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‘They work with the poorest of the poor’

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

By David Eck

CATHEDRAL DEANERY — It’s not often that a group can celebrate two significant anniversaries simultaneously, but  Franciscans in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati experienced that unique blessing.

More than 450 people filled the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains April 16 to recognize the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan order’s founding, and the 150th anniversary of the local province.

Franciscan Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, presides over the opening celebration for the International Chapter of Mats in Assisi, Italy, April 15. The image projected behind him shows Pope Innocent III giving his blessing to St. Francis and his followers. (CNS photo/Emanuela De Meo, Catholic Press Photo)

“It is absolutely wonderful to see that the Franciscan is charism so alive and so cherished,” said Franciscan Father Jeff Scheeler, provincial minister. “I am grateful to all of you who are with us this evening.  Each of you has in some way been part of our history, part of our lives; you honor us by your presence.”

About 100 friars attended the hour-long event, with family, friends and members of other religious communities. Archbishop of Cincinnati Daniel E. Pilarczyk and Bishop Charles H. Dufour of the Montego Bay diocese in Jamaica, were special guests.

“Anniversaries are naturally times to look back and marvel at how we got to where we are now,” Father Scheeler said. “This kind of anniversary celebration proclaims the power of shared values, people working together.  It speaks of committed people working together for a common purpose.  It speaks of one generation receiving something and handing it on to another.  It speaks of a living tradition.”

The 800th anniversary of the order’s founding was celebrated internationally as 1,800 Franciscan friars from the four main Franciscan branches met in Assisi — the birthplace of their founder, St. Francis — for an International Chapter of Mats. A Chapter of Mats gets its name from the time in 1221 St. Francis called more than 3,000 friars to the Portiuncula chapel in Assisi for a general meeting or chapter. Because the small town could not accommodate the large number of visitors, the friars lived in huts made out of reeds and slept on mats, said Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor. The three other Franciscan groups that participate were the Capuchins, the Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regular Franciscans.

In the Cincinnati archdiocese the St. John the Baptist Province of the Order of Friars Minor sponsors Roger Bacon High School, St. Clement Parish, St. Francis Seraph Ministries in Over-the-Rhine, and oversees the national publication St. Anthony Messenger magazine and a publishing and media operation.

The province dates to 1844, when then-Archbishop John Baptist Purcell requested friars from Austria to minister to the growing German population in Cincinnati and the northern areas of the archdiocese. The Custody of St. John the Baptist was established in 1859 and was named in honor of Archbishop Purcell.

Since 2000 friars from the province have been ministering in the Montego Bay diocese. There are now five Franciscans ministering there, including three from the province. The friars there work with the extreme poor, evangelize and have helped build two new churches.

“When they came it was a blessing,” said Bishop Dufour. “They came at a very good time, and they are badly needed.

Francisan Father Jeffrey Scheeler, provincial minister of St. John the Baptist Province, speaks during the ceremony. (CT/Tony Tribble)

Among their ministries is providing transportation of the sick and building housing for the poor. The diocese has about 10,000 Catholics. “They work with the poorest of the poor,” Bishop Dufour said. “Anything that affects the poor, they are a part of it.” He attended the ceremony to thank and recognize the province for the work the friars have done in his diocese.

Archbishop Pilarczyk, who was recently made an affiliate of the province, gave the final blessing. He, too, thanked the friars for their work in the archdiocese.

As part of the ceremony, the friars renewed their vows, which they traditionally do every April 16, the date on which the Franciscan order was founded in 1209.

One of those who renewed his vows was Franciscan Father Noel William, 93, who is celebrating his 75th year as a Franciscan.  Among the places he ministered were parishes in Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

“I did parish work all my priestly life,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

He encourages young friars to praise and please God and enjoy His wonderful works.

The anniversaries gave the friars the opportunity to reflect on the blessings the province has been given over the last 150 years.

“The main thing I want it to be is a spirit of gratitude for 150 years,” Father Scheeler said. “It’s been a blessing for us to be able to minister not only in the archdiocese but in so many other places.”

CNS also contributed to this story.

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