A Voice at 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.”