New homeless shelter is philanthropist's latest mission

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JOHNSTON — John Primeau’s office complex on Hartford Avenue is adorned with religious artifacts, including crosses and crucifixes, statues and candlesticks shaped like angels, framed photos of the Blessed Mother and Jesus, and more.

A quick tour of the building shows his appreciation for the Catholic faith. Yet, his dedication to God is much deeper, as the philanthropist’s efforts have made — and continue to make — a positive impact on people across the globe, including Rhode Islanders.

Father Edward Cardente, pastor of North Providence’s St. Anthony Church, as well as The Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with St. Edward Church in Providence, said Primeau’s contributions have enabled him to assist many people.

Not only have Primeau’s funds recently been used to establish a farm in North Scituate that feeds the needy via various food ministries, his donations are helping to finance the Holy Family Home for Women and Children, a homeless shelter that will soon open in Providence.

“He’s very supportive of many efforts to help us reach out to the poor,” Father Cardente said of Primeau, the founder and president of the North American Catholic Education Programming Foundation (NACEPF), an independent entity that produces Catholic radio and television programs. “He’s been very kind to us over the years, and we appreciate him very much.”

Father Cardente went on to say that the shelter is a “three-parish effort,” as parishioners from the trinity of churches he serves are volunteering.

“I was made aware of the need of a shelter for families, and we felt that the Lord was calling us to do this,” said Father Cardente, adding that they obtained approval from the City of Providence for a zoning variance in September. “We are inspired by John Primeau’s commitment to help the poor. He’s made it possible for us to do our work.”

Ernie Spaziano, who was recently appointed as the director of the shelter, said the objective is to give struggling women and children a safe, caring, and nurturing environment. Not only do they seek to offer housing during an economic crisis, but also give habitants a chance to flourish and find permanent solutions.

“We will help in providing the necessary amenities so that women and children will be able to start anew and begin to build a better life,” said Spaziano, noting that he hopes to make accommodations for three to five families before Thanksgiving. “As time goes on and we review the various needs that will inevitably arise, we will be able to add additional families. At maximum capacity, we will be able to provide for up to 12 women and 24 children.”

The shelter is housed next to St. Edward’s Church on Branch Avenue in the former Sophia Academy, which was relocated in February. It is almost 14,000 square feet in size and three-stories high.

Through the years, said Spaziano, the building has received numerous updates and improvements. But there is still work to be done.

“In addition to the various structural modifications that will be necessary to make this building inhabitable, I will also be actively seeking grants as well as formulating the policies and procedures that will be necessary to properly operate the shelter, employing best standardized practices,” Spaziano said. “Our goal in this area is to eventually seek national accreditation and be a model for other churches and organizations to follow.”

Aside from helping the shelter, as well as the farm, Primeau is dedicated to St. Patrick Academy in Providence. Diane Holden, the school’s development director, noted that Primeau has donated a substantial amount of funds to the school through the years.

“He keeps this school open,” said Holden.

Due to his generosity, she said, students are entitled a Catholic education. She’s confident that the Holy Spirt motivates him, and described him as a “very faithful” man, who is “dynamic in forward thinking.”

“We are so blessed to have him as a contributor, donor, and friend,” she said. “Our children are thriving and their faith is growing.”

Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, agrees. He explained that Primeau has made several donations to the school, which other donors and benefactors have matched during the last few years.

But, said Father Ruggieri, his help goes beyond financial assistance.

“His support and trust in what we do has given me a motivation to continue our pursuit of excellence here at St. Patrick Academy,” he said. “I know I have such a great ally in this cause of Catholic education and Catholicity. He has a real love for St. Patrick’s, but the extent of his work is international. It’s incredible.”

Primeau, a parishioner at St. Augustine Church in Providence, aids people throughout the globe. He established several churches around the world, including locations such as Haiti, Columbia, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria, and also created Mobile Beacon, a non-profit organization that offers 4G mobile broadband services exclusively to education and non-profit organizations across the United States.

Raised Catholic, Primeau helped form the first charismatic group in Rhode Island that operated out of Holy Ghost Church in the 1970s. It was led by Father John Randall and Sister Fran Conway, a Mercy Sister.

He established NACEPF in 1989, with September 29 marking its 25th anniversary. Primeau said he was pleased to celebrate with many priests he admires, including Father Ruggieri and Father Cardente.

While the two priests praise him for his “discipleship,” Primeau says he is inspired by their ministries of service. He feels his efforts pale in comparison to the good work they do, and views them as “remarkable” men who have “unique” visions.

“The hardest thing to do is to find people who can take $100,000 and make it $200,000, and that’s what they are doing,” Primeau said. “They are resourceful [and] everything [they] do flourishes. My success transcends telecommunications, and makes possible the works that God had waiting for us to do before we were born.”

Paraphrasing scripture, Primeau sums up not only their labors, but the intentions of the Lord. For him, they are merely fulfilling their destinies.

“Paul says, ‘we are here to do the good works that God has ordained for us,’” said Primeau.

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