After eight years of working to keep area youth off corner’s within the Austin community, Father Maurizio Binaghi has decided to leave the corner himself.

Father Maurizio, who was an omnipresent fixture on the West Side as manager of the Peace Corner, departed from the youth outreach organization in early March to work as a missionary in Uganda, East Africa.

The Peace Corner, located on 5014 W. Madison, is a religious-based after school youth drop-in center.

While Father Maurizio was unavailable to comment for this story, he did prepare a statement about his time mentoring youths at the Peace Corner and called his departure “bittersweet” adding that he leaves with a “mix of joy and sadness.”

“Thanks to you and to all youth that have come through the Peace Corner in the past eight years. I am a better person, a better missionary and a better priest,” said Binaghi. “Thanks for who you are and what you have taught me!”

Father Maurizio also had kind words for his successor Father Mario Malacrida, whom he says “has accepted the responsibility of the center” and says that he is confident will “take the center to that next level.”

“Father Maurizio approached me about his decision to go to Africa about a year ago,” said Malacrida.

“I was not the first person he approached to take his place, but he eventually felt that I would be the ideal person to run the center upon his exit since I had been visiting him at the center for six years and the kids were familiar with me.”

Malacrida adds that Father Maurizio knew when he first opened the Peace Corner in 2001 that it would not be his final outreach mission.

“He joked to me once about wanting to go to Africa before he was too old,” Malacrida said of his 47-year-old predecessor. “He wanted to have an opportunity to do missionary work and learn the language. Before he left, he said it was where God wanted him to be at this time.”

Currently, Father Mario balances his time at Peace Corner with his work overseeing the Comboni Missionaries in Hyde Park on Chicago’s South Side.

“I was a bit concerned at first about taking Maurizio’s place initially, because I knew that he had a special relationship with all of the youths that he mentored at the center, but so far, the transition has gone smoothly.”

One of the interesting aspects of Father Maurizio’s farewell statement was his mention of “taking the center to the next level.”

This could be a reference to his intention, prior to his exit, to expand the corner to offer more educational programs, including GED classes. This was a vision that Father Maurizio had for the Peace Corner, but it never quite came to fruition during his tenure.

However, according to Malacrida, the dream is one step closer from becoming a reality as he expects to receive clearance from the city by June to begin construction of a new, larger facility in the lot next door the current one.

Nevertheless, the transition has been difficult for some of the Peace Corner students, including Keith Brice. The 16-year-old sophomore at Manly High School has been a regular visitor of the center for six years.

“I was sad when he made his announcement to leave [in January],” he said of Father Maurizio. “I really didn’t want him to leave.”

Brice, who along with Corner staff member Deandre Manuel, planned a “going away” sojourn for Father Maurizio in St. Louis, Mo. in early March.

“It was nice, we went down there for two days,” said Brice. “We went out to eat and to the Game Room. It gave us the opportunity to show him how much he meant to us before he left. He really seemed to enjoy himself.”