The Franciscan Center was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York. In the early 1920s, the Sisters established health care facilities in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Florida. Two of their hospitals were St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
The Franciscan Center story begins in 1965. Joseph Miyares, a Tampa attorney of deep faith, became good friends with the Sisters at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was so impressed with their mission and hospitality he donated his 8-acre Riverside Heights property to the Sisters. His only stipulation was that it be used for spiritual, education, and health purposes.
At that time, the local Provincial, Sister Lucien Walsh, OSF, recognized the property’s great natural beauty along the Hillsborough River and recommended building a retreat house. Sister Lucien initiated the renovations to the Miyares house, cleared and developed the land, and built a sea wall.. The present Center, built in 1970, is the result of her vision for a retreat center. The Franciscan Center opened in October of that year as an oasis for private reflection, retreats, spiritual direction, and hospitality, welcoming people of all faiths.
Also on the property is The Sisters’ House, a place for women to enhance their spiritual lives through relaxation, mentoring, programs and classes, spiritual guidance, and connection with other women; St. Elizabeth Convent, a retirement community for the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany; and Sabbath House, a small building which provides an intimate setting for small groups or individuals.
The Sabbath House has an interesting history of its own. Mr. Miyares had a boat pavilion on the river. He invited students from Hillsborough and Plant high schools and the neighborhood families for dances in the pavilion. During the development of the property, the boat pavilion was brought onto the property and fixed up which is now this lovely setting. The flooring is the original dance floor. The Sabbath House remains as an original structure, and the other structures on the property were built between 1979-1992.
Since 1970, the Center has welcomed thousands of people and improved its facility and grounds with the goal of making it as comfortable as possible. Over the past 5 years, we have welcomed an estimated 3-4,000 guests to the Center.
In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, we continue to welcome everyone who seeks spiritual growth through a deeper relationship with God in a place of peace, community, healing, and joy.