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New Book Celebrates Ministry of Franciscans

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by Eileen Connelly, OSU

A Franciscan friar has authored a new book that combines his deep love for his community and his passion for history.

Franciscan Friars: Coast to Coast, by Father Jack Clark Robinson, was released in November by Arcadia Publishing as part of its “Images of America Series,” which celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country. Father Robinson has studied and taught the history of his Franciscan brothers for a quarter of a century and currently serves as minister provincial of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in the southwest U.S.

“The study of history is a conversation with people who have been to times and places that we can never go,” he said. “If we listen carefully, there is so much we can learn. Like any conversation, we have a contribution to make, too, to help that conversation along, sharing voices that people haven’t had a chance to hear.”

History in the U.S.
The historical contributions of the Franciscans in the U.S. date back to the 1500s, when the king of Spain sent friars to what would become Florida, Georgia and New Mexico. In the 1840s, a Franciscan mission revival began when groups of friars arrived with Irish, German, Polish, Italian and eastern European immigrants.

In the 20th century, the Franciscans began ministering to Latin American and Vietnamese immigrants. When the number of Franciscan friars in the U.S. peaked in the 1960s, they became involved in civil rights issues and changes in the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Franciscan ministry and presence remain strong today, despite aging members and declining numbers in the last 50 years. The book features photos of their work with Native Americans, in soup kitchens and social services agencies, and at parishes, schools and universities.

Numerous Contributions
Six Franciscan provincial archives, including the Cincinnati-based St. John the Baptist Province, as well as the memories of hundreds of friars across the country, contributed to the book. The idea for the project originated in the summer of 2018, when Franciscan representatives were among those who attended a national gathering of archivists in Boston.

“Most of the friars know something about their own provincial history, but most know nothing about the history of the other provinces,” Father Robinson explained. “We thought this would be a wonderful way to introduce all of the friars to that history.”

With six provinces of the Order of Friars Minor (Cincinnati; Albuquerque; Franklin, WI, New York; Oakland, CA; and St. Louis) planning to unite in the next several years, he said the book is geared toward helping the Franciscans recognize that “all that has happened in their respective provinces won’t be lost. There will be changes, but we’re working toward what God wants.”

Father Robinson also sees Franciscan Friars Coast to Coast as a vocation tool for future friars – “to lift up the goodness and breadth and depth of what the Franciscans have done.”

Diverse Appeal
In addition, he hopes the book will appeal to the general public. “In a time when religious life is under attack for mistakes made in the past, it’s important for people to see that the vast majority of friars and religious have done great work with tremendous self-sacrifice. I want to lift that up.”

He has a special affinity for the local Franciscan province, having participated in the novitiate and made his solemn vows in Cincinnati. Father Robinson said two things in particular stood out to him as the project developed.

First, he noted, “There are patterns to our history. Five out of six provinces began with serving immigrants. This was particularly true with the St. John the Baptist Province. The friars came to serve the German immigrants in Cincinnati, who were struggling with opposition and assimilating into U.S. culture. Their struggle was remarkably similar to the issues immigrants are facing today.”

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does echo itself a lot,” Father Robinson said.

“Another thing that strikes me over and over is how Franciscans make a difference,” he added. “There’s just something about the culture of the Franciscans that has been passed down from St. Francis of Assisi – that seeking of peace, reconciliation and joy.”

For more information, or to order the book, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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