Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM
July 20, 1931 – November 27, 2015
The sitting room at Little Sisters overflowed with friends who were there for Joe. That’s because Joe was always there for them.
“He always had time to talk to people, always had that bright smile” was how one woman described the relationship retirees had with fellow resident Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, at St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home in Cincinnati. At the reception preceding Joe’s funeral on Dec. 5, it wasn’t his assignments they talked about. It was the connections he made along the way.
“Fr. Joe was good to everybody,” said Bonita Greene, a resident who met Joe 40 years ago when he came here to visit his mother, Anna. “All he had to do was hear you had a problem, and he would talk you through it.” Admittedly, his appeal was more than spiritual. “I always asked him why he became a priest, because he was too handsome to become a priest.”
If this was a cross, Joe never complained. “He never seemed to complain about anything,” said Lawrence Renaud, a student at Thomas More College when Joe was in campus ministry. “Even when he was dealt a bad hand” – like news of terminal cancer – “he knew how to say something positive. He made lemonade out of lemons.”
Fr. Tom Speier, OFM, remembered Joe “sacrificing himself. He tried to retire four or five times. Every time he wanted to retire he would take another job nobody wanted,” like helping to rebuild St. Mary of the Angels Parish in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the death of beloved pastor Fr. Bart Pax, OFM.
It was Lawrence, a loyal visitor, who recently asked Joe, “You got any photo albums?”, then photographed 173 snapshots to create a slide show for the funeral. “I will miss his smile, his laughter, his friendship,” said Lawrence, one of many who struggled to keep their emotions in check.
Eyes red from tears, Stephanie Gartrell described the past year as Joe’s caregiver. Until the end, “He was always active, ready for anything we had planned. He was just a good, humble man, no different than anybody else.” Little Sisters like Mary Imelda, the supervisor on Joe’s floor, knew him better than most. “One thing you should write,” she said, “is that he was always grateful. He always said he was ‘peachy’.”
Glory to God
At the funeral it was homilist Fr. Fred Link’s job to tie this all together. His role, he said, was “not to extol the deceased, rather to extol the Lord Jesus, who has given our brother eternal life. When I came in church today and stood in front of the body, I saw another friar standing next to me and I said, ‘Luscious Lucius,’” the nickname fawning females gave Joe years ago. Fred then turned to see “the person next to me was not a friar; it was a Little Sister.” Ooops.
Fred wondered “as Joe went through his ministerial life, maybe that was a source of temptation for him. Most of us don’t have anyone to call us ‘luscious’. God certainly called Joe his beloved. We extol God today who chose Joe. If today’s celebration is to have any meaning or significance, it is in accepting once again our call to be bearers of the Good News.
“When I got the readings [Joe chose], I said, ‘Yes, yes, it’s Joe. He’s giving God all the glory.” What struck Fred was the passage from 2 Corinthians: “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.”
“We’re weak and fragile,” Fred said. “Joe knew his limitations. I had in my last ministry [as Provincial Minister] a chance to see this side of Joe,” the side that revealed, “‘I don’t have it all together’, but he placed himself as an earthen vessel for God” to serve his people.
“God has been so good”
In a message Joe wrote to be read at his funeral, he echoed the Gospel reading from Matthew that begins with praise for the Father and ends with, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In this letter of gratitude, “Joe said, ‘God has been so good to me and blessed me in so many ways,’” according to Fred. “He celebrated even the fact that God was embracing him with Sister Death.”
A Provincial Chronicle from 1962 quotes Joe saying of the friars’ presence at Bishop Luers High School, “It is good for us to be here.” In his ministerial life, “Joe had perhaps 25 different ministerial assignments,” Fred said, adding, “There were those who would say he was not very dependable. But it doesn’t take longer than one or two years to affect people’s lives. I would think everywhere he was Joe would say, ‘It is good for me to be here.’”
The proof of that was in condolences Fred read from around the country, notes that revealed the impact of “this instrument of God, this earthen vessel who was anointed. He’s still with us in Jesus and he’s blessing us.”
Our prayer today, Fred said, “is that we catch Joe’s spirit and realize our awesome dignity and realize that wherever the Lord takes us, it is good for us to be here.”
Putting himself last
Celebrant Fr. Frank Jasper, OFM, shared that sentiment. “I lived with Fr. Joe for a short time at St. Leonard, and he was always incredibly gracious and hospitable. He was always generous in meeting the needs of others and placing them above his own, coming out of retirement to take on problematic situations. I’ve always seen him as a model myself, to emulate the virtues he projected.”
The sharing continued after Mass as residents, friars, and Little Sisters lingered at the slide show playing on the TV screen. They saw Joe proudly posing with his mom and dad; dancing with students; preaching in Jamaica; enjoying what would be his final birthday.
Two friends reminisced about their last visits with Joe. “He didn’t go around like a sick person,” said one man. And the other agreed, “He was such a good guy, wasn’t he?” No one could argue with that.
This article first appeared in SJB NewsNotes December 10, 2015
Photos ©2015 Toni Cashnelli
Wherever he served, Franciscan Fr. Curt Lanzrath, OFM,
was remembered for his boyish grin & optimistic attitude.
Fr. Curt, a former chaplain at St. Mary’s and St. Francis Hospitals, died Aug. 4 at St. Margaret Hall in Cincinnati at the age of 90.
A native of Greeley, Kansas, he was one of five children. He was ordained June 8, 1954. Besides ministering as a chaplain, Fr. Lanzrath gave retreats and parish missions and served in parishes in Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico Louisiana and Kansas.
Fr. Curt was a wonderful priest who found joy and appreciation for everything in life. He was relentlessly positive.
After only one year of retirement, he decided that at the young age of 73, retirement did not really suit him. He became chaplain for the Poor Clares in Brenham Texas. Apparently, that was still too close to retirement because he quickly volunteered for what he described as one of the best experiences of his life as an unofficial but deeply loved part of the campus ministry at Texas A & M. He’d spend the day visiting with students, giving spiritual direction and hearing confessions.
For a man who really never had much interest in sports, he found he was an Aggie at heart! He wore the logo with pride.
After nine years in Texas, Fr. Curt came back to Cincinnati to retire. To show their love and appreciation for his life of sacrificial service, 23 students, former students and friends joined him on a three day bus trip pilgrimage to his new home in Cincinnati. In honor of his example and because Fr. Curt counseled many students as they discerned their future, the theme for the pilgrimage was “vocations”. Throughout the trip, the bus was filled with prayer and song, and Mass was celebrated at stops along the way.
“In a world that teaches people to look out for themselves, there are some who remind us that our true calling is to give our lives to God and others. Fr. Curt is one of them,” said Tucker Redding, one of those on the trip.
Before leaving, they all prayed for and over Fr. Curt wishing him joy in his new ministry.
Rest in the hands of the Lord, Fr. Curt. We miss you!
Portions of this article were taken from A Pilgrimage for a Priest by Mary Walker of St. Mary’s Catholic Center, Texas A & M University, NCDVD Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2007.
For so many of us, our fathers are our heroes
Their examples of love, strength, integrity, responsibility, and sacrifice can help us become who we are. As you reflect on your own father, we thought you might enjoy some of the comments we received from the friars about their own dads.
Click on the photos below to read their stories and see more photos.
Honor your father this Father’s Day for their love and the lessons they have taught you.
My dad still stands fly fishing
a small stream in Arizona
He’s 81, his cast smooth,
waders rolled beneath his knees
He stands strong, fly rod in hand
towering over deep trout
He died a few months after
this photograph was taken
The following week we’d planned
to fly fish streams together
Now eyes fixed on the fly that’s
hit the water, he’s transfixed
by what might break the surface
He leans forward as into
sunlight, the shadows of my
pursuit falling behind him
Not everyone can say they have met Popes and Saints
Though quite humble about it, Fr. Cyprian Berens, OFM has photos of himself with Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, and even Blessed Mother Teresa. He will tell you in his gentle voice that they are “group pictures” taken when he worked in Rome, adding, “One is of Pope John Paul II washing my dirty feet in a Holy Thursday service.”
“Pope John the XXIII told me not to feel confined in an office as Curia Treasurer counting numbers all day. He understood because he too was a Bishop’s secretary when he was younger”. The Holy Father commiserated with Fr. Cyprian. The Pope was that sensitive to his visitors.
“I would pick up Mother Teresa from the airport and we would talk about business. I would preach at her six Missionaries of Charity houses in Rome and hear the confessions of her novices every week”.
Fr. Cyprian is resident Chaplain Emeritus of the Archbishop Leibold Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati. At 91, he has had a rich life salted with service to scholars, saints and sinners.
Fr. Cyprian began life as the son of a high-end tailor who was trained in New York. His mother was a homemaker. He had two brothers and one sister. In the early grade school years, he attended public elementary school and in the second grade was taught by none other than Miss Margaret Potter… my mother-in-law. Miss Potter was so impressed by his intelligence and goodness, she went to his First Holy Communion and followed him through to his Ordination as a Franciscan. Miss Potter’s eldest son Bob Queenan (my husband) said “Mom often held him up as the example of what kind of kids we should be.” In rebuttal, Fr. Cyprian said, “She must not have really known me.”
Life was good until the depression when his dad lost everything and needed to start fresh. “Life was different then, but we didn’t suffer from hunger. Our faith stayed as the center of our lives.” He became acquainted with the Franciscans when he attended Roger Bacon High School and transferred to St. Francis Seminary. From there he followed the educational and spiritual tract of the Friars until his ordination in 1951. The first six years of his 64 as a priest, he served as Associate Pastor in Illinois parishes.
In 1957, he was called to Rome to serve as the Assistant Treasurer and Secretary to the Minister General of the Franciscan Curia. “It took me all three years to learn Italian.” which was on-the-job and in casual conversations. The one thing that did not take long was to learn how to order his favorite gelato.
Upon completing his tenure there, he was called back to the States where he became Asst. Novice Director at St. Anthony’s Friary for a year. From 1961- 63 he was assigned to Duns Scotus, MI, as Master of Brothers, Director of Tertiary Brothers, Rector of Chapel and also taught at Mercy College.
Fr. Cyprian’s reputation of competence preceded him and he was again called to the Eternal City to be General Treasurer of the Franciscan Curia, this time working there for four years. During those Italian years he traveled extensively on business. From the General Curia Fr. Cyprian was sent to Florence, Italy for four years. He was assigned as Director of St. Bonaventure College, a research institution and was also Superior of the House. After that assignment was completed, he became the Treasurer of St. Leonard College in Centerville, OH and also was an Instructor for a year. Cincinnati was his next call, serving one year as Guardian at St. Anthony’s and Director of Brothers and 13 years as Director of Communications.
Fr. Cyprian was once more asked to return to Rome for five more years as the American/Italian speaking Confessor at St. John Lateran Church. “Only the good go to Confession,” he said. “It was just four hours a day.” His official title there was Penitentiary. All those years in Italy were really enjoyable for me,” he confided. When he returned to the States for the last time, he was Pastor for 10 years at St. Paul the Apostle in Calumet, MI.
Being “retired” is a misnomer. Fr. Cyprian’s days are full saying daily masses, preaching at the Little Sisters, being present to dying residents, counseling retirees, helping new residents adjust, and still driving 140 miles monthly to a prayer group in Madison, Indiana. He knows the name of every resident (100+) all the Sisters and workers at the home, so don’t believe him when he says he thinks his memory is slipping.
Joanne M. Queenan
Fr. Warren Zeisler, OFM has never been one of those people that is comfortable in the spotlight. Instead, he goes about doing things very quietly. He is generous with his time and is always volunteering to help out whenever and wherever he is needed. His positive attitude and sense of humor make him a delight to be around.
Fr. Warren taught school for 24 years. He taught at St Francis Seminary and then Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati. He also served at the VA Medical Center as hospital chaplain for 25 years. In April of 2014, at the age of 90 and after serving for the last 15 years as Chaplain at the retirement home for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Fr. Warren decided it was probably time to share these duties with others in his friary. He could not give it up completely. He continues to serve at Notre Dame once a week.
He was starting to have a lot of trouble getting around. Hip pain had made things fairly difficult for a while. It prevented him from doing many of the things he loved and he really missed working in the garden and trimming the bushes on the grounds.
In August, 2014 he had a hip replacement and made a great recovery thanks to the good care he received and a lot of prayers. “He’s amazing”, says Fr. John Bok. “He is back to working on the grounds every day. He is as determined and self-sufficient as ever. He is such a great role model on how to age well”.
Thank you Fr. Warren.
Doing a retrospective on oneself can be daunting! Fr. Gil Wohler seemed to be taken back when asked to be interviewed. He is more comfortable flying under the radar. Though initially reticent, he soon shared interesting snippets of his 52 years of priestly life. He is a Friar for 60 years.
At 79 years of age Fr. Gil said his Franciscan life has “come full circle.” He sat in the guest parlor of Mercy Community Winton Woods where he is chaplain to senior residents in 74 independent living apartments. The building and campus was converted from what originally was St. Francis Seminary in Mt. Healthy, OH, north of Cincinnati, Ohio
“I first came here as a high school freshman. Then later on, after ordination, I was a teacher at Roger Bacon High School one year and for seven years was an instructor of Latin, History and Science here at the minor seminary. When I retired nine years ago, I came here again.” That is a little too succinct!
It was the in between part where things started cooking! Like layers of a luscious torte, the Wichita, KS, native talked about his other lifetime assignments. After four years as Director of Franciscan Candidates and three years as Director of Vocations he diversified and took on pastoral and other duties at St. Boniface parish in Peoria, Illinois for 12 years. Following that, Father transitioned back to be an Instructor and Spiritual Director of St. John Vianney Seminary and St. Francis House of Studies as Spiritual Director and Guardian for ten years.
Father Gil then launched into his favorite assignment. He became a missionary to Pretoria, South Africa where he taught in the Sancta Sophia National Seminary for four years and preached at La Verna Retreat Center for two more years. “I didn’t learn the language but became able to offer Mass in Zulu. During that time I worked with such good people!” In between he traveled to Kenya and Botswana. He journeyed through major cosmopolitan cities, deserts and ghettos. “Those ghettoes were nothing like what we call them in the States! I wanted to stay, but was interrupted by the need for triple by-pass heart surgery. I had it done down there and was laid up in the hospital for three months.
“Yes, I met Nelson Mandela and voted with the 97% of South Africans in those early democratic elections.”
After his recovery, he returned to the states and worked for three years in the inner city as pastor of St. Francis Seraph Parish in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Then came retirement. But as Chaplain at Mercy Community, there isn’t a lot of time for that as he offers Masses, is spiritual director, celebrates benedictions, visits residents in the hospital, and anoints the sick. He spends a lot of time talking with residents by phone. He has a passion for playing bridge having been trained by the guru of bridge playing in South Africa. In between he will delve into a mystery or two.
By age 85, most people have earned the right to just sit back, relax and enjoy their days of retirement. That is just not the case with Fr. Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M. He is a very energetic and busy friar who still works hard spreading the Gospel of Jesus in many various ministries.
In 1970, Fr. Hilarion got involved as a Scripture exegete in Sunday Homily Helps, a product of St. Anthony Messenger Press (now Franciscan Media). In 1986, he was appointed editor of Sunday Homily Helps and he continues to work for St. Anthony Messenger Press in various capacities. He uses his services to check various publications for doctrinal orthodoxy. He continues to stay active with Sunday Homily Helps.
His book, The Gospels According to Saint Francis, blends the teachings of Jesus and Francis in a unique way and is appropriate for Catholics as well as those of other faiths.
On weekends, Fr. Hilarion celebrates Mass at St. Stephen’s Parish in Cincinnati. Once a month he has Mass at Eastgate Nursing Home and visits the sick. He has also become an active volunteer once a week at Our Daily Bread, a local soup kitchen here in Cincinnati, where he buses tables after the noon meal.
Fr. Hilarion will tell you that he considers himself semi-retired, but when you consider all the work he does in a week, you would wonder what he means by “retired.” He enjoys sports and roots for the Cincinnati Reds, the Cincinnati Bengals, Xavier basketball and the University of Cincinnati basketball and football teams. Though he claims no expertise, he spends a few minutes on weekends playing the violin.
His health is quite good. A setback in recent years was a stroke that has affected his left peripheral vision. Doctors have prohibited driving which took some getting used to. Fortunately, generous friars and lay people are willing to take him where he needs to go.
Fr. Hilarion finds his greatest joy in celebrating the Eucharist. We thank you, Hilarion, for your faithful service to the Church and for the efforts of evangelizing and your commitment to bringing the message of the Gospel to many men and women.
May the Lord continue to bless you with good health!
“I see each question, whether with a personal problem or something about scripture or theology as very important and when I am at my computer I often imagine the person to whom I am writing as if I were talking to them in person.”
A Franciscan for over 60 years, Fr. James (Jim) Van Vurst, OFM, is truly a renaissance man, sharing a wide variety of talents throughout his priestly ministry.
Some assignments bore heavy responsibilities, such as his 19-year ministry at Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Mich., which included teaching psychology and spirituality and working with friar and lay students at the college, teaching psychology and medical ethics at the nearby Province Hospital School of Nursing and doing counseling in the hospital’s mental health clinic. During his last four years at Duns Scotus, he was also President of the college and Guardian of the large friary.
From 1981-1990, he was Vicar Provincial for St. John the Baptist Province. For 11 years he served as Director of Pastoral Care at St. Leonard Retirement Center in Centerville, Ohio. While there he became a certified nursing assistant.
For the past eight years he has worked for Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press) and the www.americancatholic.org website, doing a monthly column as well as answering questions that come to the website’s popular “Ask a Franciscan” column. It receives over a thousand questions each year plus many letters. “I see each question, whether with a personal problem or something about scripture or theology as very important and when I am at my computer I often imagine the person to whom I am writing as if I were talking to them in person,” Jim explains.
He finds great satisfaction using his first love, theology and spirituality, in his work. “The beautiful thing about theology and spirituality is that at its core, it remains the same revealed truths but it must always be adapted and explained to the condition of our own present time and circumstance.” That, and utilizing his psychologist skills, has been the thread binding most of his Franciscan assignments.
Jim is also busy as Associate Pastor at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard, Ohio, working with people as a spiritual director and hearing confessions and counseling those who need assistance. He also teaches art to the seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Clement School who come up with interesting questions like, “Is it a sin to get a tattoo?” and “How big is God?”
In his limited time off, Jim does watercolor painting. His gallery of quality abstracts, nature, and architectural paintings decorate the office halls at St. Clement. He also enjoys spending time with his only sibling, Sr. Mary Ann Van Vurst, a Sister of Charity.
Jim turned 80 in February and says he is aware he is slowing down. “But please don’t bring up the word ‘retirement’,” he asked. “I can go a long time doing what I am doing.”
Our Ministry of Presence at Northgate Mall in Cincinnati is going well. Here are a few of the stories.
We began on Black Friday (which we re-named Brown Friday) with pretty good crowds.
Many people read about us in the cover story of the December edition of The Catholic Telegraph. Some came to visit with Auxiliary Bishop Joe Binzer, who joined us for three hours. We’ve heard a few confessions, prayed with and blessed some families, gave information about the local ministries, and talked with people about the Secular Franciscans, family problems, and how they might return to Church after being away for a while.
Catholics and non-Catholics have visited. Some are in need; some are curious; some just look; most are glad to see us there. They find the novelty of our presence at a mall intriguing. They have brought us cookies to share. The interest in what we are doing is growing. Our goals are modest: we want to meet people where there are, in the marketplace, with a simple message of welcome and hospitality. It is an experiment in the “new evangelization,” bringing the Good News of God’s love to those who visit.”
— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
I grew up about three miles from Northgate Mall and remember when the Mall was built on a plot of land that served as an airport.
Little did I know that I would have the opportunity one day to talk about preparing for the coming of the Lord there.
It was a blessing to have been asked to share in the ministry with the Franciscans. I admire them greatly…I always have.
Last Friday I saw friends, spoke with curious shoppers, and had a chance to hear and offer stories of faith.
And I’ve reflected about my time at Northgate each day since Friday. God is good!!
— Bishop Joe Binzer
(This is how Al Mascia announced the mall ministry in his Song and Spirit newsletter.)
“Boy” I said to my colleague Maggid Steve the other day.
“You guys are lucky.”
“What d’ya mean?,” he asked suspiciously.
“Well, nobody’s hijacked Chanukah, turned it into a vulgar caricature of itself, written silly songs about it, and then transformed it into a panic ridden occasion for conspicuous consumption, that’s all.”
“H’mm,” he conceded, “I guess you’re right.”
But how do you rescue a holiday from the throes of such shameless exploitation? Well, one way some of us Franciscans are trying involves going straight to the front lines. That’s right, the Shopping Mall!
From “Black Friday” until Christmas Eve, there will be Franciscans in brown habits managing a small storefront next to Macy’s at Northgate Mall in Cincinnati. We’re selling nothing; shoppers are welcome to stop by for some coffee, hot chocolate, homemade cookies and, if interested, some conversation about what Christmas is really about!
I was there Thanksgiving weekend playing music on my aging concertina for two three-hour shifts. Understandably, we took many shoppers by surprise. Maybe some even went home with more than they’d bargained for!
— Br. Al Mascia, OFM
Watch Br. Al’s “Let Christmas Be” video by John Lebong
Stop by for a cup of coffee or cocoa and take a few minutes to relax or pray with the Franciscans.
Store #186 near Macy’s inside entrance
Saturdays 10:00am – 9:00 pm
Sundays 12 noon – 6:00 pm
Monday – Friday 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24: 12 noon – 3:00 pm
Information and directions to Northgate Mall: http://www.mynorthgatemall.com/visit/