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March 2005

Amy Betros & Norm Paolini
Their Most Important Product is Love

by Joseph H. RADDER

hey provide warm, safe shelter for over 100 homeless people, they feed 300 needy folks every day, they take young boys off the street and give them a wholesome place to live. They put on holiday dinners for over 2,000 families every Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to dinner, each family gets four bags of food to take home. They give toys to over 700 families every Christmas. They provide clothing and "everything from Ritz crackers to Teddy Bears" for the people who can't buy them for themselves. They help people get on Medicaid and welfare who don't know how to do it alone. They make their strong Catholic faith available to all. But above all they give these people LOVE.

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Amy and her Dad, Peter Betros. Norm and his grandfather,
Salvatore Vastola.
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Amy, age 2. Norm, age 6.

Who are they? They are the selfless, giving, loving people of St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. Called "The Miracle on Sycamore Street" by the Buffalo News, St. Luke's Mission of Mercy is led by co-founders Amy Betros and Norm Paolini. Under their leadership, St. Luke's Mission of Mercy has been doing its work quietly since 1994.

"God guided us from the beginning," Norm and Amy say, almost in unison. They met on a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared in 1917. They hadn't conversed very long before it became clear that both Amy and Norm had a common goal…a burning desire to help the poor.

Norm had been a researcher at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Amy was running a restaurant on Main Street called Amy's Place. And when they returned to Buffalo, they decided they must devote their lives to helping those in need. After Norm talked it over with his wife, who was most supportive, and after Amy sold her restaurant, they set about founding St. Luke's Mission of Mercy.

They found the ideal place for it…a vacant complex consisting of a church, a rectory, a school, and a convent occupying a whole city block between Sycamore Street and Walden Avenue. The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo didn't really want to sell the property to them, but after meeting with Bishop Edward Head, Amy and Norm persuaded him that St. Luke's would be an ideal place for the independent help center they wanted to establish. Eileen Nanula, Senator Anthony Nanula's mother, offered them $220,000, enough to buy the buildings from the Diocese and have a small amount of seed money left over.

And so St. Luke's Mission of Mercy was born. It wasn't long before St. Luke's attracted a number of like-minded volunteers to help run the Mission's various programs. And funding trickled in like manna from heaven. Today, thousands of small donations, and a number of large ones from big donors like Scott Bieler of the West-Herr Automotive Group, contractor James Yovienne, Rich Products, and General Mills, keep on providing for the needs of "society's forgotten souls", needs that keep on growing.        
St. Luke's mission is to bring hope and self respect to humanity's discards, to open their arms to the mentally unbalanced and addicted, to give love to the desperately lonely. No one is turned away. Some live at St. Luke's until they heal. Others are there for just a night or two.

"That's what Jesus did," Norm Paolini said. "He went out among the hopeless cases. When you do that you find out they're not hopeless."

All of St. Luke's work is not done in the inner city. They also have a worship team called "The Voices of Mercy", nine singers and four instrumentalists, who provide music regularly at St. Luke's Church, the Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, and numerous other venues..

Since 1999, masses have been celebrated at 2 p.m. every Sunday afternoon in the beautiful old St. Luke's church on Sycamore Street. "This is one of our means of evangelization," Norm said, "inviting the neighborhood people to come in, just as they are, to experience the holy eucharist."

"We have many baptisms here too," Amy adds. Baptismal services are held on the Easter vigil, the traditional time of the church for inviting people to baptism. Masses are usually celebrated by Father Jack Mattimore, the Mission's chaplain. Several associate priests also serve the Mission.

"Right now we have 15 missionaries working here," Amy said.

Norm added "These are people who have committed their lives as volunteers to serve the poor 24/7. No one is paid here."

"The biggest thing God has given us," Amy said, "is he has taught us how to love. Most of the people God sends us feel so unloved that even though we love imperfectly, our love is so much more than they have known that they think it's perfect."

Norm and Amy have visited over 200 Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Buffalo. The gifts from the people of these parishes provide a very important part of the Mission's funding. "We accept no government money," Norm said.

Another St. Luke's program is called "family to family" whereby a family that enjoys a comfortable living gives regularly to a family that does not. St. Luke's Mission of Mercy provides the information on the needy family, numbers of people, clothing sizes etc. to the donor family. "Then they go out and shop for their 'adopted' family and we give it to them," Amy explained.

"We're just the mediators," Norm said by way of clarification.

St. Luke's has two vans which they use to transport people. "Every Sunday we pick up dozens of people for church," Amy said.

Summing up, the upper floor of the old convent is used for lodging for men off the street. Missionary Eddie Simon helps these men with things like getting on Medicaid etc. Downstairs, Amy and two other missionary women, Jeanne and Teresa, do likewise for women who come in off the street. The old rectory is called the Good Shepherd Residence, where a structured home is provided for rehabilitation of men who are in recovery from alcohol or other addictions. The St. John Bosco House is for boys 14 to 19,who can no longer live at home. This facility is run by missionaries Brother Tom Eades and Tony Mancuso, who provide guidance as well as discipline and help the residents become responsible, productive young men who know what God expects from them..

In addition, there are the aforementioned 15 other homes that house single parents and children..

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Amy with her sister Rosemary and parents
Peter and Nagibe.
Sadie Betros, Amy and Sarah Betros.
Amy and her aunts on Amy’s confirmastion day.
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Peter, Nagibe, Rosemary and Amy at Rosemary’s wedding. Nagibe, Amy, brother-in-law Bobby, sister Rosemary and nephew Peter at Amy’s 50th birthday party.
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Amy speaking.

Amy Betros was born in Buffalo on April 11, 1954. "My Mom is an immigrant from Lebanon, and my late Dad was a first generation Lebanese. My greatest memory is that people who came from Lebanon would come and live with us and my mother and father would help them." This reveals where Amy got her strong sense of giving to others. Amy's Dad was a carpet installer and then a baker. His Pete's Bakery still exists on Elmwood Avenue in Kenmore. Her mother is Nagibe Germany Betros. Amy is single, but says "I'm married to the Lord. I'm mother to a million people. I'd never go back. It'd be torture. There's a lot of freedom in being able to trust in God."

Amy worked at her father's bakery beginning when she was eight years old. While taking college courses at Rosary Hill and Canisius, she worked at Liberty National Bank. Later she opened Amy's Place Restaurant and continued there until her calling to join Norm Paolini in founding St. Luke's Mission of Mercy.

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Norman, Sr., Norman, Jr. and Violet Paolini at
Norm’s graduation from Canisius College.
Norm with his parents and siblings.
Back row: Nelson, Norm, Alan, Paul, Rick, Christopher and Bobby.
Front row: Vera, Annette (deceased), Violet, Norm, Sr. and Maryann.
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Wife Linda and Norm at daughter Jennifer’s wedding. Norm and his children Jennifer, Stephanie, Matthew, Teresa and wife Linda.
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Norm at World Youth Day, Toronto.

Norm Paolini was born in Buffalo on April 19, 1947. As a child he lived just up the street from St. Luke's at 644 Walden Avenue. He went to his grandfather's grocery store on nearby Brinkman Streetr when he was seven or eight years old as the oldest of ten brothers who all eventually worked there. His father, Norman Paolini Sr. was a butcher. His mother, Violet Vastola Paolini, Norm remembers, "was a selfless person. She took care of her children first and yet never was found wanting for anything herself." Clearly his father was a generous and good provider. In Norm's case too, the example of selflessness, paved the way for the work he and Amy do at St. Luke's today. He attended Canisius High School, Canisius College, and earned a Master's degree in cancer research at the University of Buffalo. Norm served as an Army medic during Viet Nam.

Norm and Linda Decot were married in 1969. They have four children and five grandchildren.

The future? Norm says "The works of mercy really don't change. I see ourselves doing this work as long as we're able There will always be needy and there will always be people who are moved by God to help them."

Actually, Amy and Norm have a very bright vision for the future. Amy held up a diagram of the area showing a much enlarged St. Luke's Mission of Mercy campus with a new building called St. Joseph's Room at the Inn with 50 beds for men and 20 beds for women. "It will be like a bed and breakfast with a little twist" Amy beams. "They can come in, do their wash, take a shower, get a hot meal, and stay overnight. In the morning after breakfast, advocates will determine what their needs are and try to fill them. Also, we'd like to build a new St. John Bosco house for young men. Then down the street from that will be the St. Joseph Benedict Labre House for the mentally challenged and disabled. In addition, we hope to have the Our Lady of Good Remedy outreach and free clinic. We'll also teach nutrition, and parenting, and have an area set up as a little mall to teach people the simple basics of how to shop for food and clothing. The biggest project of all in St. Luke's vision will be GOSPA Houses, small homes, each housing two to four women and children who will live with missionaries to teach them parenting, cleaning, cooking etc."

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Voices of mercy. Amy and Norm ministering in a nursing home.
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Norm and Amy renewing their promises -
Divine Mercy Sunday 2004.
Food giveaway for Thanksgiving.
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St. Luke’s kids.

An ambitious plan? Yes, but knowing what God has done already for St. Luke's Mission of Mercy, it's a pretty safe bet that, in time, all of this will indeed happen.

Buffalo is blessed to have people like Amy Betros, Norm Paolini, and all of their volunteer associates. As Donn Esmonde said in his Buffalo News article, "Amy and Norm found the key to happiness. It was right here, hiding in the hearts of the hopeless".

Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of the book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit

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