I can’t give specifics, but I’ll say this: Just the hope of a student presence in downtown Steubenville has already inspired the purchase of property in the downtown, the initial development of new businesses aimed at university students. We are trying to be a catalyst for change, a spark on kindling, a snowball rolling down an avalanche to eventual social justice.

And to further integrate the student body and the city, we’re turning parts of the building into music rooms, to offer free music activities to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Already students have volunteered to teach music lessons, to be there as a loving presence in the life of a child. Already locals have been donating their used instruments. There is a real excitement about the possibility of a turning tide.

We called on students to help, and their response was overwhelming.

Photo by Matthew Seal

We found a truth I hoped to find, that people want to love where they live, to act, to change their world — they are usually just looking for a way. So over the school year I became obnoxiously acquainted with drywall and paint, belt sanders and polyurethane, my own absolute reliance on the goodwill and help of other people, and the strong sense of community a project of hope can bring.

The question most people have when I bring up this idea is: Will it work? Can establishing a music scene really help restore a city? As with most things regarding the future, I haven’t the foggiest. But let me tell you about some initial progress. Audrey Assad generously agreed to come play downtown Steubenville for us, and almost 500 kids paid for tickets, most of whom had never been downtown before.

Photo by Isabelle Farineau

We know that it’s not as simple as building a building, so we’ve been working to promote the wonderful businesses that already operate in the downtown area, through social media, and with ads like this one:

And already, local businesses have seen an increased presence of college students in the downtown area. A few weeks ago, I was at one of my favorite places, Steve’s Fish and Chips, a we-fry-everything joint we’ve been promoting to the student body of Franciscan, and they mentioned that they had, for the first time, been getting delivery orders to our school. They mentioned having no idea that Franciscan University was so big, though it was right in their backyard. “Don’t worry, we’ll get used to the roads up there,” they said.

As we work hard to make the music venue a reality, we’ve been hosting concerts at other venues downtown, like the Spot Bar. We even had Sam Rocha, my fellow writer at Patheos and an all-around rolling ball of serious excitement, come from North Dakota to play some shows: 

The students come, they patronize local businesses, they get excited about the mission, and they bring others along.

So I believe the signs are good. Now we want to make this initial excitement a reality. In the spirit of Wojtyla and Francis, we want to do something. Which is why, in the spirit of advent, I am asking for 250,000 dollars for The Harmonium Project.

If you read my writing regularly, I want to appeal directly to whatever minuscule shred of affection your blog-reading heart holds for me, to that brief, shining moment in which I avoided offending you and managed to type something nod-inspiring, evoking from you a begrudging grunt of approval. I don’t know how much such writing is worth to you, but I am, quite willingly, going to drop all pretense of dignity, and hope that, collectively, it’s worth 250,000 dollars.

We’re running an awesome Indiegogo campaign that has all the details about where our money is going — our biggest purchases will be the building itself and the sound and light equipment necessary to make turn it into a functioning venue. I’ll send you there in a bit. But first I want to do some math. I have 16,266 likes on Facebook. Which means that if everyone who likes my writing enough to “like” me donated 15.4073708862 dollars each, we’d be set. So please, donate 15.4073708862 dollars. And then realize that a Facebook like is not a $15.4073708862 dollar commitment , and donate more to make up for that. Also, some one tell Jon Foreman about this. I think he’d dig it.

We have some awesome perks on our Indiegogo page. (See, I sent you there!) I want to draw your attention to a particular one here. For a 500 dollar donation, I’ll write an essay on a topic of your choice, and publish it on BadCatholic. You might be thinking, “500 dollars for a blog post, that’s ridiculous!” And you’d be absolutely right. It’s entirely ridiculous. Do it.

Help us to change our corner of the world for the better. Donate. Share our Indiegogo page. Like us on Facebook. And please, above all else, keep us in your prayers.

Fortunate Fall
Bettering Your Boring Christian Playlist: Jenny & Tyler
Millennial Misery
Man as Art
  • SanClemente

    You need to get L’Angelus to play there: http://langelus.com/

  • Emily

    Hi Marc,

    I was happy to see your post about how Franciscan University students are involved in creating a community with the city and the people that live there – to get out of the Franciscan bubble so to speak. The university I attend – Baylor University – has the same sort of situation in that it is easy to remain within the Baylor Bubble and create a sub-community of only Baylor students (and the Catholic Student Center here – St. Peter’s, is right next to campus so it is still pretty easy for Catholics who don’t necessary have on-campus ministry like some other students). I’m writing my thesis on Pope Francis’s social thought, especially on the theme of education, and he writes about how a certain sense of cultural isolation has left us communityless and that this malaise is symptomatic of a greater problem with the lack of community. Anyways, I tend to think that these types of involvement with community which focus on seeing people qua people and without condescension are an incredibly important avenue for American Catholics to begin to live out their faith more strongly. I’m glad to see this post from you.

    God bless,

  • Frederick

    Meanwhile me-thinks you should read some stuff that gives a completely different truth-telling assessment of John Paul II, his applied politics and his legacy
    The Power & The Glory – The Dark Heart of JP2′s Vatican by David Yallop
    The Pope’s War Against the Church by Matthew Fox
    And the truth-telling book about the Papacy altogether titled:
    The Criminal History of the Papacy by Tony Bushby
    Plus why not try the popecrimes blogspot (plus the other sites associated with it)

    • BTP

      Well, you read the man: $500 gets you this essay! Sounds like a bargain!

      • badcatholic


      • Jess

        Comment of the week.

    • Emmet

      I like how no-one bothered to rebut your comment – everyone just saw it for what it is: not worth the effort.

  • April

    Great idea, Marc! You see about getting Mike Mangione & the Union to play: http://mikemangione.com/ They would be perfect for this venue. Their music is folk/alternative and inspired by the Theology of the Body.

  • Daniel Nichols

    I’m sorry. I’m glad you see the disconnect between the university and the city. It is stupefying to hear FU students demean the lost souls of Steubenville from their privileged perches, never acknowledging that the locals are disheartened working class people, whose world has been destroyed. Those guys sitting on their porches looking dazed no doubt had dads and granddads who were prosperous steel workers, living more or less upright lives, going to church, etc. Yes, of course for most it was conventional morality with all its limitations, but at least the children were spared most of the dysfunction of lives ripped from any rootedness in family stability. They- the poor children and grandchildren of prosperous working class men,- are displaced, only without leaving their hometown. It is no coincidence that the drug of choice for the sinking classes is oxycontin and other opiates: pain killers.
    But how is having concerts that none of the locals is likely to attend going to change anything? Or are the concerts free? At the most it may result in a revival of downtown on some scale. And then what? Rents rise, and the poor can no longer afford to live there?
    What would happen if all those good Catholic students up on the hill actually engaged in questions about the attack on the poor and working classes of the last forty years, analyzing the forces that brought this about? If they are indeed faithful Catholics they should be aware that Francis is urging this, and telling us that evangelization is not disconnected from the struggle for justice, from struggling against the systemic oppression that the current system enshrines.

    • Kevin

      Marc explained it pretty clearly. There are already charities at work in downtown Steubenville that students can be involved in. Most students live in a bubble on Franciscan’s campus, however. This initiative is bringing those students to Steubenville’s downtown and helping bring more awareness to what’s going on outside the campus. It’s not going to solve everything, but its a first step. You’re looking way too big in scale, change isn’t made by sitting around thinking about questions and analyzing. That’s what keeps them cooped up on the hill. This is at least bring them out into the greater community.

      • Daniel Nichols

        Of course there are charities where students can volunteer. I am not addressing the needs of “charity” but the demands of justice. Getting students to go downtown is meaningless if all that means is hanging out at a concert hall with other student types. And this revival of downtown that this is going to spark? Who is going to work at the various businesses this musical revival is going to initiate? The coffee houses and record stores and art studios (not pointedly, places known for offering living wages)? NOT the locals, that’s for sure. Totally wrong vibe, for one thing.
        Yeah, you want to make S’ville more like a “college town”, like Athens or Ann Arbor. But please, do not frame this as somehow addressing the despair of the disenfranchised working classes, or of the poor. You want a cool place to hang around, and a “nicer” downtown. Just, in other words, another bourgeois ghetto. The real ghetto will just move if you are successful.
        And you want how much money from us to do this?

        • http://snickersnackbaby.blogspot.com/ David Ferguson

          What is your solution? Besides tossing around terms like: “demands of justice”, and “living wages”. I always find it puzzling when re-distributionists criticize without offering alternatives.

          • Daniel Nichols

            Let’s see; $250,000? How about starting a worker cooperative? Or a small urban farm on an abandoned lot? Or a jobs training program? Just not a mini-yuppification project, please. I am really about to puke here…

          • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/ Arkanabar

            Daniel, your own suggestions, above, are worthy and worthwhile. The problem is that they are less likely to appeal to and engage Marc’s fellow students than a music scene might. And they are not beautiful. It’s all too easy to imagine your initiatives carried out among Corbusierian reinforced concrete blocks, and some utilitarian saying, “why waste time and money on paint or restoring the statuary, when we could be buying textbooks and seed stock?”

            Beauty has its own graces which a mere tending to material needs, no matter how important that may be, cannot provide. Ugliness is oppressive and contributes to hopelessness. Beauty inspires.

            That’s the point of at least one area of engagement — University music students teaching local children how to play and sing in the restored building. One of the most subtly corrosive things which has happened to our culture is that we’ve gone from a people who make music to a people who only consume it.

          • Daniel Nichols

            Everything I suggested is beautiful; have you never seen urban farming? And organizing workers and empowering them is very beautiful. As is your idea of teaching music to poor kids; now THAT is worthwhile. What I see, though, mostly, is college kids looking for a place to hang out and hear music, which helps the disenfranchised not at all; it is a bourgeois initiative, with the false and self-flattering notion that you are somehow doing something for justice.

          • SamRocha

            With friends like this, who need friends?

          • Timothy Milligan

            Are you saying he’s wrong?

          • SamRocha

            No. I am saying that regardless of whether he is wrong or right, or just so-so or half-and-half, that this impulse to nit-pick and critique people committing their lives to something that has some real value (all other objections not withstanding) is pretty much all it takes for all possible sorts of work like this to fail. With allies like these, you don’t even need an enemy. There comes a time when you either support someone in good faith or you don’t.

          • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

            The history of community development is littered with people who had good ideas, good intentions, & lots of money that did real harm to the communities they wanted to “serve.” Encouraging someone to reconsider their plans in light of best practices in economic development is not “nitpicking.”

          • SamRocha

            Encouraging someone to reconsider their plans at this stage is as unrealistic and calloused as ignoring someone’s advice at an earlier stage. Plus, anyone invoking the stale and generic language of “best practices” is hardly someone who I’d expect to be an exception to the rule in this case.

          • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

            If you think that “best practices” is “stale and generic language” when it comes to community development and that it is too late to reconsider plans, I respectfully submit that you should probably do some more research on the subject, as the project may be at risk of crowding out the people. Many an eager Christian could tell you that prayerful investment in engaging the community– even at the cost of individual projects– can save you (and them) heartache in the long run.

          • SamRocha

            The concept of “best practices” is a dated and tired one, based on shoddy social scientific research and the worst of today’s institutional lexicon. I’ve done some work on this over the past few years and have just begun publishing some early work against it. There is also an entire domain (e.g. Kanban, LEAN, Scrum) of organizational management that is a rejection of this model, so I wouldn’t condescend to tell me to do my homework on this topic. I’m doing it and the history and philosophy of social science only supports it. The language of “best practices” is nonsense.

            Reconsideration is always important, of course, but there are degrees of possibility here. To question the entire merit of the project from the outside bespeaks an ironic inability to consider it as it stands and to be humble enough to recognize that you haven’t been there doing the work up to now. If you want to travel there, stage an intervention, assessment, and invest resources to support its implications, go ahead and make an offer, but save the com box preaching that only gets in the way of otherwise serious work being done here.

          • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

            I’m sorry; I did not mean that you ought to research “best practices” more (and you are certainly more qualified than I to judge whether or not it is stale language.) I was speaking more of looking into the work of CCDA and similar organizations, who have many years of experience in impoverished urban contexts.

            As far as critiquing from the combox… if one is asking the world for $250,000, then one should be open to general critiques, especially from people who are doing similar work in slightly different contexts. Marc & Joseph are certainly free to do as they wish and I hope & pray that their endeavor does bless the area that they hope to serve, however, I hope that they will consider the potential risks against the potential merits. There was not enough discussion about these in an otherwise very thoughtful blog post.

          • SamRocha

            Fair enough on the best practices stuff. I think you have failed to consider that, perhaps, you’ve not properly understood this project or that you simply were not a part of the planning stages. My sense is that you and Mr. Nichols miss entirely the radical nature of this project. Some of that may be because there are better ways to communicate, but I think what makes this most exciting is that is not grounded in the logic of justice, it is not an ethical project; first and foremost, it is an aesthetic one. The point is not to succeed, the point is to live in a situated place and make music.

            My own post on this may be useful (or make things far worse): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/samrocha/2013/12/the-harmonium-project-must-fail/

          • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

            I definitely don’t get how “radical” building a business meant to draw college kids and their money to a nearby city while building up the local arts scene is. (I mean, people do it in other cities.) Your post did clue me in to the fact that they don’t live on campus, which I think is important (but I’m not sure where they live in relation to the venue?)

            I think that if you’d like to argue that it’s a purely aesthetic project (and not focused on justice or ethics), it’s at the very least disingenuous to lead with 1000 words about the economic and moral decline of Steubenville. It’s also problematic to not mention the moral weight that comes along with moving in from outside– as if an aesthetic project (especially when the aesthetics involved are those of the white middle class) could be free of ethical implications!

            The goal of creating beautiful things to be shared in community is one to be celebrated, absolutely! I’m a musician and I cherish live music myself. But I think that’s incumbent on those of us with more cultural power to ensure that our joy in these things doesn’t keep us from doing harm where we do our creating.

            I certainly wasn’t there for the planning process and don’t know what sorts of conversations happened with the neighbors. Maybe they asked for someone to teach their kids music. Maybe they are just as excited about the sort of music that is being played in this space as the 500 college kids coming in. Maybe there’s an advisory board made up of community members and Marc goes to every neighborhood meeting. Maybe the Harmonium Project has other ways of addressing the issues that don’t even fit into my categories of thinking about community development. But that isn’t what Marc communicated. And when you are trying to build up a community and foster relationships between groups of people who have socioeconomic differences and some historical divisions, these kinds of things have to be addressed or else you run the risk of reinforcing those divisions.

          • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

            How about moving into the neighborhood and asking the neighbors what they think they need? Or, even better, what assets do they have that they could use if y’all worked together?

            Read some stuff from the Christian Community Development Association (e.g. “Restoring At-Risk Communities”) and see what great riches there are to learn from people who have labored to do church-based community development for decades!

          • badcatholic


            First, understand that a major part of the Harmonium Project is offering free music activities and education to children who would otherwise not be able to afford them. Direct presence, no bullshit. Simply working on being a powerful influence for kids facing difficult lives. Secondly, understand that “small urban farms” are precisely something the Harmonium Project wants to facilitate — we merely understand that an authentic, organic integration between a student body and their city is a first and necessary step to having the resources to pull off such awesome plans — hence the creation of a thriving music scene. We are trying to get people to go into their city. Until that happens it’s vain talk to discuss the possibilty of people who don’t live in their own city starting jobs training programs. A “college town” is not the end. A “college town” is the means to the justice you crave. Finally, do not underestimate the necessity of presence, of signs of hope and life as the motivations for social change. We’re going downtown and talking with prostitutes and heroin addicts here. They need help that goes beyond and urban farms. They need people as much as you or I. Until something gives, and Catholics decide to love where they live, and live where they live, there will be no worker cooperatives. Your words have been discussed long before you wrote them here. Their tragedy, and the reason they hurt me all personal-like and sick-stomachish, is that you are rejecting an attempt at revitilization for not achieving the end goal of justice — while we are trying to take the first and most necessary step towards justice: Getting people to look at each other. It is easy, so easy, and I’ve done it a million times, to reject attempts at charity on the basis of what they possibly won’t do, but instead, consider giving us advice for the excellent things we should do, if we can first bring together a school and a city, and thus have the resources, passion and commitment to act.

          • Daniel Nichols

            Thanks, bad, for the thoughtful response. The question that naturally arises from all this is simply “Will they even like the music?” I assume that the average young urban Steubenville native, white or black, probably has very different tastes in music than the average college student. I really do not object to your music venue project; all in all it is good to get the students down from that hill. I am just wondering how it fits in with fighting injustice. And I note as well that the downtown poor may well have a very rich music scene of their own, though you may not appreciate the forms it takes…

          • Terry Bell

            Hello, Daniel. I’ve read over your posts and can appreciate your concerns. The ways of fighting injustice that you are suggesting are, I am sure, very good ones. And so I say go for it. Make it happen. Do what you think will work where you are like these good people. I am sure you are not a “slactivist” who only donates talk and money, but never time and labor. There is more than one way to skin a cat and injustice needs to be fought on many fronts and in a variety of ways. These people have shown themselves to be credible by what they have already accomplished. They have put a lot of time and energy into this project as is evident to any thoughtful observer. To simply propose that there are better ways to do things isn’t helpful to a project that is already underway and seeking support. You may think this isn’t going to be effective. Others would disagree, including myself. Time will tell. But my bet is that folks like these, with God’s help, will make it work.

    • Kate Cousino

      I think you’re missing the point. Sitting up on the hill arguing about economic and political systems and grand-scale solutions for the problems of ‘those people down there’ is just as anti-personalist (and ancillary) as is sitting up on the hill bemoaning the character flaws and lifestyle of ‘those people down there.’

      Both justice and mercy begin with personal engagement–and it is almost impossible to judge with any degree of fidelity what the demands of justice in a particular community are without the insight of members of that community, gleaned through engagement and personal connection. Without that connection–the connection Marc seeks to facilitate by bringing students down off the hill and encouraging interaction with the downtown–there’s no foundation for any kind of larger movement or advocacy.

      The advocate who does not KNOW and love the persons he claims to advocate for is a clanging cymbal. The person comes first, and I think Marc is wise to recognize this.

      • Daniel Nichols

        But Kate, how is creating a music venue in downtown S’ville going to engage the locals? They will not feel at home there and they are not going to be employed there (and if they were it would be as low pay service employees; with wages like at a fast food restaurant, only with a better soundtrack) and it is unclear to me how this is going to affect them in any way, except maybe making apartments unaffordable if the thing takes off. All these guys are encouraging is interaction with downtown merchants, not the alienated denizens of the city. I’m sorry, but if I am missing something please explain it to me…

        • SamRocha

          Go and see them en vivo. Visit and paint or sand. Take a turn giving a heroin addict a ride or lending your truck a poor couple or using your own money (made on this very blog) to give money to the poor. Or pray for them and don’t send them anything. Your sanctimony is nauseating, but your hubris is blinding. I’ve visited twice and I don’t know them from any prior experience. Their work is important and rare.

          • Daniel Nichols

            No need to be insulting, Sam. I have no animosity toward these folks, or toward you. I am questioning how begging $250.000 to create a “music venue” that appeals mostly to the privileged FU student body is going to affect the lives of the poor and disenfranchised working classes in S’ville. I have a friend who teaches at the University who assures me that these guys are devoted to justice, so I do not question their motives. I do think that this money – a not unsubstantial sum- could be put to better and more radical use.

          • Daniel Nichols

            And see Briana’s comment below to understand my concerns: “We had an old beat up theater in our town, on a main street that had been trying to get it’s mojo back for 30 years.Someone came in and restored the theater. Now we have musicians like Lyle Lovett, and Sarah Love coming in.

            They have restored our downtown. There’s a coffee shop, a bakery, antique stores, eateries, delis, a gallery.

            I think the Harmonium Project will be amazing.”

            Just how are the lives of the poor transformed by the appearance of Lyle Lovett or the presence of coffee shops and galleries and antique stores? Other than being squeezed out?

          • Marthe Lépine

            Sounds like you need to introduce a little economics there: people coming to concerts, drinking coffee and browsing in stores do bring actual money to the downtown. In turn some of that money that would not have been brought to that downtown area is spent by local merchants to purchase local goods and services, bringing business and jobs to other folks, who in turn spend that money for their own needs, and so on. That is what economists call a “multiplier effect” – as money circulates in kind of grows. It does not matter a whole lot who does bring the money to the merchants. And – another point: Local merchants are also part of the community and need to work for a living as well, what is wrong with improving their chances? I cannot see anything wrong with asking for donations to get this project further on its path, any more than any business looking for capital; and people are free to donate or not, to do whatever they want with their money.

        • JM

          First, an apology. I’ve been entertained for the last several minutes reading everyone’s posts. I know both sides are serious about their convictions, and I’ve been more caught up in the convicion of the writers than the content. Okay, I’ll put the digression aside. I’m an outsider looking in. We’ll, not too far outside, as I grew up in Bloomingdale. It seems the project will be worthwhile, but not necessarilly with the enormity hoped for by the organizers. And that may work out to be a good thing as well when considering the negative socioeconomic effects I believe Daniel referenced. You can’t fault any reader for putting up his guard. The visionaries may not completely take into consideration the various ways the project could negatively impact certain parties. However, neither the primary nor the secondary costs of the implementation outweigh the greater good that COULD come from this. A parting thought before I leave this page forever. It’s tough to get motivated to work on a project you don’t have a lot of interest in. That is a good enough reason for me to accept what is being created. Further, these students are in school at a 4 year University. They’re outta here soon. Why would someone want to put all of this time and effort into something they will only be around a short time to realize? I say, because there is a large level of selflessness among those involved. It’s refreshing. I’ll give $16. And they can keep the change.

  • Meg Churray

    This. THIS. Considered it shared, consider me inspired.

  • Douglas Lindle

    You don,t live in a bubble, you live in a bowl. When the bowl is filled with Love, it will spill over on everything around it.

    • Trer

      Didnt the pope just say something about trickling down not trickling down?

      • Douglas Lindle

        Money and charity (Love) seem to have different flow rates.

        Sent via HTC One S Powered by Cincinnati Bell Wireless

        —– Reply message —–

  • Douglas Lindle

    The Franciscan bowl. has been flooding for years.

  • Brittany H

    This is amazing, Marc! So glad to see that gorgeous building being used! Thanks for taking the plunge.. I SO wish this was there when I was at FUS. Great idea!

  • steubenvillelady

    As a Steubenville native who (shockingly!!) still lives out my Catholic faith, I think you may want to tone down the holier-than-thou condescending tone all too common of the FUS student. I happened to also attend the university, and the general “I will save your sad Steubenville soul because I go to FRANCISCAN university” vibe that most students gave off would never have drawn me to any of function geared toward helping me. Just saying.

    Also, if you want to blend with the Stuebenville crowd, you might want to not look so hip and maybe invest in a Steubenville Catholic Central sweatshirt or something.

    • Kate Cousino

      I don’t think the point is blending. I think the point is meeting each other as humans sharing a community.

      Which shouldn’t mean feeling guilty for the kinds of things/clothes you love or the differences in your experiences; it should mean listening and choosing to see each other (even the condescending other or the irritable other) as individual persons rather than as examples of a type.

      I mean, is it less intolerant to make assumptions about character or worthiness based on clothing and youth than it is to make assumptions about character based on location and local stereotypes?

    • Andrew O’Brien

      Wow, reading this wasn’t worth my time.

    • Ender Wiggin


  • Carmine Falcone

    My favorite part is the moon in front of the clouds :P

  • Briana

    We had an old beat up theater in our town, on a main street that had been trying to get it’s mojo back for 30 years.

    Someone came in and restored the theater. Now we have musicians like Lyle Lovett, and Sarah Love coming in.

    They have restored our downtown. There’s a coffee shop, a bakery, antique stores, eateries, delis, a gallery.

    I think the Harmonium Project will be amazing.

  • catrye

    Don’t forget PeeDee’s — COMPLETELY AWESOME PLACE!!!

    • catrye

      160 S 4th St — right across from Downtown Bakery

  • Caroline Moreschi

    This was interesting to read because it reminded me of being an undergraduate at a liberal arts school – not a strictly Christian one, but a fairly conservative one with a long history of charity work. There was definitely a distinction between our “bubble” and the rest of the town, in spite of our ministries. Perhaps part of the problem with both your college and mine is that most of the students were sheltered kids from suburbia who felt no connections with the people they were trying to help.

  • Elliot

    I feel like this could apply to TAC and Santa Paula. “Downtown” isn’t just somewhere to drink, it’s where we live!

  • Kacy

    I feel like someone should call the Herald Star and WTOV9 to do some coverage on this. Apparently this has been going on for a while & I didn’t know. I was born & raised in the Wintersville/Steubenville area & have children here. I worry often because our area is truly going down hill and it’s refreshing to see someone actually do something to make a change than just talk about it. Maybe if we got this more out in the public eye, more people would be willing to donate & help. Not just FU students, but the entire community. Props to you guys for doing what you can to make a change!

    • Karen

      I agree Kacy. Props to ANYONE who tries to beautify our city and bring jobs/businesses to the area. Good job students @ FU and keep up the great work!

  • Hunks

    The parents of Steubenville sucks and have failed the kids of their town…

  • Alisha Ruiss

    This is so amazing! Have you approached the swing dance community yet to host dances there? Would you need someone to teach?

  • Xzeros

    good article however yousaid “Not a coming together, but a daring recognition that we alreadyare together, and need to start acting like it.” truth is you are not all together. and misunderstanding that simple truth will cause you big problems.

  • Joseph

    As a Franciscan University student I also understand the need that Steubenville has for economic development and opportunity. I however don’t like the criticism of the meal plans as being wrong because they isolate the students and their money from the community. That is just plain goofy. Who wants or has the time to go off campus for regular meals? A busy student shouldn’t be forced to go off campus to eat because someone wants to turn Franciscan student’s disposable income into some bizarre form of economic stimulus. It’s great that students are volunteering to help revitalize Steubenville and its downtown. Each of us should seek to serve in some way. But I think that the mission of FU needs to remain the providing of a good education. Education is why the university exists. It exists to provide the educational means to students to find gainful employment and thereby become productive members of society who then can then support charitable initiatives out of their own pockets. Don’t try to turn the university into a social welfare tool, because that is not what it is meant for.

    • badcatholic

      Who wants or has the time to go off campus for regular meals?

      Go sit at the Taco Bell drive-thru at 8pm on any given weekday. Count the Franciscan stickers. But even if this weren’t the case, you’re missing the absurdity — whether students want or have time to eat off campus, they ought to, as a simple, human way of encountering their neighbors.

      From the school’s mission statement:

      The University commits itself to a special emphasis to serve the Steubenville region and its constituents in outreach efforts and to work cooperatively with local leaders toward these ends.’

      One way you could work towards fulfilling this mission, and one way I have seen it done extrememly well, is by making meal plan cards applicable at local restraunts. UVA does it very well. It’s not exactly a radical idea, that a University should be integrated with the town from which it takes its name.

    • Blake Helgoth

      The point of education, it’s end, is educated people who can think and articulate their ideas. Gainful employment is certainly not the end of education, contrary to popular belief – although it may be a by product. It you are spending your time and resources to get a job you’d be far better off to sink those into an entrepreneurial endeavor. If, however, you seek wisdom and culture, if you seek to better grasp the truth, then the university might be the place for you.

  • HV Observer

    Are the events at this venue limited to music performances? Would there be other kinds of events, say, debates?

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    “What’s needed is not a “going-to” and a “coming-down” from our campus to “that other place,” a well-intentioned attitude that nevertheless cements the dichotomy of otherness. What’s needed is love, and loving where we live. What’s needed is an organic integration between the student body and the downtown, a unity founded in the absurd, shocking fact that we are family, that we share a city and thus a life together, whether we acknowledge it or not. Not a coming together, but a daring recognition that we already are together, and need to start acting like it.”

    I had been following the reports from Steubenville about the goings on “down the hill.” I was confused and saddened that there was little comment from Franciscan University available. Thank you, brother, for this report, update and invitation.

    I see from some of the replies that like Francis, you will also receive criticism about the what, how and why of this ministry. Remember, troubadours are sometimes ridiculed. Remember also that even from his deathbed, St. Francis challenged his brothers and sisters, “Let us begin, for up to now we have done little.”

    Where there is sadness, let us bring the Joy of the Gospel.
    Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.

  • Rob

    Amen! In the style of the Pope! Ignore the pessimists.

  • Fr.Jim Orr

    Check out Midland, Pa. What you describe is happening there abet not because of Ctholic action. It does suggest that you have the right idea.

  • Michael Sirilla

    Very nice piece, Marc! However, here’s one important correction: you wrote: “There is a lack of transportation to the downtown area.” The Steel Valley Regional Transit Authority (SVRTA) bus stops right on campus every single day (except major holidays), four times a day, and takes students/profs/staff to and from the heart of downtown Steubenville for a mere $0.50.
    Here’s their schedule: http://www.svrta.com/docs/SVRTA_FourthSt_Schedule.jpg

    And here’s their route: http://www.svrta.com/docs/Steubenville%20Map.jpg

    I’d call that pretty solid available transportation – not a lack at all.
    Anyway, thanks so much for participating in the revival of the city. My wife, I, and many many others (both University folk and non) are working for the same thing for the hilltops communities – which are suffering just exactly like the downtown is, the way you describe it.

    God bless you. Merry Christmas!

    In Christ,
    Dr. Mike Sirilla

  • Jillynn

    Let us start by using the correct words. You now live in “the ville” This term is covers the surrounding areas of all the towns in the area. There is only one downtown. I am from the ville and went to FU for my finial semester before getting my degree from Akron U. Wow talk about culture shock! So having the correct terms would be a good start. Now to your ideas. Anything anyone does to help the area is very welcome. It seems you have lots of helping hands to make this place work. See if one of those folks would like to start a community garden, that would be hit! Work with the schools, they are very active and loved. The H.S. can use all the good publicity it can get. As for the attitude that comes from “up the hill” Be careful. I am sure the shop owners will take any help they can get, but the town rolls their eyes at “FU” Many of the students look down on townies. That being said…. come down off the hill, have fun, open business, get into the argument over which pizza is better, giannimores or dicarlos. Talk a little Stillers and Browns Yinz can do it! If you can do that you can wear a tutu and top hat and be accepted. I really hope this works out for all involved.

  • Mike Abernethy

    Beautiful -Keep up the good work and take care of my hometown!

  • Michael Sirilla

    Okay, I just finished reading the rest of your post. I knew that you guys were doing good stuff for the dowtown, but I’m very impressed – blown away, in fact – by your vision and, especially, by your love for this town. My wife and I share this love and I hope some of you all consider staying here for a while (or even for good!) to continue your work.

    Contra all the nay-sayers: a restored downtown building with concerts and free music lessons for local kids is an excellent idea on many levels. In case you haven’t already done this (I suspect you may have), consider contacting Bob Lesnefski who runs the Urban Underground in downtown Steubenville and in the hilltops communities (don’t forget the hilltops – La Belle and Pleasant Heights!). Judy Bratten of Fr. Steuben is also an important contact. Pool your efforts!
    And please contact me at my university email address and let me know any way we can help. As Pat already knows, my wife is the president of the Hilltops Community Development Corporation (non-profit) and is fighting the good fight on a number of different levels. We’ve also got a number of other contacts that could help…

    - Dr. S.

    • Michael Sirilla

      Despite the lame-ness of replying to my own comment, I’ll add this: you should also contact Mark and Gretchen Nelson of Nelson Fine Arts & Gifts. They own a flourishing business downtown (Lincoln Ave.): http://www.nelsongifts.com/
      They’re also solidly committed to this town!

  • laura

    Thank you so much for all you are doing. I think you will be a smashing success and very much hope to get you to present at my April meeting of the Steubenville Hilltops Community Development Corporation which will be discussing youth programs. Perhaps I can rope you into some of our other events as well.

    I would like to politely challenge the use of the term “bubble,” which has been floating around at least since my University days in the ’90s. If by “bubble” you mean that college students in general (here and elsewhere) tend to act rather self-centeredly and spend their free time [and time that they should be studying] on ridiculous things like video games, slum parties, shopping for extra shoes and beer pong, I concur – it’s a waste of your youth, and you can do better. However, if you mean, as students did in my days, that it’s somehow hypocritical to spend all your time on campus being formed in your faith life, being part of wholesome activities and learning how to preserve and restore the remnant of high Catholic culture, I would say that’s a very juvenile insult. If all you ever get to as a student are your studies, then you have done what you’re supposed to. If you never make it off campus but learn to be an adult Catholic, then you’ve done what you’re supposed to. Of course, if you can meet your academic responsibilities and have some free time and money left, please, please do something meaningful.

    In the 11 years I have lived in this city as a wife and mother I’ve been really edified by many wonderful students who’ve given generously of themselves to help this city, and I encourage those who can to do the same. Please recognize that in our times some are called to preserve and restore, some are called to go out and bring the faith to others, some are called to lives of study and prayer (well, all students are called to study) and God knows who should be doing what and He’ll make it all work for the good.

    Thank you again.
    Laura Sirilla

    • Michael Sirilla

      (This is my wife that I’ve been commenting about.)

  • CBG

    I think it’s a great idea and a huge undertaking that you have on your shoulders. I wish you all the best of luck. Something I may share with you is there is an organization in Pittsburgh that started out this way and has had great success. Over the years it has grown to meet the needs of the community, expanding – offering things such as job and career training at no cost to students, after school programs for inner city kids, art programs, concert hall, recording studio, radio station and so much more. They have had great success and have replicated their program across the country and around the world and all of this was started by a young man that had a love for music and art, inspired by a teacher that wouldn’t give up on him, built on a program located in what was once know as the worst of the worst in pittsburgh.

    Their program is almost entirely funded on local, state and federal programs. I would urge you to contact them, I am sure that they could point you in the right direction to obtain funding through these programs.

    At least check out their story and the story of Bill Strickland their founder, to see what the future could hold for your venture.


  • Lynn T.

    I was born and raised in Steubenville. What you are attempting to do is incredible. Thank you for all your efforts to help bring culture to my old hometown.. I love the ” build it and they will come” outlook. The renovatios you have done so far look awesome. Your article is extremely well written. I hope you are taking up writing as a minor.

  • Mary Kay

    I think this is a great idea. J.R. Tolken wrote Lord of the Rings as a counter to the ugliness of war. Indiegogo could be a place where new artists are discovered and have a venue to display their talents. I can’t think of that venue that just closed its doors after decades…it was in New York.. tons of muscians played there…iconic.
    Well, my prayers will be for success. Its hopeful!

  • opal_city

    This is great! I am from Steubenville and have been living on the East Coast for 15+ yrs. I go to visit occasionally and each time I find the city in more and more disrepair. I applaud your efforts, and when money is less tight I will be sure to send a donation.

  • Jakie

    Franciscan University of Steubenville charges their students at least $20,000 a year. You’re not rich kid. You’re going to be oweing a lot of money for the rest of your life. You’re just as poor as them it’s just you’re not living like it.

  • Michael

    This is very inspiring to read, reminding me of St. Francis and the church at San Damiano; Franciscan faith is called to fulfill our baptismal call to ministry through mission. http://franciscanmissionservice.blogspot.com/2014/01/sacraments-and-social-mission-baptism.html

  • Teri Wilson Edwards

    Love the passion and concept- my questions fall more to Who holds Liability for accidents? Are you insured? What about needing State Approval for plans? I know those things cost quite a bit of money and I wonder how you are covering those costs.
    Who owns the building? DO you pay to lease it? Who pays the utilities?
    I ask because I want to take your info and try to adapt it in my community.
    Thank you!

  • Lamar Whatley

    I hope I am allowed to post to this topic. I grew up in downtown Steubenville and was one of the nameless faceless people that roamed the area growing up. After growing up leaving the area serving our country for 20 years and now working for the military as a college graduate I know what the people “on the hill” feel like. My biggest challenge now is convincing the people that work for me that I grew up down the hill and not up the hill in like the college people at the university. I say that not braggingly but to say that once I got access to the same things that you university people got access to, your ilk wonders if I grew up under better circumstances than them. The writer of the blog is on the right track. Everybody can do something and if opening a coffee shop and or bringing music to the downtown it is something. There is a lot more needed but one can only do what they can. I wonder every day is there something I can do to repay my hometown for preparing me for the challenges of adulthood like I hope the university is doing with it’ students. Just remember that you don’t have to be scared or weary of everyone downtown. We are real people that you may find you have more in common with than different. I know it’s hard to see that looking at the façade of downtown but there is more to the people beside those old building. Hopefully you guys are member of some of the Steubenville groups and facebook where you can see discuss current and former residents. As long as you are trying to do something positive for the ville you are good folks in my book. Good luck and keep up the ideas you have the right idea.

    Lamar Whatley