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Br. Michael Charron defending families

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Br. Michael Charron, OFM, outside the courthouse

Br. Michael Charron, OFM, outside the courthouse

Friar student is getting grounded in real-life law
~

In the real world of lawyering, you put on a suit, go to court and try to resolve conflicts. That’s exactly what Br. Michael Charron is doing this summer.

For Michael, a student at Appalachian School of Law, interning with Judge Amy Searcy has been a revelation. Since May he has assisted with cases at the Hamilton County Court of Domestic Relations in downtown Cincinnati. After one year of school Michael is immersed in the deep end of an emotional pool of litigation known as family law. The atmosphere in child custody hearings, divorce proceedings and domestic abuse cases is so intense that boxes of tissues are standard issue at tables for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Br. Michael and Judge Amy Searcy

Br. Michael and Judge Amy Searcy

Fortunately, “I’m pretty good at containing my emotions,” says Michael. After a rough day he goes home to the community at St. Clement. “If friars ask me, ‘What did you do today?’, I’ll say, ‘We had a hard case.’”

It’s a learning experience for both the friar and his boss. This is Michael’s first internship, and “I’ve never as a judge had an intern before,” says Amy, appointed to her post by Gov. John Kasich in May 2014 and elected to a full term that November.

But they have a lot in common: Both of them are grounded in prayer.

Asking for help

For the past two years Amy has worshipped with friars and the community at St. Anthony Shrine in Mt. Airy. Most weekdays she’s there before work for the 7:30 Mass. “It starts my day when I’m focused on asking God to help me take care of folks,” she says. “As I enter this courtroom, with its sadness and upheaval, if I come in centered and grounded, I’m reminded I’m not here alone.”

St Anthony ShrineOne day in the Shrine parking lot, Fr. Frank Jasper asked if she would consider taking Michael on as an intern. She answered, “Absolutely”, and later admitted that part of her motive was selfish. The Judge is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and thought, “Michael can help me with this.”

But first he had to look like a lawyer. “Not my favorite part of the job,” he confesses, walking through the gold-plated doors of the Art Deco courthouse – it’s the old Times-Star building – and flapping the lapels of the dapper gray suit he’s wearing on this sweltering summer day. Before he arrived, “I kind of expected a more formal atmosphere,” having spent his first year in law school dealing with Contracts, Property, Civil Procedure, Torts and the like. But in Domestic Relations Court, “You’re not dealing with a contractor who didn’t fix a roof right,” Michael says. “You’re dealing with people.”

The typical intern is a writer, researcher and observer. “I started out watching everything going on and learning the different departments,” he says. Adds Amy, “It’s not just to help me. Seeing how a judge makes decisions should make him a better lawyer.”

Children first

After three months at the courthouse, “I see that family law and ministry kind of go together,” Michael says. “I’m really impressed with Judge Searcy’s understanding that people are people; they’re not used to being in a courtroom. I feel like she’s a really good servant. She kind of puts herself in their shoes.”

Those shoes belong to people of all cultures, faiths and economic backgrounds. Whatever the issue, “Nobody in the court system is happy to be here,” says Amy. “I call the courthouse ‘The House of Pain’.” Many cases revolve around kids, and “I’m required to make all decisions in the best interests of children.” Whenever possible, “That means letting people come to their own conclusions.” To make that happen, “You have to take a step of faith toward each other.”

Charron Court signThere is no typical day in court. “We try to have hearings Monday and Tuesday morning,” she says. “Tuesday at 1:30 I do sentencing. I might send someone to jail” for non-payment of child support. “Wednesday and Thursday are custody trials. Friday we do overflow or write decisions. I take a lot home.”

Summers are always busy. “There are kids visiting one parent who don’t want to go home. And lots of people move in the summer when one parent gets a job offer out of town.” Hard to believe, but “I’ve had people fighting over payment for dental work or whether a kid can go to camp.” She has heard her share of shouting. Recently after letting a couple vent, her response was, “Do you hear what you just said?” On days of high drama, “I compartmentalize. I’ll take all the sadness and pain and hurt and put it in a box – then make a decision. Personally, I have to increase my time in prayer at home.”

Defusing disputes

A trial is the last resort once you’ve exhausted every other option, she says. That’s why the Dispute Resolution Department was created – to give folks room for discourse in a neutral atmosphere before a third party. “The mediator has to say, ‘What you’re saying is valid; now listen to what he’s saying.” After sending Michael to several of those sessions Judge Amy discovered, “He has a skill set that lends itself to mediation and helps people resolve problems.” In ministry as a friar, “That’s something he could offer a parish.”

Charron Michael finds it fascinating. “In mediation you have these couples who don’t like each other. It’s interesting to hear both sides of the story. When children come in, it’s interesting to see their demeanor change.”

Sitting at trials, he has seen the best and worst in people. Some lawyers are less than scrupulous. And some parents choose winning at any cost – hiring a lawyer, going to court, spending a fortune – over the needs of their children. “Most people get married and have decent marriages,” Michael says. “Some get divorces and do that amicably. There are people who end up here. I tell myself these are the exceptions rather than the rule.”

Does being a friar make him a better intern?  Humility helps, he says. “I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. No matter how small a job is, they’re all significant. I wouldn’t think I was better than anything the Judge has asked me to do.”

Lessons learned

This is Michael’s last week at work; Monday he starts his second year of law school in Grundy, Va. Judge Amy hates to see him go. “I will miss him dearly: his calmness; his openness; his steadiness. I trust him to give his unbiased views. I could rely on him and know his reaction will not be judgmental or tainted with emotion.”

After this summer “I think I’d be more confident in a courtroom,” Michael says. “Every time I see lawyers arguing, I kind of think to myself, I don’t know everything they’re doing. But I think I’m capable of that.”

This fall he hopes to take a workshop certified by the Ohio Supreme Court and become a professional mediator. “I could start mediating disputes right away,” while he’s still in school. In the future he intends to help marginalized people, whether that involves immigration, criminal defense or family law.

“I’ll keep thinking and praying,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll land in a good spot.” Part of being a Franciscan is “trying to make peace. Even though it’s kind of forced in the courtroom, this is a place where peace is made. I think this is a good place for friars to be.”

This story first appeared in the SJB News Notes August 10, 2017 by Toni Cashnelli

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Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM – A Franciscan Reflection on the Year of Mercy

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Message of hope, faith, and mercy resonates
~

Tricia Griffith settles into a pew for a presentation by Fr. Mark Soehner.

“This guy is so wonderful I’m recording him,” says Tricia, who hears Mark preach when she attends Mass here at St. Anthony Shrine. Tonight’s topic, mercy, has drawn a large and diverse audience.

Boy ScoutsIt’s not surprising that members of the Sunday community would be here for the Nov. 2 talk, last in a series of three given by SJB friars for the Year of Mercy. What’s surprising is the two rows of Boy Scouts on the opposite side of the chapel. On the advice of Fr. Kenan Freson, who subs at the parish, chaperone Toni Schneider brought the 25 young men from St. Bernard’s of Taylor Creek as part of their “Ad Altare Dei” faith formation program.

Another attendee whispers to a trio of women in the row behind her: “How do you know Mark?” Their responses: “From when he says Mass on Tuesdays”; “He was our parish priest for years”; and, “He’s got the Spirit for sure.”

Introduced by Guardian Fr. Carl Langenderfer, Mark launches into an animated presentation, “A Franciscan Reflection on the Jubilee Year of Mercy”, with themes so relatable that even the Scouts listen intently:

  • “God doesn’t love you because you’re good. You’re good because God loves you.”
  • “Mercy doesn’t come to us all pretty. It comes to us when we need it.”
  • “Before teaching the commandments of God, we need to talk about the God of the commandments….God seen as an unforgiving tyrant or benevolent Santa Claus.”
  • “When our resources seem inadequate, it’s time we go to a deeper well.”
  • “To be rich in mercy is not to be stingy in any sense.”
  • “It’s a lot easier to judge than be generous.”
  • “When we receive mercy we want to give it away.”
  • “What if we lived our lives in gratitude and had a revolution of tenderness?”
  • “We can give regular doses of mercy with simple words like, ‘Forgive me.’ ‘I’m sorry.’”

Fr. Mark SoehnerMark recounts his adventures with the Walking Friars and their 2009 trek across Virginia. Mercy and generosity were offered in abundance in unlikely places from unexpected sources. “Isn’t God good?” he says, and everyone agrees.

Mark gives Pope Francis the final word, paraphrasing a sentiment that seems obvious but bears repeating. “Everything the Church says and does should be seen as merciful.”

Judging by nods of appreciation, the gift of mercy has been gratefully accepted.

Year of Mercy presentations by Fr. John Quigley and Fr. Larry Zurek can be viewed on our YouTube page.

This article first appeared in the SJB News Notes

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Fr. Saleem Amir, OFM, to minister in Jamaica

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Fr. Saleem Amir, OFM, at SJB's information table for a Missionary Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio

Fr. Saleem Amir, OFM, at SJB’s information table for a Missionary Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio

Pakistani friar is at home wherever he goes
~

saleem_amirHis first week in Cincinnati, Fr. Saleem Amir, happened upon a birthday party at St. Francis Seraph Friary. Asked to join in, he did not hesitate. Soon the animated friar from Pakistan was smack in the middle of things, chatting and mingling as though he were part of the staff.

It’s obvious why Saleem said “yes” to ministry in Jamaica. “I like meeting people of different cultures, sharing their expressions of life,” he says, a sign of adaptability if there ever was one. Being a missionary means “not only going beyond boundaries, but exposing yourself to other realities.”

Here while he waits for the work permit that will allow him to join SJB friars in the Diocese of Montego Bay, Saleem is not just killing time. He volunteers three days a week at St. Francis Seraph Soup Kitchen. “I love to go there. I feel so happy afterward serving these people.” He has met with fellow missionary Fr. Jim Bok in Chicago and done street ministry with friars from St. Aloysius in Detroit. “They are very creative and dynamic,” he says, referring to Br. Michael Radomski’s backpack outreach to the homeless and Br. Al Mascia’s work with the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. “Having interfaith dialogue, sharing the values of other religions; I was really touched.”

It’s a subject he is eminently qualified to discuss. Saleem grew up facing the social, economic and educational hardships that Christians, 3% of the population in a Muslim nation, deal with daily. In Pakistan, “If a Muslim man marries a Christian girl, you are killed,” he says, “so you have to leave the country. Sometimes poor Christian girls are kidnapped. I remember 10 years back, Christians were not allowed to drink water from the same tap” as Muslims.  As youngsters, Saleem and his brother attended a school run by Muslims. “The Imam [worship leader] would send us out of class when he did Islamic studies.”

saleem_jim_chicago_edit-250

Fr. Saleem with Fr. Jim Bok

‘A strong character’

One of eight children, Saleem has been working in the same province where he and his siblings were raised, the Punjab (“five rivers”) of Pakistan. His devotedly Catholic family was tested when his father died young (Saleem was 5 years old). “I loved my mother very much. She was a very strong character, very hard-working, a woman of conviction. She forced us to go to school. All of us are educated.”

After high school, “They wanted me to do technical training.” It must have been fate, but when Saleem went to Karachi, “I had no place to stay. I stayed with Franciscans and saw them singing and praying together day and night.” He wrote home to say, “I changed my mind,” and his mother responded, “This is your life. Do what you want.”

Since solemn profession in 1992 he has been Vicar, Secretary, Novice Master, Guardian, Student Master, Councilor, and most recently, associate pastor at a large parish in Lahore and Professor of Missiology at the National Catholic Institute of Theology.

“I am very happy to be a friar. I wake up every day and thank God.” Even so, “I have been saying for the last five or six years that I want to go for a mission experience. I must also tell you, I received an invitation from the Diocese of Joliet in Chicago” to minister there. “Finally when we had a council meeting, the councilors and Custos talked about the relationship” with St. John the Baptist Province in the United States.

Custos Yusuf Bagh gave Saleem a choice, Jamaica or America. “I chose Jamaica to strengthen our twinning relationship and to be in touch with suffering humanity, to serve God’s people.”

Custos Yusuf Bagh (far left) with Br. vince Delorenzo (far right) and Fr. Alex Kratz (kneeling) with parishioners in Karachi, Pakistan.

Custos Yusuf Bagh (far left) with Br. vince Delorenzo (far right) and Fr. Alex Kratz (kneeling) with parishioners in Karachi, Pakistan.

Feeling welcomed

He is an effective ambassador for his homeland, correcting stereotypes conveyed by negative news reports. “Pakistan is not Afghanistan,” he says. In the media, “They try to mix it. Pakistan is a modern country with a very good education system and hospitals and all the natural resources. If we have sincere, dedicated, committed leaders Pakistan can become something,” but corruption and extremists stand in the way of progress.

The seeds of Christianity, the second largest religion in the country, were planted in 52 AD by Thomas the Apostle. “We are growing. We have many Muslims, Hindus and others being attracted to Christianity,” an attraction fiercely opposed by the government. “Christianity in Pakistan has always been seen in the light of the West and Western religion,” so what happens in America impacts Pakistanis. Unfortunately, “Radicals try to blame Americans for everything.”

Saleem’s experience with American friars has been positive. “I knew Fr. John Quigley as a student. I had met Br. Vince Delorenzo and Fr. Alex Kratz” when they visited Pakistan last year. Brothers in Cincinnati have been “very loving, caring, concerned. I’m so grateful to Fr. Jeff Scheeler; he had made arrangements for me to go see different friars. They are asking me all the time if I am happy, if I need anything. I feel very much welcomed.”

Hospitality aside, Saleem is praying “very hard” that his work permit for Jamaica will arrive soon. In the meantime he is educating himself with YouTube videos and a book on Jamaican culture from the public library. “I will be going to Washington, D.C., to see Fr. [Greg] Friedman,” who will serve as General Visitor to the Custody in Pakistan. All along the way, Saleem is keeping a journal he plans to share with the friars back home. “Yesterday I wrote two pages about my experience of being in Cincinnati and visiting fraternities.”

When he gets to Jamaica, where will he live and what will he do? “Jim [Bok] asked me whether I have an agenda” about ministry. He told Jim, “I follow your plans or agenda. I am coming with my mind a blank slate.”

Whatever the future holds, “I have been happy I made the choice to go.”

Originally published in the SJB News Notes November 2016

The Custos of St. John the Baptist in Karachi, Pakistan

The Custos of St. John the Baptist in Karachi, Pakistan

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Three friars ordained

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ordained

The Litany of the Saints

Three friars say ‘yes’ to ordination
~

Why have so many people come so far?  “They are good men and will do great things,” says Jordan Neeck, referring to friends Clifford Hennings, Colin King and Roger Lopez who were ordained June 11.

ordained

Cliff Hennings and Roger Lopez

Jordan is so sure of this that he drove 500 miles from his home, a Norbertine Abbey in Wisconsin, to be part of their ordinations at St. Clement Church in Cincinnati. “I’m here to share in the joy in celebrating their accomplishment and the grace given by God to accept this call.”

In fact, the supporters who fill the sanctuary are almost as excited as the participants.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” says Chicagoan Marc Butiong, who once spent seven days in Jamaica with the three friars “bringing Eucharist to the sick, helping at the soup kitchen, painting homes for the homeless, putting together care packages for Christmas.” As a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “It was my foray into being a man of faith. I thank God for them in my life.”

ordained

Colin King

Relatives and lifelong friends feel included and appreciated, with good reason. The three being ordained – Roger and Clifford to the priesthood, Colin to the diaconate – know that ordination does not set them above or apart from other people.  It brings them closer.

“Truly blessed”

David Lukinovich, a friend of Clifford’s family, remembers the kid they called “CD” [for Certificate of Deposit] because “he was going to knock it out of the park in the business world.” Here from Baton Rouge, La., David says the grown-up Clifford “glows with happiness and joy.”

“We come from a lot of different places,” acknowledges Master of Ceremonies Fr. Richard Goodin welcoming guests to an event that seems more like a family reunion than a formal ritual. Ordaining Bishop Joseph Binzer, familiar to friars, is comfortable with this crowd. When Colin’s selection is affirmed by applause, the Bishop responds, “I thought I heard some angels and saints applauding along with us.”

As is his custom, Bishop Binzer met the three friars for a pre-ordination lunch and conversation at what he calls “a gourmet restaurant.” Dining at Skyline Chili, they discussed “their hopes for the future, their trust in the Lord and how truly blessed they are.” When the Bishop asked them, “What might I say to everyone else who is here?” they said, “That everyone who is here today might fall in love more deeply with Jesus Christ, that all of us might commit to serving the Lord.”

ordained

Friars Neri Greskoviak and Joe Ricchini bless Cliff and Roger

In his homily the Bishop quotes a News Notes story in which Colin expressed his excitement and Clifford and Roger talked about serving as Franciscan priests. He also quotes from an address Pope Francis gave during the Jubilee for Priests in Rome. “The Heart of the Good Shepherd tells us that his love is limitless; it is never exhausted and it never gives up,” the Pope told priests. And one papal pronouncement the Bishop especially likes: “He [the priest] is stubborn in doing good, anointed with the divine obstinacy that loses sight of no one.”

Turning to the three friars, the Bishop says, “Thanks for being great examples for all of us of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Know that we are here not just today but [always] to pray for you and support you.”

He calls them forward for the Promise – first Colin, then Clifford and Roger. Each responds to the final query with, “I do, with the help of God.”

“May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment,” says Bishop Binzer.

A touching Litany

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Roger Lopez celebrates the Mass

The ceremony unfolds with a sight not often seen, three friars lying prostrate in the aisle, as cantors Br. John Barker and Sacred Heart friar Br. Ed Shea, a comrade in the 2009 walking pilgrimage, intone the Litany of the Saints.

It is the interactions of friars that leave a lasting impression:  Br. Gene Mayer fussing with Colin’s vestments; tears from Fr. Paul Walsman; bear hugs from Fr. Ric Schneider for the newly ordained; the ear-to-ear grins of Fr. Larry Zurek and Fr. Joe Ricchini.

After Communion, Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler expresses “deep and profound gratitude” to teachers and formators “who have accompanied our brothers along the way,” as well as their families. “Thank you for your support over the years. We promise to try to cherish them as much as you will continue to do.”

And to Clifford, Colin and Roger he says, “Thank you for your generosity, your willingness to serve.” Jeff hopes that “what we have called them to today will go not to their heads, but to their hearts.”

Brotherly love

For Roger’s Mom, Carlotta Lopez, the best moment was “seeing the brotherly love; it’s very touching.”

ordained

Susan Hennings receives communion from her son

“It was so heartfelt, so beautiful, such a genuine thing to see how much joy they had,” says David’s daughter, Mary Lukinovich, who has known Clifford “all my life”.

Clifford chose the friars, says his mother, Susan Hennings, because of “the brotherhood. Watching the priests come and lay their hands on Roger and Clifford was probably the most touching.” Her son Seth, 20, was moved “seeing my brother give Eucharist for the first time.”

When Roger was an altar boy, says Carlotta, “The pastor told me, ‘You’ve got a priest on your hands.’” In high school Roger was voted “most spiritual, most likely to be a priest.” For Carlotta’s part, “I just prayed he would make the right decisions.”

As for Clifford and Colin, open minds and open hearts have helped them find the way. Susan says of her son, “He’s definitely where God wants him to be.”

More photos on our Flickr album Ordinations 2016

this story was originally published in the SJB News Notes, edited by Toni Cashnelli

ordained

L-R: Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler, Deacon Colin King, Bishop Joe Binzer, Fr. Cliff Hennings, and Fr. Roger Lopez

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Fr. Murray Bodo writes spiritual autobiography

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Piecing together the story of a soul
~

Fr. Murray Bodo, OFM, jokes about the girth of his new book.

“Once I started I kept going,” he says of writing his 380-page autobiography, Gathering Shards: A Franciscan Life (Tau Publishing). “Now I can hardly lift it.” He’s a bit embarrassed about the literary importance implied by such heft. “Maybe we can use it as a doorstop?”

Murray BodoAsked by Tau to record the story of his life and his spiritual journey, he initially declined. “I thought it would single me out as somebody worthy of writing an autobiography,” says Murray, one of our foremost Franciscan writers of prose and poetry. “I felt my life was too ordinary to warrant something like this” – that it would seem pretentious or self-indulgent.

Then, he says, “I realized no life is ordinary, and when I had the opportunity to look at it, I see how extraordinary my own life has been,” from a halcyon childhood in the Southwest through days of doubt about the path he pursued, from friendships that helped him hone his craft to the inspiration he found in his adopted home, Assisi. He also realized, “I could not have written this book when I was younger. There’s a certain clarity that comes [at age 78] you wouldn’t have at the time you’re passing through it.”

Deeply personal

Shards of Anasazi pottery

Shards of Anasazi pottery

More than anything, Murray’s 32nd book is an appreciation of his parents and the friars, the friends and the places that shaped his spirituality and kindled his creativity. “My parents and others who loved me and believed in me and let me go are the real protagonists of these memories,” he writes in a foreward.

And because Shards is so personal, “It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written,” Murray says. “The scariest thing was self-disclosure. How much do you tell? How deeply do you get into it? I had the most anxiety when I sent it in and realized, people are going to be reading this! I have never felt that vulnerable.”

The book’s title comes from the pieces of Anasazi pottery Murray collected as a boy near the Navajo Reservation in Gallup, N.M. “The following pages, fragmented and flawed though they are, attempt to gather the shards of my life into a metaphorical pottery bowl similar to those I tried (and failed) to assemble,” he writes in a Dedication. Some of his published poems are the tissue binding the sections. “Poetry has been a way to process my inner life,” he explains.

An adventure begins

Pleasant Street Friary in Over-the-Rhine is about as far from Gallup as you can get. But it’s obvious that Murray’s office with its Native American rugs, pottery and panoramic paintings is occupied by a child of the Southwest.

Polly and Louie Bodo

Polly and Louie Bodo

During the two years of “immersion” he spent writing Shards, he returned to Colorado and New Mexico, “revisiting the places of my youth. I could feel myself being renewed by the landscape. Someone once said, ‘Every landscape you love is the landscape of your youth.’”

The first segment of Shards, a narrative of childhood, is so vividly drawn it’s like stepping into one of the cowboy movies to which young Murray was addicted. Mom Polly and Dad Louie led quietly remarkable lives, as did many hard-working parents tested and tempered by the Great Depression and World War II. What’s striking and relatable is how lovingly Murray describes their sacrifices – and the guilt and gratitude he still feels so deeply. Imagine letting your only child leave home at the age of 14, watching him board a Greyhound bus bound for a seminary 1,500 miles away.

“I was 14 years old; it was a great adventure,” says Murray. “From the time I was 14 I’ve been a pilgrim, away from my roots. The pilgrim spirit is something very congenial to me. I am truly the itinerant friar.”

Though it’s the story of a soul, Gathering Shards is grounded in relationships. “If I only wrote about mystical experiences, that’s a pretty short book because we live an incarnational life.”

Through darkness

Murray with poet Denise Levertov

Murray with poet Denise Levertov

He writes candidly of his spiritual isolation as a Franciscan novice: “It was as if Jesus stood for the last time at the door of my soul and left without even saying goodbye. And no amount of prayer or fasting seemed able to bring him back.” Providentially, Novice Master Benno Heidlage came to his rescue. “Fr. Benno intuitively grasped the story of woe I shared with him; and having been there himself as a young friar, he empathized with the depression into which I’d sunk and deftly led me through this dark night of the soul with compassion and prudent counsel.”

As often happens in Murray’s life, the right person was there at the right time. “One of the things that helped me [write the book] was three long sections about the people who influenced me,” he says. Chapters are devoted to “those exceptional others” who were friends and mentors: poets Denise Levertov and Herbert Lomas, and Fr. Francis Harpin, who taught Murray about “authentic prayer” in Assisi.

Murray BodoHe dreamed of returning to the Southwest as a missionary, but the Lord had other plans.

Eventually, Murray found himself through teaching. “I realized I had more gift for doing what I was doing than as a missionary.” Ironically, “By doing obedience I found parts of myself. This became my familiar world, but it has never had the emotional or archetypal pull the Southwest has had for me. As a teacher I took the summers ‘off’ to be in Assisi” as a guide for pilgrims. “So in some ways, I was fulfilling my desire to be a missionary.”

Since 1972 when Murray wrote Francis: The Journey and the Dream, the book that made him famous, Assisi has been “a place vital to my spiritual, emotional and creative life….it clings to me the way this Umbrian hill town clings to a spur of Mount Subasio…”

“There is meaning”

While Murray was assembling these shards, “I was learning things about myself in the process. I realized that some of my best writing came out of the times I was broken. I’m not a saint; I’m a writer. It’s writing that helps me grow closer to God.”

After two years of research, recollection and re-writes – “it was fulfilling but draining” – he’s pleased with the way the pieces fit.  “Somehow the book seems to cohere. I wanted it to be honest. My prayer and hope for every page was that whatever I was saying about myself would remind readers about their own selves. There is meaning, there is a pattern in our lives. My hope is that especially friars will think of their own lives and how special their lives are because they’re Franciscan.” Being a friar is “an extraordinary life to commit yourself to – full of riches you don’t think of day-to-day. I had the great privilege to have time to do that.”

The result is a substantial book about a substantial life. “I dropped three or four chapters,” says Murray, still mindful of the weight – and the cost – of his autobiography. “How much is this thing? Seventeen dollars? I don’t know anyone who can afford it!”

For those who cannot, here’s a spoiler alert: The book ends happily.

“What can I say of my life,” Murray writes, “except, ‘How blessed I am.’”
Gathering Shards is available from Tau Publishing.

Originally published in the SJB NewsNotes by Toni Cashnelli

Fr. Murray stands outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy

Fr. Murray stands outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy

 

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The true spirit of giving

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Cincinnati Bengal's Andrew Whitworth and Dhani Jones signed footballs for the Friars Club Kids.

Cincinnati Bengal’s Andrew Whitworth and Dhani Jones signed footballs for the Friars Club Kids.

They put their hearts into helping
~

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

They are athletes who advocate for youth, activists who champion the underserved, families who persevere through tragedy to light the way for others. April 15 at its 44th Annual Community Dinner in Cincinnati, Friars Club said thank you to people like these who exemplify the spirit of giving.

It was the second dinner at Friars’ new facility but there were several firsts:

  • Honoree Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals and former teammate Dhani Jones autographed footballs and basketballs and posed for pictures with some very excited Friars Kids. “I believe in what they do here,” Andrew said.
  • Attendees browsed items offered for a silent auction before the dinner, then took part in a spirited after-dinner auction hosted (with gusto) by Chanel 12’s Bob Herzog.
  • The awards went high-tech, with video intros of honorees flashed on twin screens in the basketball courts, transformed into a dining room with artful lighting and décor.
Executive Director Anne Timmons

Executive Director Anne Timmons

“The whole atmosphere was very different,” says Annie Timmons, Friars Club Executive Director. “People told me [afterward] that it was a lot of fun, the best dinner they’ve been to.” A generous crowd – nearly twice the usual attendance – helped Friars raise about $80,000 for its athletic and Learning Center programs.

Introduced by Chanel 12 news anchor Rob Braun, who was returning for his 35th dinner, Annie previewed the awards presentation. “I would describe all of our honorees as ‘superheroes’,” she said.

Through his BigWhit 77 Foundation, “Andrew Whitworth has been a role model for many young kids,” Annie said of the Player of the Year. Friars Award winner Jeanette Altenau, TriHealth’s Director of Community Relations, is “a caretaker of the community.” And receiving the Francis Award were the parents of Lauren Hill, the courageous teen who spent her final months raising awareness about pediatric brain cancer and raising millions of dollars for research before she died.

At the lectern, Jeanette turned the attention to others like “the Franciscans, who impart their heart and soul” to ministries like Friars Club. Lauren’s Mom Lisa encouraged the audience to “find something to fight for.” And Andrew deflected the applause. “This is such a cool opportunity to be here,” he told the crowd. “You may think I’ve inspired kids, but you inspire me.”

Spoken like a true superhero.

Originally published in SJB NewsNotes by Toni Cashnelli

More photos on our Flickr page

Program Director Parrish Ozias with Friars Kids

Program Director Parrish Ozias with Friars Kids

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Parade is a walk of discovery

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“At the Old Ball Game!”
~

Fr. Stephen Cho from South Korea

Fr. Stephen Cho from South Korea

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.

Br. Chris Meyer

Br. Chris Meyer

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.”

Passing time

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.

Reds Banner

Friars Gene Mayer, Pat McCloskey, and Stephen Cho

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.”

More photos of the day on our Flickr page.

Originally published in the SJB NewsNotes.

Fr. Tom Speier and Fr. John Bok enjoy a sweet ride thanks to our friend Roger Pierson and his 1954 Packard

Fr. Tom Speier and Fr. John Bok enjoy a sweet ride thanks to our friend Roger Pierson and his 1954 Packard

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A Special Bond

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While on home leave from Negril, Jamaica, Fr. Jim Bok, OFM, always eats at Gold Star Chili with Jeff Rapking

While back in the States from Negril, Jamaica, Fr. Jim always visits with Jeff.

Jeff Rapking loves Roger Bacon High School
and they love him too
~

Jeff makes sure the cafeteria runs smoothly

Jeff makes sure the cafeteria runs smoothly

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 Coyle and Jeff at this year's Opening Day Parade with staff from Franciscan Media

Barb Coyle and Jeff at this year’s Opening Day Parade with staff from Franciscan Media

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”

Polar Bear PlungeEight 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.

Barb and Jeff at a Reds game

Barb and Jeff at a Reds game

“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.”

Friends forever

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.”

Jeff on the steps on Roger Bacon HS

Jeff on the steps on Roger Bacon HS

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. Jim and Jeff outside the Newport Aquarium in 2007 for the "Jumping for Jeff" Polar Bear Plunge organized to honor Jeff and raise money for Special Olympics

Fr. Jim and Jeff outside the Newport Aquarium in 2007 for the “Jumping for Jeff” Polar Bear Plunge organized to honor Jeff and raise money for Special Olympics

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‘Fr. Joe was good to everybody’

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Photos of Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, at his funeral

Photos of Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, at his funeral

Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM
July 20, 1931 – November 27, 2015
~

Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM

Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM

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. Joe revisiting the New Orleans school flooded after Hurricane Katrina

Fr. Joe revisiting the New Orleans school flooded after Hurricane Katrina

‘Always grateful’

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’.”

A Little Sister watches the slide show

A Little Sister watches the slide show

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.

Fr. Joe with Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler, OFM

Fr. Joe with Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler, OFM

“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.”

L to R: Friar Basil Westendick, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, and Fr. Joe Rigali

L to R: Friar Basil Westendick, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, and Fr. Joe Rigali

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

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Wake the world with song

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Fr. Fred Link, OFM, leads the choir practice for the 'Wake Up the World' concert celebrating consecrated life.

Fr. Fred Link, OFM, leads the choir practice for the ‘Wake Up the World’ concert celebrating consecrated life.

Concert is a celebration of religious life
~

Wake up the world

It’s the second full rehearsal for “Wake Up the World!” a concert to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.  More than 120 members of 16 religious communities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – including 21 friars – have donated their time and talent to the event, named for the apostolic letter in which Pope Francis sought to affirm and energize men and women in religious life.

Most of the year’s other activities – prayer services, seminars, open houses – are educational, informative. This hour-long concert is meant to inspire, to stir the soul, to communicate the joy of devoting one’s life to the Lord.

It’s the job of Fr. Fred Link, OFM, to pull this together. And he’s loving every minute of it.

He found 20 of his own brothers willing to help. “I’m humbled by the turnout and energy of the friars,” he says. Secretary Fr. Dan Anderson, OFM, part of a logistics committee, is writing a narrative for the program. Br. Gabriel Balassone, OFM, was asked to sing Ave Maria. Br. Gene Mayer, OFM, is coordinating refreshments.

The free concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, 325 W. 8th St. in downtown Cincinnati. Attendees are invited to a reception in the undercroft.

Learn more at the ‘Wake Up The World’ event page.

Read the full story in the SJB NewsNotes December 3, 2015
Photos ©2015 Fr. Frank Jasper, OFM

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