FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

August 10, 2017

Defending families

Friar student is getting  grounded in real-life law


PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIMichael Charron and Judge Amy Searcy in her chambers: It’s been a learning experience for both.In the real world of lawyering, you put on a suit, go to court and try to resolve conflicts. That’s exactly what Br. Michael Charron is doing this summer.

For Michael, a student at Appalachian School of Law, interning with Judge Amy Searcy has been a revelation. Since May he has assisted with cases at the Hamilton County Court of Domestic Relations in downtown Cincinnati. After one year of school Michael is immersed in the deep end of an emotional pool of litigation known as family law. The atmosphere in child custody hearings, divorce proceedings and domestic abuse cases is so intense that boxes of tissues are standard issue at tables for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Fortunately, “I’m pretty good at containing my emotions,” says Michael. After a rough day he goes home to the community at St. Clement. “If friars ask me, ‘What did you do today?’, I’ll say, ‘We had a hard case.’”

It’s a learning experience for both the friar and his boss. This is Michael’s first internship, and “I’ve never as a judge had an intern before,” says Amy, appointed to her post by Gov. John Kasich in May 2014 and elected to a full term that November.

But they have a lot in common: Both of them are grounded in prayer.

Asking for help

For the past two years Amy has worshiped with friars and the community at St. Anthony Shrine in Mt. Airy. Most weekdays she’s there before work for the 7:30 Mass. “It starts my day when I’m focused on asking God to help me take care of folks,” she says. “As I enter this courtroom, with its sadness and upheaval, if I come in centered and grounded, I’m reminded I’m not here alone.”

One day in the Shrine parking lot, Fr. Frank Jasper asked if she would consider taking Michael on as an intern. She answered, “Absolutely”, and later admitted that part of her motive was selfish. The Judge is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and thought, “Michael can help me with this.”

But first he had to look like a lawyer. “Not my favorite part of the job,” he confesses, walking through the gold-plated doors of the Art Deco courthouse – it’s the old Times-Star building – and flapping the lapels of the dapper gray suit he’s wearing on this sweltering summer day. Before he arrived, “I kind of expected a more formal atmosphere,” having spent his first year in law school dealing with Contracts, Property, Civil Procedure, Torts and the like. But in Domestic Relations Court, “You’re not dealing with a contractor who didn’t fix a roof right,” Michael says. “You’re dealing with people.”

The typical intern is a writer, researcher and observer. “I started out watching everything going on and learning the different departments,” he says. Adds Amy, “It’s not just to help me. Seeing how a judge makes decisions should make him a better lawyer.”

Children first

After three months at the courthouse, “I see that family law and ministry kind of go together,” Michael says. “I’m really impressed with Judge Searcy’s understanding that people are people; they’re not used to being in a courtroom. I feel like she’s a really good servant. She kind of puts herself in their shoes.”

Those shoes belong to people of all cultures, faiths and economic backgrounds. Whatever the issue, “Nobody in the court system is happy to be here,” says Amy. “I call the courthouse ‘The House of Pain’.” Many cases revolve around kids, and “I’m required to make all decisions in the best interests of children.” Whenever possible, “That means letting people come to their own conclusions.” To make that happen, “You have to take a step of faith toward each other.”

There is no typical day in court. “We try to have hearings Monday and Tuesday morning,” she says. “Tuesday at 1:30 I do sentencing. I might send someone to jail” for non-payment of child support. “Wednesday and Thursday are custody trials. Friday we do overflow or write decisions. I take a lot home.”

Summers are always busy. “There are kids visiting one parent who don’t want to go home. And lots of people move in the summer when one parent gets a job offer out of town.” Hard to believe, but “I’ve had people fighting over payment for dental work or whether a kid can go to camp.” She has heard her share of shouting. Recently after letting a couple vent, her response was, “Do you hear what you just said?” On days of high drama, “I compartmentalize. I’ll take all the sadness and pain and hurt and put it in a box – then make a decision. Personally, I have to increase my time in prayer at home.”

Defusing disputes

A trial is the last resort once you’ve exhausted every other option, she says. That’s why the Dispute Resolution Department was created – to give folks room for discourse in a neutral atmosphere before a third party. “The mediator has to say, ‘What you’re saying is valid; now listen to what he’s saying.” After sending Michael to several of those sessions Judge Amy discovered, “He has a skill set that lends itself to mediation and helps people resolve problems.” In ministry as a friar, “That’s something he could offer a parish.”

Michael finds it fascinating. “In mediation you have these couples who don’t like each other. It’s interesting to hear both sides of the story. When children come in, it’s interesting to see their demeanor change.”

Sitting at trials, he has seen the best and worst in people. Some lawyers are less than scrupulous. And some parents choose winning at any cost – hiring a lawyer, going to court, spending a fortune – over the needs of their children. “Most people get married and have decent marriages,” Michael says. “Some get divorces and do that amicably. There are people who end up here. I tell myself these are the exceptions rather than the rule.”

Does being a friar make him a better intern?  Humility helps, he says. “I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. No matter how small a job is, they’re all significant. I wouldn’t think I was better than anything the Judge has asked me to do.”

Lessons learned

This is Michael’s last week at work; Monday he starts his second year of law school in Grundy, Va. Judge Amy hates to see him go. “I will miss him dearly: his calmness; his openness; his steadiness. I trust him to give his unbiased views. I could rely on him and know his reaction will not be judgmental or tainted with emotion.”

After this summer “I think I’d be more confident in a courtroom,” Michael says. “Every time I see lawyers arguing, I kind of think to myself, I don’t know everything they’re doing. But I think I’m capable of that.”

This fall he hopes to take a workshop certified by the Ohio Supreme Court and become a professional mediator. “I could start mediating disputes right away,” while he’s still in school. In the future he intends to help marginalized people, whether that involves immigration, criminal defense or family law.

“I’ll keep thinking and praying,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll land in a good spot.” Part of being a Franciscan is “trying to make peace. Even though it’s kind of forced in the courtroom, this is a place where peace is made. I think this is a good place for friars to be.”

He never met a stranger


Paul Desch, OFMA comment from Fr. Hilarion Kistner captured the essence of Fr. Paul Desch.

When he and  Paul were in Europe in the 1950s, “Wherever we went, he seemed to be able to speak their language.”

This was Paul’s gift, the ability to connect with people from every walk of life, at every stage of life.

No wonder the church was packed for his funeral on July 25 at St. Clement. “This is the biggest turnout I’ve seen in a long time,” the funeral director confided. Those who came, many from afar, knew Paul as family, teacher, chaplain, pastor, friend – and a friar who sang Ol’ Man River at the drop of a hat.

“He had the most beautiful voice,” said a parishioner from Holy Name Church in Cincinnati, where Paul served until failing health forced his retirement. “In the middle of a homily, he’d break into song. It was so joyful.”

Several dozen people had something to say during the Reception of the Body. More would have spoken – at least 150 mourners crowded the vestibule – if presider Fr. John Bok had not held the sharing to a half-hour.

‘We are all blessed’

“I knew him from the Newman Center,” said one woman, representing many couples. “He married us 30 years ago.”

Another whose union was celebrated by Paul said, “I loved his exuberance.” When they talked, “You always walked away feeling good.”

“He helped us laugh,” said a woman whose dying husband received daily phone calls from Paul for two years.

And from others: “He had a special love for the poor”; “He was always whistling”; “He had extraordinary passion”; “We are all blessed to have known him.”

“You all have to know how much you meant to him,” said Paul’s sister, Mary Sowar of Coldwater, Ohio. “You all did so much for him.”

“What a great man. What a life well lived. We will miss him greatly,” said fellow friar Tim Sucher.

“I’m delighted to be here, but sad,” said Provincial Minister Mark Soehner in his opening remarks for the funeral. “We’ve lost a big person in our lives as a Franciscan community.”

Celebrating life

Befitting Paul, the upbeat opening hymn – Sing a New Song – set the tone for the liturgy. His family turned out in force, five pews strong, to deliver the readings and present the gifts.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” homilist Fr. Paul Walsman read from John 14, then eulogized his friend in a personal and powerful way.

“Obituaries have next to nothing to do with death, and everything to do with life,” he quoted, walking away from the pulpit. “Wow. Isn’t that the truth.”

He made a request. “This is what I’m gonna ask you to do. I know each one of us has cherished Paul’s life, has a reason to be here.” Speaking for one group he said, “We are a loving family who grew up with him in Coldwater, Ohio. We knew him when he was coming into his voice. Did he sing Ol’ Man River when he was 10? I know he sang it when he was 20 because I was listening.

“I had the good fortune of being two years behind Paul in formation. At Duns Scotus College he was young, handsome, an athlete. He could do anything. That’s when Paul first came into my awareness. I said, ‘Maybe in two years I’ll be like that, too.’ I never was!”

“At Oldenburg [Ind.] he was a hiker. No hike was too long for this man. Paul and I made a three-dimensional hiking map of the area around Oldenburg with creeks and forests; it was really neat. We sang Ol’ Man River and The Happy Wanderer. This was the Paul I grew fond of and didn’t have a lot in common with. I saw him ordained a deacon, a priest, then he was gone from my life for 60 years” until they reunited at a friary in Cincinnati.

“I would like for us to review that 60 years. We’ll start with family: sisters; brothers; nieces. I’m gonna say ‘family’ and pause, and you’re all gonna say, ‘Thanks, Fr. Paul.’” So prompted, the relatives responded with gusto.

Always inquisitive

Rallying one group after another, Paul made everyone in the audience a part of the homily. He called on Paul’s students at the minor seminary and Duns Scotus, Paul’s parishioners at Corpus Christi Parish, novices he directed, friends from Holy Name Parish, and communities of sisters for whom he offered Mass.

All were invited to thank Paul verbally, and they did. The final thank-you was reserved for “any friar who knew him.”

As for the homilist himself, “I had the good fortune under holy obedience of living with him at St. John the Baptist Friary.” Paul Desch was eternally inquisitive, posing questions to his brothers like, “Who are you now that you’re old?” and, “What has life done for you spiritually?”

As his health failed, “He had to give up his car, turn over the keys,” said homilist Paul. “That is a heart-ripper when independence is taken from you.” Once a week the two Pauls had lunch at Bob Evans, sharing philosophy over toasted cheese sandwiches and chicken soup. “His big question was, ‘What are you reading now?’ We’d get into some good stuff.”

Hearing music

Just days before, “I took Paul to the hospital for a procedure for which they found a huge tumor.” After surgery, “He was sitting up in bed. We just talked” about their fondness for radio’s Garrison Keillor, the nature of God and being human. “We decided that ‘God’ is a verb, not a noun.’” That night in the hospital, Paul slipped quietly away.

“Are you hearing music?” the homilist asked the congregation. “I think Paul wants us to sing. OK, everybody, we’re gonna do it.” He prompted them through several lines from the upcoming Preparation Song, How Can I Keep from Singing?

“Thank you so much,” he said in closing. “My sincere sympathy to all of us. Each of us have something in our hearts” as a legacy from Paul.

Like Ol’ Man River, his oversized spirit just keeps rollin’ along.

Nine brothers profess first vows

Nine novices have something to celebrate.Aug. 2, nine men from five provinces from around the world professed first vows in the novitiate chapel at St. Francis Friary in Burlington, Wis.  Five provincial ministers received vows from Brothers Thomas Marchetti (ABVM), James Bernard (Holy Name), Nicholas Carbuto (Holy Name), Bradley Tuel (St. Barbara), Adolfo Navarro Blanco (Holy Name), Stephen Kuehn (Holy Name), Kestas Watson (Immaculate Conception of Great Britain), John Paul Carroll (Ireland) and Mathieu Gabriel Lacerte (St. Joseph, Quebec).

The nine novices will now enjoy a short vacation before continuing work in their next provincial assignments.  The 2017-2018 novices will be received at the new novitiate in Old Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Aug. 21.  The move will allow for greater collaboration with the novitiates of the Capuchin and Conventual friars who already have novitiates nearby.

(Thanks to Andrew Tretow, AVBM Communications Director, for his reporting, and Br. Jim McIntosh, National Social Media Director, for the photo.)

Don’t mess with heat stress

PHOTO BY iStockPhoto.comHeat stress either from exertion or hot environments places us at risk for illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps.

HEAT STROKE occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature; it can cause death or permanent disability.  Symptoms include:

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Seizures, coma

If this should happen, then request immediate medical assistance, move the person to a cool, shaded area, remove excess clothing and apply cool water to their body.

HEAT EXHAUSTION is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through sweating.  Symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irritability
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Slightly elevated body temperature

For heat exhaustion, rest in a cool area, drink plenty of water or other cool beverage, and take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

HEAT CRAMPS can happen when you sweat a lot during strenuous activity.  Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels.  Symptoms include:

Muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs

Stop all activity and sit in a cool place, drink clear juice or a sports beverage, avoid salt tablets, and do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside.

Protect yourself from heavy exertion, extreme heat, sun exposure, and high humidity whenever possible.  Drink water frequently – enough so that you never become thirsty. Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Stay heat safe!

– Michelle Viacava, RN
Province Nurse

  • Aug. 1, Andre McGrath (front) joined the community in New Orleans.A photo taken Aug. 1 commemorated the arrival of Fr. Andre McGrath at his new home, St. Mary of the Angels Friary in New Orleans. Andre joins Br. David Crank, Br. Andrew Stettler, Fr. Joe Hund, and Fr. John Stein, who is making SMA his home base during his sabbatical.
  • Fr.  Jim Bok was pleased to get good news from his doctor about his recovery from a broken leg, and even more excited to be told, “I don’t look like I’m 70!” Writing from Jamaica, Jim said he’s getting back into ministry, “preaching at daily Masses this week. Presided and preached at a funeral this past Saturday. Will preach at Mass Sunday coming. Little by little! Fr. James and Fr. Colin are taking good care of me. And I am getting plenty of sympathy.”
  • “It’s free. You can’t get it on the newsstands. There will never be ads. This is a unique way to immerse yourself in the spirit of St. Francis,” according to Franciscan Media, Franciscan Spirit will debut this fall.which this fall will introduce Franciscan Spirit, described as “a new journal of inspiration in the spirt of St. Francis of Assisi.” The first issue features an interview with Fr. Richard Rohr, an excerpt from Robert Ellsberg’s The Franciscan Saints, and an essay from Brian Doyle’s Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace. Franciscan Spirit is available in both print and digital formats. Reserve a copy of the first issue at Franciscan-spirit
  • Starting fresh, the new Vocation team has renamed its social media accounts. Facebook is:; Twitter is: The link to the Vocation page of the province website is: Photos and videos are on Instagram at:
  • The Monastery Garden Guild looks after its neighbors in need.Feeding the hungry: In July, volunteers from the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild in Washington, D.C., harvested 1,115 pounds of monastery-grown food for neighbors in need. The Guild thanked its volunteers on Facebook, saying, “With your help, 31 types of veggies, fruits and herbs were donated to St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church, St. Luke Catholic Church, and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church food pantries, Capital Area Food Bank, D.C. Central Kitchen, Martha’s Table, Little Sisters of the Poor, Joseph’s House, SOME (So Others Might Eat), Fields 4 Valor Farms, Daughters of Charity, Franciscan Monastery friars and the Community of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
  • Aug. 1, Glenmary’s Fr. John S. Rausch appeared on Anderson Cooper’s CNN program as part of a climate change town hall event with former Vice President Al Gore. The priest asked, “Mr. Vice President, how can we influence people to see a spiritual connection in their consumer habits (so) that they can see the consequences of their buying, the consequences (they) have on people in Appalachia and also in other parts of God’s kingdom?” In responding, Gore praised Pope Francis and suggested that people of all faiths should read the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si. More at:
  • You can download the August-September issue of Fraternitas at:
  • Minister General Michael Perry’s letter for the Feast of St. Clare is posted on the Order’s website at:

John Mark Falkenhain, OSBLast week I went to Scottsdale, Ariz., to represent us at the 2017 Assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM).  This overall group works with the Vatican in order to offer practical helps to Religious Men in the United States.  For example, our current rules for Protection of Children were developed with CMSM.  This year’s focus topic was “All Brothers:  Mediators of God’s Love”.  All religious men have this as our basic relationship:  We are Brothers.

Br. John Mark Falkenhain, OSB, spoke to my heart about the necessity of a holy zeal in our lives for the gift, the privilege, of religious life.  In my experience, it’s easy to forget.  He began his talk by taking an awkward, seemingly insulting comment people often have for the non-ordained friar – “Oh, you’re just a brother” – and helping us understand it as a compliment. He spoke about the “uncomplicated witness” of being a religious brother and how this vocation recalls the entire institute to its original calling, to be a witness of lifestyle more than a job.

The great gift of religious life is often unexplored, or worse, endured.  Again, Br. John Mark had a great image.  He suggested that most religious join a religious community like the man in the book of Matthew who bought the field with the great treasure.  But some religious never dig up the treasure.

In initial formation we regularly teach the art of “theological reflection”. This high-sounding term is simply a reflection on our daily experiences through the lens of our relationship with God.  What if I saw the events of my life as a treasure growing in intimacy with God?  I could bring the anger or joy, my mistakes, and yes, sin – while seeing how gracious and forgiving God is if I ask. Could the daily life we experience be part of that “treasure in the field”?  After a little digging, it might just lead to sheer enjoyment of the treasure.

— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM



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FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

Nine novices have something to celebrate.Aug. 2, nine men from five provinces from around the world professed first vows in the novitiate chapel at St. Francis Friary in Burlington, Wis.  Five provincial ministers received vows from Brothers Thomas Marchetti (ABVM), James Bernard (Holy Name), Nicholas Carbuto (Holy Name), Bradley Tuel (St. Barbara), Adolfo Navarro Blanco (Holy Name), Stephen Kuehn (Holy Name), Kestas Watson (Immaculate Conception of Great Britain), John Paul Carroll (Ireland) and Mathieu Gabriel Lacerte (St. Joseph, Quebec).

PHOTO BY iStockPhoto.comHeat stress either from exertion or hot environments places us at risk for illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps.

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

PHOTO BY iStockPhoto.comHeat stress either from exertion or hot environments places us at risk for illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps.

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist