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Fr. Hilarion Kistner, OFM

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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.

Fr. Hilarion Kistner, OFM, with his book, "The Gospels According to Saint Francis"

Fr. Hilarion Kistner, OFM, with his book, “The Gospels According to Saint Francis”

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!

Fr. Hilarion with guests at Our Daily Bread

Fr. Hilarion with guests at Our Daily Bread

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A Renaissance Friar

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“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.”
Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM

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.”

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM, teaching a painting workshop

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM, teaching a painting workshop

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Black Friday Becomes Brown Friday

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 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.

Our Ministry of Presence made the cover of the Catholic Telegraph

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

 

Bishop Joe Binzer manned the refreshments desk while Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM, visited with guests.

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.

Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, and Br. Al Mascia, OFM

“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.

 

Br. Michael Radomski, OFM, greets visitors

Store #186 near Macy’s inside entrance

Hours:
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/

 

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Friars Welcome All in the Spirit of St. Francis during the Holidays

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Nativity at St. Anthony Shrine

St. Francis would often meditate on the Poverty of the Incarnation
and the great love God has for us.  He is credited with popularizing the Nativity scene.

Fr. Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM, the Provincial Minister of the Province of St. John the Baptist invites you to visit the friars this Advent season at Northgate Mall.

 

 

Provincial Minister Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

     May the peace of the Lord be with you!

     As Franciscans, we’re continually working to develop new ways to respond to the needs of people in today’s world.

     At the end of this month, we friars will try a new form of evangelization.  We want to share the Gospel by providing a Franciscan presence of warmth and welcome in the “marketplace” during the busy holiday season.  Friars from this province will be on hand at the Northgate Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio, on evenings and weekends from November 29 through December 24.

     Our hope is that our presence will be a bit of a reminder of the real reason for the season.  We would like to simply be a place of peace, friendship, prayer, and conversation during the hustle and bustle of the season.

     God bless you,
      Fr. Jeff


San Damiano Cross

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

Hours:
Friday, November 29     10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Saturdays   12 noon – 9:00 pm
Sundays     12 noon – 6:00 pm
Monday – Friday   6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Tuesday, December 24   12 noon – 3:00 pm

Information and directions to Northgate Mall: http://www.mynorthgatemall.com/visit/

 

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A Voice at St. Anthony Shrine

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Br. Gabriel plays the piano at the St. Anthony Shrine.

Br. Gabriel Balassone recently celebrated his Golden Jubilee and his 80th birthday.   After 50 years as a friar, the calm and self-effacing Br. Gabriel says he most treasures community living as a Franciscan. He appreciates the richness of belonging to a fraternity of brothers who are diverse in personality, character and style.  “Each one follows Jesus in the way of St. Francis,” he says.

Since 1997 he has served at the St. Anthony Shrine and friary in Cincinnati where he is Librarian, Music Minister, Guest Master and Porter.  That line-up of responsibilities doesn’t give credit to his many detailed tasks that keep the friary and shrine operating smoothly. For those who have heard him sing at Sunday worship or a provincial event, Gabriel is the mellifluous voice of St. John the Baptist Province.

Fr. Jeff Scheeler, Provincial Minister, described Gabriel as “shy, but so gifted!”  A classically trained opera singer, he also plays the piano and cantors at many provincial events, both celebrations and funerals.

He also served on the faculty at Duns Scotus, the Franciscan College of Philosophy (now closed) in Michigan for 24 years. Over time he worked as Director of the brothers in Simple Profession, Assistant Director of Lay Students, Faculty Music Instructor, Director of the Library and conductor of the College Glee Club.  He spent his sabbatical year at the former House of Prayer in Cedar Lake, Ind.  Later he became Liturgy Director at Mt. St. Francis Retreat Center in Indiana.

Gabriel was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Catholic immigrants from Sulmona, Italy. His father was a factory worker and his mother was a traditional homemaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with music as his major at State University in Fredonia, N.Y.  Following graduation he spent two years service stationed with the U.S. Navy in the Florida Keys. Later he did post-graduate work in music at Wayne State in Detroit.

Without any serious contact with the Friars beforehand, Brother Gabriel decided to become a Franciscan.  “I chose to become a Brother from the beginning.  I never thought of being a priest.”  His father wasn’t thrilled by his decision, but later came to accept it, says Gabriel.

One of Gabriel’s highlight life experiences was winning a part in the Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s Aida, headlined by soprano Martina Arroyo in her signature role. He says he auditioned on a whim. Another memorable experience was assisting Fr. Cyprian Berens, OFM, at the General Curia in Rome for two years.  During his sojourn in Italy he was able to connect with Italian relatives he had never met.  “Oh, they treated us so well, embracing us as family.  We also traveled to Assisi, a memorable trip.”

A Great Friendship! – Br. Gabriel Balassone, OFM, and Br. Adam Farkas, OFM

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Fr. Noel William, OFM, 1915 – 2013

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His Life Revolved Around People

 

Sharing a memory of Fr. Noel William, OFM, Fr. Dan Anderson, OFM, prefaced it with, “He’s been pretty old for a pretty long time.”  Of all the comments at Noel’s funeral on Tuesday – and there were many – this was probably the most telling. Noel was a senior for decades before his death on March 23 at the age of 97. That’s the friar most of us knew, a gentleman and a gentle man who never let aging rob him of his charm, his wit or his dignity. In recent years Noel also became a symbol, a yardstick against which milestones are measured. He was a friar for 78 years, more than half the history of the province.

In his prime Noel was a teacher, a chaplain, a retreat master, a pastor, a band director and a pioneering missionary in the Panhandle Missions of Oklahoma. He took to preaching so he could emulate Fr. Daniel Linfert, whose fire-and-brimstone sermons inspired this youngster from Brookville, Ind., to become a friar. But wherever Noel was and whatever he did, his life revolved around people, even in his last nine years of retirement and wheelchair confinement at St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home (Little Sisters) in Cincinnati.

Stuck in his bed, “He would say again and again, ‘I want to be with the people,’” said Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, Resident Chaplain at the home. And they wanted to be with him. “He attracted all ages,” said Mother Francis Gabriel King, lsp, Mother Superior at Little Sisters. “There was something in him that drew them,” from fellow residents Leland and Mary Ann Schneider, who doted upon Noel, to Postulant Ramon Castellon, whose weekly ministry brought him to the nursing home. “He always had that bright smile,” said Ramon, describing their brief friendship as “very beautiful.”

Fr. Noel is greeted by Br. Tim Sucher, OFM, and Fr. Carl Havwer, OFM, at his 70th priestly Jubilee

“He certainly had a pastor’s heart,” said Provincial Minister Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM, who celebrated the funeral Mass at Leibold Home. Fr. Loren Connell, OFM, remembered how Noel helped him through a rough time. “I was in a difficult spot,” he said.  “Noel called me on the phone and said, ‘We can’t take care of it right now, but we will.  Hang in there, Bud.’ I am grateful for what he did for me.” Jeff shared a memory on behalf of Fr. Henry Beck, OFM. “When Henry was in the seminary he lived at St. Lawrence in Lafayette,” where Noel was pastor. “Every night Noel asked Henry, ‘Well, Bud, what kind of trouble did you get into today?’” It was the plainspoken pastor’s way of showing his concern.

Caregivers at the nursing home spoke fondly of Noel. “He never complained about his health,” said Mother Francis, even when his frailty precluded the treatment of broken bones he suffered in recent years. “No matter how sick he was, he would want to get up,” said Tracy Jones. “He always had that smile and a little sparkle in his eye that made you want to be near him,” said Rebecca Del Vecchio. “He always made sure his appearance was good,” said Tracy, who one day caught Noel primping and asked, “Father, why are you looking in the mirror?” He responded, “Because I’m good-looking.”

Fr. Noel makes a new friend

He loved to laugh, “and I loved making him laugh,” said Br. David Crank, OFM, whose care for Noel was an important part of his ministry as Director of Senior Friars. “He was a happy friar.” What struck Dan was “how alive he was – right up to the end.” In conversation, Noel would mention current events or things he was reading. When he was assigned a role in last year’s Transitus observance, Dan solicitously asked, “Do you know what you’re doing?” To which Noel responded, “I’m old. I’m not dumb.”

Homilist Fr. Cyprian Berens, OFM, traced Noel’s journey as a friar: his days at Roger Bacon as band director; his assignment to the minor seminary; his missionary work in Oklahoma and his spiritual bonding with Mother Frances Cabrini; his successful pastoring of parishes in several states; the soup kitchen he founded for the poor in Louisville. “There is much to celebrate in this life just ended,” Cyprian said. “We may never know how much he achieved for the Church.”

Fr. Noel had a devotion to Mother Frances Cabrini

One example: “A few years ago a group of volunteers came here from Coldwater, Ohio, to offer their services to our residents. By some human magnetism they were drawn to Fr. Noel, and they wanted to know about his ministries, his birthday, his prayer life.” The following year, they all returned to celebrate Noel’s birthday. “They could see the Gospel life in a man with no veneer, no charming performance, no carefully projected personality. This good priest plainly cared for them, they cared for him, and that, too, is evangelization.”

 Loren remembered the first provincial meeting Noel was unable to attend because of ill health. “It seemed strange this old guy wasn’t there,” he said, voicing the “end of an era” sentiment that pervaded the funeral. And in the days to come, the absence of this old guy will indeed seem strange.

Fr. Noel with Archbishop Pilarzczyk, Br. Cliff Hennings, OFM, and Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

Toni Cashnelli is the Communications Director for the Province of St. John the Baptist.

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