♪ “At the Old Ball Game!” ♬
At noon on Opening Day, Fr. Stephen Cho is glued to his smartphone, thumbs churning out tweets and Facebook posts. By now, most friends know he will walk in the 97th Findlay Market Parade with brothers from St. John the Baptist Province. It’s a new experience for Stephen, a Korean friar who is living at St. Francis Seraph Friary while he learns about religious publishing at Franciscan Media.
When it’s time to gather for the parade, he hoists a PVC pipe over his shoulder – it will hold up their banner – and follows a group heading north in Over-the-Rhine to their assigned spot in the lineup.
Wordlessly, Stephen takes in the carnival surrounding him: clowns, kids, floats, bands, flags, bicycles, horses, dogs and cartoon characters with giant heads. Asked if they do this in his homeland, he shakes his head no. “Asian culture doesn’t parade,” he says, “especially in South Korea.” Not that it’s unknown. “Decades ago, when excellent results [were] achieved in the Olympics or world championships,” the government would honor the winners with a parade. In 2014, South Koreans flocked to the processions led by Pope Francis during his visit to Asia.
With or without parades, Koreans are passionate about baseball.
When countryman Shin-Soo Choo played a season with the Cincinnati Reds, the folks back home followed his every move. Then, says Stephen, “He went to Texas. Free agent.”
Stephen isn’t the only rookie on this team. Br. Chris Meyer, preparing to leave for the missions in Jamaica, also responded to a call for participants. He’s hoping to rack up some miles on his pedometer and work on his tan. “It’s my first time in the parade,” he says, “and may be my last.”
While they wait for the signal to start, friars chat with their neighbors in the parade, including a woman who trains miniature horses and brought four of them with her today, their manes dyed the colors of cotton candy. Petted and photographed, they are stars of the backstage show.
Roaming the streets with his camera, Fr. Frank Jasper is approached by parish people and other folks who admit they’ve left the Church. Emboldened by his habit, “They just come up and start talking about how they like the Pope,” he says.
Once the banner pole is assembled, friars Tom Speier, Tim Sucher, Pat McCloskey and Carl Langenderfer gather for a stirring rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, videotaped for social media. Although some words escape him, good sport Stephen gamely follows their lead.
When it’s finally showtime, he picks up one end of the banner for the 16-block trek down Race Street, past Fountain Square, and onto Fifth Street to the stopping point, the Taft Theatre.
From the outset it’s obvious that Chris, like fellow marcher Tim, is a natural. Chris works the crowd, high-fiving a row of kids parked at the curb, and initiates a twirling dance move that spins the banner 360 degrees. The crowd loves it. Tim is everywhere, clasping outstretched hands and dashing from one side of the street to the other with the rallying cry, “Go Reds! Let’s hear it!”
Sharing the joy
Content to carry the sign for much of the way, Stephen is captured smiling in every photo.
By parade’s end, Chris has logged 10,000 steps on his pedometer. More important, “I enjoyed it,” he says. “So often we’re in our own friaries, and here we are in this public view, and we really get to hear how much we’re loved and respected. It’s a great opportunity to share the joy friars bring. It was a very positive experience.” Next year, he says, “I think we should work on our routine. We’ve got to spice things up,” maybe by doing the limbo under the banner?
Stephen says he was glad to see how “friars have been sharing life with the people of Cincinnati for more than 100 years of existence. I was proud to be a Franciscan in the middle of Cincinnati made one,” united in a spirit of exuberance and good will.
Before long, he pulls out his phone and starts thumb-chatting.
As Pat had predicted, “It’ll take him more than one tweet to describe this day.”
Originally published in the SJB NewsNotes.
Jeff Rapking loves Roger Bacon High School
and they love him too
Jeff Rapking leads the way to the cafeteria at Roger Bacon High School.
It’s as tidy as an Army mess hall, and Jeff is largely responsible.
“When the lunch starts, I start,” he says, proudly describing his duties with the custodial staff, from managing trays to sweeping the floor, from cleaning tables to straightening chairs. “I love to work here,” he says, fisting his hands at his sides and smiling so broadly he squints.
Jeff is lucky to be here, and they’re lucky to have him. Many people with special needs face a lifelong struggle for acceptance. Jeff, whose world is limited but not defined by disabilities, is trusted, loved and respected at Roger Bacon. “The Bacon family, that’s his family,” says Barb Coyle, the school’s former Outreach Director and a longtime friend.
“It’s a good example of how a community embraces one of their own to provide a place where they can thrive” instead of falling through the cracks, says Paul Zlatic, Assistant Principal. “There is a real sense here that everyone has value. We’re a diverse school – rich, poor, black, white. Jeff is just another great piece of that.”
It’s been that way for 33 years, ever since Jeff was hired by friar Jim Bok during his days as Principal. “He has a special place at Bacon in the hearts of a lot of folks,” says Fr. Jim, one of Jeff’s favorite people in the world.
“One of the guys”
“There is such a purity and honesty and sincerity to him,” Paul says of Jeff. “It’s easy to be drawn to that.”
Barb was running Bacon’s Community Outreach Program when she met Jeff. “He was always popping into my room. If something was driving me crazy, he would show up with his smile and innocence and joyful spirit and it just rubbed off. Everything makes him happy.” Ask him why and Jeff says, “I’m all the time in a good mood.”
Crazy for sports, he’s a fixture on the sidelines at Bacon’s football and basketball games. “He will offer players a high five,” Paul says. “Many times he rides with the football team” to away games. “He’s just another one of the guys.”
In Jim’s years at Bacon, “When kids were around, I never ever saw or witnessed anybody mocking Jeff. There was always a genuine respect for him on the part of the students. I think all the kids there knew that Jeff loved Roger Bacon and everything about it.”
One year when he competed in Special Olympics – winning gold in the softball throw and 100-yard race – the school held an assembly in Jeff’s honor. “Kids were high-fiving him all day,” according to Barb. “I am a good runner,” Jeff says shyly. “I’d love to go around the track more times.”
“He is solid gold”
Eight years ago when awards were given for milestone service at RB, Jeff received the sole standing ovation for his 25 years. In 2007, Bacon students organized “Jumping for Jeff”, a Polar Bear Plunge into a freezing swimming pool to raise money for Special Olympics.
“Jeff means a lot to the kids,” says St. Clement Pastor Fred Link, who for years was Jeff’s walking buddy around St. Bernard. “They very much respect him. He is solid gold, just goodness, as tender-hearted as they come. He brings out the best in folks.”
It’s hard to say no to Jeff, says Barb. “He loves his Cincinnati Reds and goes to a lot of games,” courtesy of teachers, students and alumni. Each season, Paul says, “I usually go to at least one game with him, sometimes two.” Barb once managed to wheedle tickets from Reds owner Bob Castellini when she wrote to him explaining that Jeff had never been to Opening Day.
“We had great seats,” she recalls. “We went to the parade and game. His favorite player, Joey Votto, hit a home run. On the way home I asked him what was the most exciting part of the day, thinking it would be the home run. Jeff started clapping his hands. He said, ‘I loved the clowns and the bands.’”
This should not have surprised Barb. “Jeff was always a huge fan of the Roger Bacon band,” Jim says, and especially fond of Wes Neal, who in 37 years led the band to numerous state and national titles. “Wes was really nice to him. Every Friday night at football games Jeff would be right with them, marching along.”
More than sports, more than bands, “Jeff loves Fr. Jim,” says Paul. “He gets so excited whenever Jim gets into town” for a home visit from the missions in Jamaica. “Jeff will talk about it for weeks leading up to it,” anticipating their usual outing to Gold Star Chili. “If I ever came to Cincinnati and Jeff found out and I didn’t see him,” Jim says, “he would be hurt.”
They’ve known each other for 40 years, since Jim was a cleric theology student. “I was going to law school at night and teaching at Roger Bacon during the day.” Outside the school, “I used to hear what sounded like a siren; it was this little boy, Jeff, riding his bicycle” and making a racket. “He and his family went to St. Clement Church. He was developmentally handicapped, going to Bobbie Fairfax School” for children with disabilities. From the day they met, “We were always friends.”
After ordination, as Principal at Roger Bacon, Jim got a call from Jeff’s school. “They had programs where they would place kids in internships” in preparation for the real world and asked if Bacon could take Jeff. Jim said, “We’d be delighted; what is he capable of doing?”
“Maybe he could clean tables in the cafeteria, that kind of thing?” they suggested.
Jim readily agreed. “He came and he never stopped working there.”
Love and support
Jeff’s diligence is legendary. “He’s so conscientious about the work he does,” Paul says. “He takes it very seriously when a fork or spoon gets into the garbage.” After lunch Jeff patrols the tables, arranging the chairs in perfect alignment. “He always does a sweep of the grounds to make sure things are kept up.”
Satisfied that all is well at school, Jeff will head home, one street over from Bacon, to walk his dog, Rusty. “Jeff has a wonderful mom and a sister who provide a lot of support,” says Paul. “Together we kind of make sure he’s doing well.”
Apart from the televised sports he devours, “His world is very limited,” Jim says, “and Roger Bacon is a significant part of his world.” During the summer, when he helps prep classrooms for the school year, “Jeff gets depressed,” Barb says, because he misses the students.
“I love everybody here,” Jeff says. “I still miss Fr. Jim the most,” and wishes he weren’t so far away.
“Jeff is as innocent as a child, but he can get sad,” Fred says. “When somebody dies, he really grieves and doesn’t understand it.” He has his challenges, “no doubt about that. But he sure is devoted to Roger Bacon.”
In fact, says Jim, “You could consider him one of Bacon’s biggest boosters.”
Originally published in the SJB NewsNotes
Fr. John Quigley, OFM, celebrates
Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith,” quotes Fr. John reading from Pope Francis’ Misericoriae Vultus or Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
Those unable to attend the presentation due to location or schedule conflict asked us to record the presentation and we so we did. Hope you enjoy it.
Fr. John shares his thoughts on exploring the mystery of God, the vast ocean of God’s love for us, forever. The great hope that we will be loved forever. Click on the video to watch.
Next in the series:
Fr. Larry Zurek, OFM:
Monday April 11 at 7:00 PM
Fr. Larry’s presentation will be video taped and available for viewing soon.
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM:
Wednesday November 2 at 7:00 PM
Learn more about how the Franciscans are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy at Franciscan.org.
Not when you ask St. Anthony for help!
Thank You St. Anthony!
I have a cross and earring set that I made several years ago. The first time I wore the set was on a four hour shopping trip. When I got home I was minus one earring. I was so upset, I prayed to St. Anthony for four days.
I thought, “This is impossible to find.”
The fourth day I was putting food out for my birds. I was so surprised to see it on top of a pussy willow branch.
This was impossible.
How did it get there?
Jennie in Pennsylvania
We’d love to hear your St. Anthony story too.
Use our Contact Page or Email: email@example.com or Call Colleen Cushard at: 513-721-4700. Share your prayers with us and our online community at our Prayer Page. You can donate to St. Anthony Bread or any of our ministries at our Donation Page.