Spirit is alive at St. Meinrad
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMVicar Bill Farris and Provincial Minister Mark SoehnerJeff Scheeler says thanksCaoimhin Ó Laoide, OFME.J. Stein at St. MeinradMusicians Mark Gehret and Kenn Beetz in the chapelNew leadership team Vince Delorenzo, Page Polk, Mark Soehner, Bill Farris, Bob Bruno and John BarkerJuniper CrouchSaleem Amir relaxingPHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIVeteran Jamaica missionaries gather for a reunion photoFrank Jasper, OFMRobert Seay and David Moczulski on break from a meetingPHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMProvincial Ministers Fred Link, John Bok, Mark Soehner, Jeff Scheeler and Jeremy HarringtonABVM guests Andre Le May and Richard TulkoRichard Goodin and Colin King prepare for a video shoot with Jeff Harper.Sacred Heart’s Chuck Faso at the organGuest Jim McIntosh from Holy Name ProvinceMichael Radomski in prayer at the chapelJohn Boissy, Charlie Smiech and Mark Ligett take in some sun.Roger Lopez and Henry Beck get some exerciseAlex Kratz at MassTom RichstatterMurray Bodo, OFMRichard Goodin carries the cross.Vince Delorenzo with Jim Bok at St. Bede TheaterKevin Duckson arrives for Mass.Bob Bruno and Bonaventure Huber between meetingsThe indefatigable John Barker Jeremy Harrington with Caoimhin Ó LaoideMike Lenz is ready to travel4 - 29<>
Reports are read, elections are held and proposals are passed.
On paper, a Chapter sounds like a business meeting. But the real business of Chapter is the honest and open exchange that happens when friars are moved by the Spirit. It can be touching, insightful, and sometimes surprising.
The agenda for last week’s meeting at St. Meinrad Archabbey was ambitious, as outgoing Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler and General Visitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide shared visions of a future in which change will bring both challenge and opportunity.
“We don’t want to let go of the good things we have been doing,” Jeff stressed in his report, referring to U.S. restructuring and revitalization.
“What we can no longer do by ourselves, we do with others. We will have to be open to change. We will have to be willing to adapt…We are older. We are fewer. We are not dying.”
The Chapter opened Monday with the usual roll call and announcements. Executive Secretary John Barker, who seemed to be everywhere throughout the week, conducted the meeting with such alacrity and efficiency he was dubbed “indefatigable”. The moniker stuck.
When it was time to read the Rule of St. Francis, a video flickered to life. As senior friars who were unable to attend read various sections, the audience in the chapel was visibly moved.
That evening when Jeff spoke at St. Bede Theater, he was looking into the face of the future. For the first time, guest friars from five other U.S. provinces attended the Chapter of St. John the Baptist Province. At the end of the week, they seemed so at home it was hard to remember which ones were visiting. All of them expressed gratitude for the welcome they had received. Chuck Faso of Sacred Heart Province added to his thanks, “I’m so glad to be here.”
Tuesday, the day before elections, friars who received the most votes in straw ballots for Provincial Minister and Council were tasked with talking about themselves. “I have empathy for friars who find themselves in this position,” said Caoimhin. “There’s a certain vulnerability about being considered for a position, a sense of being ‘weighed up’.”
After all had spoken, Caoimhin told friars, when it comes to leadership, “You’re blessed to have a ‘bench’.”
In his own report reflecting his impressions and opinions, the General Visitor combined poetry and practicality.
“I’ve grown to love this province because of the people,” he said. “This province has wonderful gifts. I think I have a handle on who you are.” Throughout his travels, for example, “Friars have expressed their appreciation for their leadership.”
He used symbolism to describe what’s happening in SJB Province. “I see us as a tree going through seasonal changes. It doesn’t deny that things are changing, but it doesn’t say things are dead. We’re in winter now, especially in the Western world, but it’s spring and summer in other parts of the Order. Friars who joined in the last 20 years will know fall and winter” in their lives as Franciscans.
The reality is that “for every friar under 60, seven are over 60. A lot of the older guys are keeping the show on the road.” What will this mean? “You’ve had a huge impact,” he said. “You’re used to large-scale projects. Being content with being small scale probably is something you haven’t fully expected.”
In Jeff’s report, Caoimhin said, “He spoke of the possibility of living our calling in a vital, creative, enthusiastic and joyful way, and he mentioned various initiatives that arose out of that energy. …It is eight years since some of the friars walked through Virginia and I have heard about it frequently as a venture which was life-giving for so many people and friars. Why not continue to risk doing something along those lines?”
He challenged the province: “Let’s try to be courageous and creative and find means to break down established practices and prise one another out of the cocoons that our rooms have become….As I have said before, there is a huge task ahead. We are called to bring the Gospel to generations who in many cases have lost the vocabulary and the fundamental concepts of the Christian faith…” As Thomas Merton said, “Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be.”
As an Irishman, he said, “I cannot end without a reference to my own country’s literature.” The poem “Begin” by Brendan Kennelly echoes Francis’ final wish, and ends with: “Though we live in a world that dreams of ending that always seems about to give in, something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin.”
It was perfect.
Next on Tuesday’s agenda was, “Discussion of White Paper & Restructuring”, a chance to re-imagine Franciscan life and ministry. Small groups tackled each chapter of “Making Fraternity Our Mission: Revitalizing and Restructuring the Order of Friars Minor in the U.S.A.”, the document organized according to the eight core Franciscan criteria found in Ite, Nuntiate.
Each group later shared the substance of its huddle, offering suggestions and observations. For example, from Chapter 5, “Evangelizing Mission” – a topic so popular it was split into two groups – one of them asked, “Does our affluence prevent us from evangelizing?” The other Chapter 5 group offered ideas for outreach such as, “Riding the bus regularly” and “Learning another language.”
The most jam-packed day of Chapter, Tuesday ended with the Jubilee Mass and Dinner honoring 23 brothers for their 50 to 75 years as friars or priests. “Thank you for the witness and dedication of your lives all these years,” said homilist Jeremy Harrington. “I was struck by how many years were covered by our Jubilarians and all the changes in our world, our culture, the Church, the Order, the province.”
In the context of renewal in the Church, he cited the contributions of Jubilarians to the missions, the field of education, the life of prayer. “These are the people who helped change, renew and revitalize our province,” Jeremy said. “We look back with thanks and praise, but we also look forward…Thanks to all you Jubilarians and may God continue to bless you with his grace and his love.”
They were celebrated at dinner with video portraits assembled by Br. Chris Cahill and stories penned by Fr. Fred Link that were read by members of Council. The words describing the ministry of Fr. Warren Zeisler, 75 years a friar, were “stability” and “faithfulness”. Those same words apply to 22 others whose devotion and years of service are awe-inspiring.
Elections dominated Wednesday morning and afternoon, with Mark Soehner elected Provincial Minister and Bill Farris voted into the office of Vicar, both on the first ballot.
The new Provincial Council includes two first-timers – Bob Bruno and John Barker – as well as veterans Fr. Page Polk and Br. Vince Delorenzo.
Then it was time to consider proposals. Anyone who thinks these discussions are boring has never attended a session chaired by Fr. Tom Richstatter. After Wednesday night’s read-throughs, they got down to business the next morning. Tom explained, “The process will be guided by Robert’s Rules of Order – modified a whole lot. It seems to me this morning is to decide which proposals we want to decide upon. We are not writing a document to win the Pulitzer Prize. What we want to do this morning is to campaign for or against the issue.”
So they did. In general, friars followed Tom’s instructions, and most of the proposals drew positive responses. There was sentiment in support of Proposal 7, which requested a study that could lead to province-supported housing for refugees. The debate was lively and extended. Eventually, what started as a very specific idea from Br. Dominic Lococo was rewritten as:
“We members of the Province of St. John the Baptist affirm our concern for refugees coming to the United States. As a practical expression of that concern, we ask that the Provincial Council initiate a study of ways by which we can help provide housing and other needs to refugees and give practical witness to our solidarity with them.”
In its revised and broadened form, the proposal passed easily, as did the other six on the Chapter agenda.
In closing on Friday, Provincial Minister Mark thanked all who attended and praised “the indefatigable-ness of John Barker.” He recognized his predecessor, Jeff, for 21 years of service to the province as a Councilor, Vicar and Provincial Minister.
Chapter President Caoimhin sent friars forth. “This province has a tremendous past, but a great future,” he said. “There’s so much closeness to the Lord, a real desire to live Gospel values.” He told them, “You have elected an excellent team of leaders. They have the grace of leadership in this province. But the rest need to have the grace of membership and allow leaders to lead. It’s not that they’ll be leading top-down, but they may be leading from the front, leading you to places unfamiliar and stretch you in ways you’d prefer not to be led. Please pray for these men. Pray for yourselves, too, that you’ll have the confidence and trust to be people who can be led.”
Before declaring the Chapter closed he assured them, “The Spirit is alive and is present in this room.” No one could argue with that.
One or two provinces?“What we really want to know is, what do you think about this?,” Mark Soehner said Thursday, kicking off a discussion of restructuring and revitalization in advance of the meeting of Councils in August in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. “What would you like to see us come back with, one or two provinces?” Here’s how friars responded.Br. Tim Sucher: What I would like to see is one province. It’s tough enough and complicated enough [to go through this process] that once is enough.Bruce Hausfeld, OFMI have been blessed by living in two provinces. I’m happy to be able to know friars in both places.Fr. Frank Jasper: Whether we are one or two provinces it’s going to be gigantic geographically. Fraternity is always on a local level; our local community is always where we’re at. It’s the group we’re with no matter where we are.Fr. Jim Bok: It’s the young friars who are going to make this happen. They’re gonna be the boots on the ground.Fr. Robert Seay: I’m not for one province. Cultural differences are very important. If we say one province, whose culture are you going to follow?Fr. Don Miller: I think revitalization is going to come first. Otherwise we’ll just have a larger “us”. If we don’t renew within, we’re not gonna have anything to bring to the new entity except big numbers and the same structure.Fr. Bob Bruno [borrowing from the military’s “murder board” method of analysis]: What are the deficiencies of the one-province model? Let’s address this. Shoot it down, see what’s wrong with it before we go on.Clifford Hennings, OFMFr. Clifford Hennings:Where are we having postulancy, novitiate, post-novitiate? We still have nobody in the South. Would a whole portion of the United States be forgotten?Fr. Mike Chowning: I’m invested in this. I will die a friar, and it is the young people who have to live out the future and perhaps suffer from what we decide as a province. We [senior friars] should lead the way spiritually in terms of our willingness to be converted time and time again. Just because I’m shut in my room doesn’t mean I’m absolved from the process.Fr. Bob Weakley: Wherever we go, we’re friars.
PHOTO BY MICHELLE VIACAVARemember the Health Matters column about the benefits of Forest Bathing? Last week during a break at St. Meinrad, Province Nurse Michelle Viacava put it to the test. She and eight friars set out on a nature walk, starting on the path pictured that leads around the lake and into the forest. “Beautiful walk,” Michelle said later. For the group photo she wrote: “Here we are in the woods taking in nature through our senses like St. Francis once did. Forest Bathing is proven to decrease stress and blood pressure.” She took before and after readings for several friars, and “it was shown to have dropped their BP. It was fun, too!”
PHOTO BY TRISH LAMPEWednesday, co-workers and friar friends said thanks and goodbye to Patti Giesting, who retired after 30 years on the provincial staff in Cincinnati. She plans to spend more time with her family and possibly get some well-earned rest. On her last day, Patti (second from left) was treated to her favorite lunch at St. Francis Seraph Friary, chili, and posed for pictures with fellow Friar Works staffers Marilyn Wilson, Jim Lewis, Colleen Cushard and Shirley Daugherty.
Dominic Lococo congratulates Mark.What a rollercoaster of a week! Last week I experienced the election, after wondering what my fate would be. Earlier that Monday, I felt a visible relaxing of my diaphragm as I turned over my fears and anxiety. I was very encouraged by your coming forward, placing your hands into mine and pledging your obedience and support. This simple ceremony moved me to tears. I soon discovered that I and the Province could count on your obedience and support as the Congressus meeting concluded. Many friars were asked to take on difficult assignments and (eventually) responded with their assent. Thank you for your generous giving of your lives again as you did on your day of profession. I am proud to be your minister and servant.At a recent wedding of one of our dear former friars, Fr. Roger Lopez encouraged us to let go of the bar in the rollercoaster of our lives. On any rollercoaster, we almost faint at the height of what we are seeing before we fall into a dip and our stomach hits our chest. There are peaks and valleys, but what a great adventure. As we move toward Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to let go of the bar to which we are clinging, and hold our hands up in the air. Christ Himself tells us that he will hold onto us in our daring attempts to care for those who are on the fringes of life. This might be the week to ask for the Spirit’s daring and risk: Let go of the bar, let God take control, and enjoy this ride. Happy Pentecost! — Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
June 2 2017
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