Once again, Youngstown is in the national spotlight. And once again, the focus is on our warts. But at least now the subject of the news report isn’t some corrupt elected official. Rather, it’s about a “crime-fighting priest” — as described by CNN, the cable network — who’s mad at hell (this writer’s words) about the murders of two of his parishioners and won’t take it any more.
Father Greg Maturi of St. Dominic Church on Youngstown’s South Side (the eye of the crime storm) has literally taken to the mean streets to confront the problem. A relative newcomer to Youngstown — he previously lived in Washington, D.C., and New York City — Maturi was spurred into action after the murders 80-year-old Angeline Fimognari in the parking lot of St. Dominic, and 75-year-old parishioner Thomas J. Repchic, a short distance from the church.
The priest rallied members of his parish, people in the neighborhood, the ward councilwoman and community leaders in a grassroots campaign aimed at getting rid of the criminals.
Maturi’s bottom line: Whatever it is Youngstown has done in the past to fight crime has not worked.
One of the contributing factors to the lawlessness is the presence of vacant houses around the church. They have become havens for drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals. And, are hiding places for gangbangers.
The “crime-fighting priest” confronted city hall and demanded that 20 structures be torn down. There was a threat underlying the demand: If things don’t change quickly, St. Dominic will be forced to relocate to the suburbs since a large number of the parishioners live outside the city.
It’s not clear what role divine intervention played in Mayor Jay Williams’ decision to tear down the houses, but the vacant lots are a testament to government’s response.
Last week, CNN aired a story about Father Maturi’s effort to take back the streets, and while there were the usual scenes of an old industrial city with its decaying neighborhoods, there also were images of Maturi defiantly walking through the neighborhood — in his priestly garb.
It doesn’t hurt Youngstown’s reputation to have a man of the cloth fighting crime.