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A tiny gesture of hope in Detroit

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Friars Alex Kratz, Maynard Tetreault, and Louie Zant at St. Moses the Black friary in Detroit

Friars Alex Kratz, Maynard Tetreault, and Louie Zant at St. Moses the Black friary in Detroit

Friars are welcomed by a neighborhood that needs them

There are four signs on the building announcing the presence of friars.

“One thing I learned working in evangelization,” says Fr. Alex Kratz, “is to let people know where you are.” So every few yards, there’s a sign marking the site of the newest Franciscan friary in Detroit: St. Moses the Black. The last time anyone lived in this former rectory on Oakman Boulevard was 20 years ago. Since October it’s been home to Alex and fellow friars Br. Louie Zant and Br. Maynard Tetreault.

Across the street

Across the street

In a city rebounding from its past, the friars are part of a neighborhood that’s been left behind. Next door is a food pantry that sees brisk traffic. On the street in back, eight houses are boarded up or so structurally unsound they’re caving inward. With windows broken or shuttered, nearby factories are lifeless and desolate.

A few blocks away is another sign, this one marking the boundary of Highland Park. It not only has the highest crime rate in Detroit – 46 crimes per 1,000 residents – but one of the highest in America. Here, your chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime is one in 22. If poverty has a Ground Zero, this is the place.

For Maynard, Alex and Louie, the natural question is, “Why here?” And just as important, “Why now?”


The “now” part seems like divine providence. “This is the 50th anniversary of the riots in Detroit,” says Maynard, referring to a tsunami of violence that swept the city in 1967, leaving 43 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. For Alex, race and inequity converged in recent, deadly confrontations between African-Americans and police officers. “All of this came crashing into my prayers,” he says.

Food pantry helper Ron Nunn with Pauline Ford & Damita Brooks

Food pantry helper Ron Nunn with Pauline Ford & Damita Brooks

In March he suggested the friars expand their Detroit-area presence into an underserved neighborhood that was predominantly black. “I’ve been here [in Detroit] since 1999,” serving as Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese for eight of those years. “Whenever I drive, I take the highway. I bypass miles and miles of this,” he says, waving an inclusive hand. “I felt a bit conflicted that I kind of avoided this whole area,” including the adjacent city of Highland Park, “which is even poorer than Detroit.”

A quote from a class at St. Bonaventure – “Faith must have social consequences” – nudged Alex forward. “My studies kept echoing in my head,” he says. “Social location is part of our Franciscan charism. When we’re in a location where the poor are, it changes your witness.”

Mark Soehner, former pastor of St. Aloysius in Detroit, knew the area well. During his time as Director of Postulants, “He also worked in this cluster and taught RCIA,” Alex says. “We talked a lot in general” about problems and possibilities. “We say Detroit has suffered ‘demolition by neglect’. We only have a few Catholic parishes in the city. There’s a feeling of abandonment among Catholics in Detroit. Institutionally, the Church has pulled out.”

Spirit at work

Associate Pastor Patrick Gonyeau with Alex, Maynard & Louie

Associate Pastor Patrick Gonyeau with Alex, Maynard & Louie

A pastoral letter called “Unleash the Gospel,” released in June by Archbishop Allen Vigneron, was a call to evangelization. “His plan is to have the religious evangelize the city,” Alex says. At St. Moses the Black, “I’d say we’re on the cutting edge of evangelization.” As friars, “It’s right down our alley.”

After the Provincial Council endorsed his plan, “It took some looking and searching” to find the right place. “If I was going to invite friars in, I didn’t want to be in a structurally dangerous building with a slumlord.” That eliminated a number of prospects. Finally, “The Holy Spirit guided me to this,” a rectory attached to St. Moses the Black Church.

The pastor, J.J. Mech, also serves as rector of the nearby Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary. His associate in all three locations, Patrick Gonyeau, is also Central Regional Coordinator of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit. The very busy Patrick speaks for the community when he says, “There’s such an excitement about the Franciscans being here.”

St. Moses the Black

St. Moses the Black

Indeed, “People have been very welcoming,” says Louie, a regular at morning Mass.

“The parish is older, but there are kids in catechism class,” according to Maynard. “There’s always hospitality after Mass. They have a lively liturgy and a great choir.” Now, “All they need is people.”

For Detroit-born Maynard, this was a homecoming. “Our parish [Visitation] was a mile from here. These were my old haunts.” He remembers Oakman Boulevard as “a nice, middle-class neighborhood,” more upscale than his own.

This summer his ministry in Galveston, Texas, ended when the province returned Holy Family Parish to the diocese. “This [Detroit proposal] didn’t really come about until April. I heard about the potential of this place. I think our presence among marginated people is important. I think it is a tiny gesture of hope.”

Cleaning up

Formed by the merger of three parishes, St. Moses the Black spans most of a block on the boulevard. It’s a fortress of a building, with arched doorways and a vaulted atrium that serves as a vestibule and meeting space. Near the main door is an imposing painting of the church’s patron saint, the 4th-century slave who gave up a life of banditry to become a desert monk and an apostle for nonviolence.

Br. Louie at the food pantry

Br. Louie at the food pantry

Up the steps and off to the right is the friary, which until recently served as the hub and storage facility for St. Moses the Black Food Pantry. Now the pantry is housed in the former school next door, where Louie is a volunteer.

He visited the future friary after returning from missionary service in Jamaica. “I was just interested in going someplace where I could be useful,” he says, like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. “Alex asked me if I might be interested in coming to Detroit, interacting with people in neighborhood projects.” Louie recalls his first visit.

To enter the building, “We came through a rolling metal door” that blocked homeless people from sleeping on the steps, turning the rectory into a bunker. Inside, “There were boxes all around. The first floor was used as storage” for the parish food pantry. “It needed some cleaning up,” he says. Despite the clutter, “We saw the possibilities” in the 92-year-old rectory.

“This place hadn’t been lived in in 20 years,” says Maynard, whose eagle eye as Provincial Building Coordinator does not miss much. “When we did the walk-through and saw plaster coming down, we knew it needed some care.” The parish fixed the plumbing and replaced the roof. Electrical work is an ongoing project. Most of the 17 doors would not close, a typical issue as old buildings settle. All of them needed sanding and/or lock repairs.

Looking, listening

By the time he moved here Oct. 2, Louie says, “Things were very liveable.” The furnishings, most donated, have the plain but serviceable look of bygone friaries. The addition of Internet was a must, but TV screens are absent by design.

Fr. Alex with helpers at the food pantry clothing outlet

Fr. Alex with helpers at the food pantry clothing outlet

Slowly but surely, Maynard and Local Minister Louie have whittled the to-do list to a manageable size. Now they’re assessing the needs of their neighbors and quietly making their presence known.

Around here, “People carry a lot of burdens,” Alex says. “Some of them live on their own. One of the things I’ve been thinking of doing is asking people waiting at the food pantry if they’d like to be prayed with.”

As for Maynard, “I’m not putting out my shingle” for sacramental ministry just yet. His goal for this first year, he says, is “to listen”, learn what people need “and what the bishop wants.”

Alex came into this juggling another project, the restoration of St. Joseph Chapel and the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pontiac. It’s also the home of Terra Sancta Pilgrimages, which he co-founded and leads.

At St. Moses the Black, “I think being visible and being in the neighborhood is important,” he says. One day at 6 a.m., “I was praying the rosary on the sidewalk” while wearing his habit. “A young guy was catching a bus for his job at a potato chip factory. He did a double take and said, ‘You’re medieval’. I explained to him what friars are about.”

Maynard is encouraged by what he’s seen. “I was happy to hear about us going into the city. A lot of people are working on a comeback for Detroit,” including a mayor [Mike Duggan] “who has promised to do more for neighborhoods. There are many hopeful signs.”

Four of those signs, lettered in brown, are attached to this building.

This story first appeared in the SJB NewsNotes.

Moses outisde friars CROP 600

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Christmas at St Anthony’s Kitchen

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Santa didn't disappoint the children at St. Anthony's Kitchen.

Santa didn’t disappoint the children at St. Anthony’s Kitchen.

While family and friends were back home freezing in Cincinnati, I was roasting my earlobes off on the hot and sunny Friday before Christmas. Kids and grown-ups were gathering to enjoy the annual Christmas party at St. Anthony’s Kitchen.

NEgril Santa child 250Ms. Pearl, the head cook and honcho, and the staff cooked up a special lunch for our clients; fried chicken, jerk pork and curry goat to be served with pasta salad and the traditional rice & peas. Christmas cake and sodas were on the menu too. We “shared out” (don’t you love that Jamaican expression?) 250 meals.

Santa Claus arrived around 11:00. The children were excited and eager, knowing they were going to get a Christmas present. He did not let the kids down. Trying to keep them in the queue was a formidable task. Santa brought excitement and joy to about 150 children. For many, this would be their only Christmas gift. And Santa had a rude awakening. I don’t think he was expecting such a climate change from Columbus, Georgia—ah, I mean the North Pole. He was totally and absolutely saturated and exhausted when he headed back to his sleigh.

Negril Santa Claus child 250The Rotary Club of Negril, wonderful collaborators with us, provided 120 bags of groceries which included a chicken, rice, peas, flour, sugar, cornmeal, cooking oil, various tins of food, milo, cookies, and more. These groceries provide a fantastic Christmas treat beyond the means of most of our clients.

We have a lot of outreach in the Negril community in which we assist the poor. But on this one day in the year there is a certain “electricity” in The Kitchen yard. The special meal, Santa and his gifts, a plentiful grocery bag and some very evident love of neighbor all work together to make Christmas at The Kitchen a truly holy day.

One profound blessing of this holy day and every day of the year, is the awesome support of many benefactors. Without benefactors—well, there would be no Santa at The Kitchen, no grocery bags, no St. Anthony’s Kitchen, no Get Kids to School program, no help with medication and medical exams…and I could go on and on. God bless our benefactors with peace and all good this year!

Visit them on Facebook at St. Anthony’s Kitchen.

Fr. Jim Bok and Fr. Colin King at the St. Anthony's Kitchen Christmas Party

Fr. Jim Bok and Fr. Colin King at the St. Anthony’s Kitchen Christmas Party

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The New St. Anthony Center

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St. Anthony Center

New Franciscan collaboration

Working with St. Francis Seraph Ministries, The Franciscans are spearheading a very unique partnership with local non-profit organizations.  The new St. Anthony Center (SAC) will become a “hub of services” all in one place to serve the poor.  Currently the old St. Anthony Messenger building at the corner of Liberty and Republic Streets is being remodeled and when it is complete this new facility will house 6 different social service agencies at one location.

The newly renovated St. Anthony Center, scheduled to open mid-November 2017 will be the new home for the following agencies:

SAC logo white 345 x 300• St. Francis Seraph Ministries which includes the Soup Kitchen annually serving
30,000 meals; the Bag Lunch Program providing 800+ bag lunches each week for
day laborers and residential treatment centers; The Sarah Center teaches women
sewing, quilting and jewelry making empowering women into job skills and small business opportunities; Cooking for the Family teaches families basic cooking and nutrition skills to feed their family affordably, using locally grown food.

• Tri-Health Outreach Ministries provides R.N.’s and Community Care Workers for home visits to the elderly and pregnant women in the urban core.  This program of personal health care within local neighborhoods keeps overall medical costs down while offering a higher level of medical care to the most vulnerable in the community.

• Center for Respite Care is a 24 hour medical recovery facility for the homeless when they are released from the hospital.  Clients receive medical care, personal support and assistance to break the cycle of being chronically ill and homeless.

• Mary Magdalene House is an oasis of hospitality providing a safe place for those in need to take a shower, care for their personal hygiene and grooming, have their clothes laundered, use a phone or receive messages or mail.

• Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank helps to diaper babies in need collaborating with local agencies who care for pregnant women and new mothers.  Over 16,000 babies in the local community need diapers every month and diapers are an essential need for a babies well-being.

Overall this new collaboration will continue the long Franciscan tradition of serving the poor and it will be a lasting legacy of the Franciscan Friars from the Province of St. John the Baptist in over-the-Rhine.  Now the underutilized St. Anthony Messenger building will become a safe haven for anyone in need.  This new facility the St. Anthony Center named for the patron saint of the lost and forgotten will be devoted now to the care of the poor and the homeless.

RSVP for the Open house here.

More information can be found at the SFS Ministries website

MOther Teresa Soup kitchen 600


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Our Franciscan outreach in Jamaica

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The Lord is with Thee

On July 19, 2017, newly ordained Fr. Colin King joined fellow Franciscans Fr. Jim Bok, Br. Chris Meyer and Fr. Saleem Amir at our Jamaican mission, where together they are focusing on education and community building with ministries such as St. Anthony’s Kitchen and the Get Kids to School program. Fr. Colin and Fr. Jim primarily live and work in Negril, while Br. Chris and Fr. Saleem live in Savannah-la-Mar.  Br. Chris works as the Communications Director for the Diocese of Montego Bay.  Fr. Saleem is the pastor of parishes in Savannah-la-Mar and Orange Hill.

Fr. Saleem Amir with servers at Orange Hill, Jamaica

Fr. Saleem Amir with servers at Orange Hill

Even though Fr. Colin has only been pastor of two parishes on the island for a short time, he has already been a blessing to many. His witness and priestly presence recently prompted an unlikely person—a prostitute struggling to raise her baby—to privately seek out Fr. Colin and request that he baptize her son into the Catholic Church. Fr. Colin did so with much joy, noting that it was a powerful moment to have her child received into the Church.

“Just being present and approachable is so important,” Fr. Colin says, “as well as conveying mercy and steadfast compassion while walking with people on their unique journeys to meet God wherever they are. I’m so grateful this mother felt comfortable enough to come and talk to me.”
This includes sharing in the people’s joy as well as well as in their sorrow, as Fr. Colin points out. He has already presided at a funeral for a young mother of only 25 years old, who tragically died while giving birth to her second child.

“It’s very sad, and it’s been a very hard time for the family and for the community,” Fr. Colin says. “One of the most important things I can do for them is to be present and available.” In conjunction with their pastoral duties, the friars work to combat the many educational challenges students and families face in Jamaica with the Get Kids to School program.

“There are many obstacles for kids regarding school here, “says Fr. Colin. “These are fairly rural areas with families living in poverty. On the hills there is no natural water source and people have to collect rainwater and harvest it. We try to help parents and children however we can with uniforms, school supplies, food, and transportation.”


Br. Chris Meyer outside St. Joseph Church

In spite of the many obstacles, both children and parents often show an inspiring amount of willpower and determination. One teenage student takes three taxis for a total travel time of one hour and a half just to get to school (not including the return trip). She’s doing well and she is one of the top performers in her class.

The friars make it a priority to support the schools directly as well. The schools are in urgent need of resources, as one doesn’t have electricity and there is no public transportation. Fr. Colin meets with the principals in his role as Chairman of the Board of three Catholic schools. In partnership with the schools, they are trying to find ways to offset food costs, allocate current resources, and find new resources.

In order to reach as many people as possible, the friars also teamed up with Food for the Poor, locating families within their parishes who need the most urgent help. One goal they share is to help families become self-sustainable so they can eventually support themselves. A recent project provided a family with chickens and helped them set up a coop.

Our friars are doing God’s work in Jamaica. Five days a week, the St. Anthony Kitchen provides breakfast to around 60 children each morning and lunch to about 110 adults every afternoon. The Get Kids to School program offers children hope for a brighter future by investing in their education. And each day, our friars bring faith, hope, and love to the people of one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean.

Fr. Jim Bok with students before drive to school and after a good breakfast at St. Anthony's Kitchen

Fr. Jim Bok with students before the drive to school and after a good breakfast at St. Anthony’s Kitchen

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A Franciscan Christmas 2017

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For unto you a child is born

Bring your friends and family to ‘A Franciscan Christmas’ in historic Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati.  Enter the courtyard of St. Francis Seraph Church on the corner of Liberty and Vine to meditate on the Holy Family or pet the goats, sheep, and donkeys in this Live Nativity.

Nativity‘A Franciscan Christmas’ continues at the nearby Christian Moerlein Event Center. You’ll see a Christmas Creche display featuring nativities from around the world.  Fr. Joachim’s model trains, a Dickens Christmas village, a huge Santa Claus display, and lots and lots of decorated Christmas trees with comfortable chairs where you can sit and enjoy a beverage or food from the Christian Moerlein Taproom.

Dates and Hours for the Live Nativity in the St. Francis Seraph Courtyard:
Thursday November 24 – Saturday, January 6, 2018
1:00 PM – 7:00 PM Daily

Dates and Hours for ‘A Franciscan Christmas’ at Christian Moerlein Event Center:
Friday November 24 – Monday, January 1, 2018 when the Christian Moerlein Taproom is open for business.
Wednesdays 4:00 PM – 10:00PM
Thursdays 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Fridays 4:00 pm – Midnight
Saturdays Noon to Midnight
Sundays Noon – 7:00 PM

December 29, 6:00 PM – Open House! Celebrate the Christmas Season with the Friars. Light refreshments served.

Donations are welcome for the support of St. Francis Seraph Church and School.

St. Francis Seraph Church, 1615 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45202 (at the corner of Liberty and Vine)
Click here for Directions.

Christian Moerlein Event Center, 1621 Moore St., Cincinnati, OH  45202
Click here for Directions.

Br. Tim Sucher surrounded by families visiting the Franciscan Christmas at the Christian Moerlein Event Center

Br. Tim Sucher surrounded by families visiting the Franciscan Christmas at the Christian Moerlein Event Center

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$10,000 Jasper Challenge Matching Gift

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Will You Remember Our Retired Friars?

Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me –Psalms 71:9

Nurse Michelle taking Br. Josef’s, 77, blood pressure during one of her visits.

Br. Gabriel, 84, still plays piano and sings beautifully at St. Anthony Shrine each week.

Fr. John Paul, 82, right receives the blood of Christ from Fr. Frank, 86.

As friars we dedicate our lives to proclaiming the Gospel in the Franciscan spirit, living with and for the poor, promoting justice, peace, and the care of creation. We spend our lives of poverty in service and in prayer. Even after a lifetime of active service to God and others, we don’t retire to a life of leisure—we work in whatever capacity we are able to for as long as our minds and bodies allow. Of the 99 friars who are over the age of retirement, more than half are still ministering in various capacities. Many are well into their eighties, yet they still celebrate daily Mass (some with the help of a walker!), as well as volunteer at local soup kitchens, serve as hospital chaplains, and hold administrative roles like I do as the Co-Director here at Friar Works!

Province Nurse Michelle Viacava manages the healthcare for all of the 133 friars of St. John the Baptist Province, but she works mostly with retirement-age friars, since healthcare needs and health issues naturally increase with age. In doing so, she’s gotten to know many of our elderly friars on a more personal level.

Fr. Tom, 85, Pastor, Holy Name Church, Cincinnati participating in the Red's Opening Day Parade.

Fr. Tom, 85, Pastor, Holy Name Church, Cincinnati participating in the Red’s Opening Day Parade.

Fr. Jeremy, 85, Associate Pastor at Church of Transfiguration, Southfield, MI, presiding at Mass.

Fr. Jeremy, 85, Associate Pastor at Church of Transfiguration, Southfield, MI, presiding at Mass.

Fr. Cyprian, 93, tooling around on his scooter at a recent Franciscan friar gathering.

“The older friars are very appreciative of all I do for them,” she says. “Unlike most of society, they don’t have spouses or children to help them to remember appointments or to accompany them to surgeries, so that’s one area where I am able to step in.”

Michelle is happy to fulfill these roles and more, often lunching with them between taking vitals and bloodwork, and chatting with them whenever she gets the chance. She loves to hear about all of the people they’ve helped in various capacities throughout the years.

“They are all just wonderful,” she says. “They are very respectful and so full of wisdom. I might be helping them with their healthcare needs, but they have helped me along my faith journey.”

Michelle is one of the people making sure our aging friars get the emotional and physical support they require, but financial assistance is, of course, needed as well to continue caring for them.  In addition to Michelle, Br. Jerry Beetz works to assist the needs of the friars already in nursing facilities.

Fr. Paul, 92, does Mission appeals each year for Food for the Poor.

Fr. Paul, 92, does Mission appeals each year for Food for the Poor.

Br. Marcel, 84, right, and Br. Gabriel, 84, during a break at Chapter.

Br. Marcel, 84, right, and Br. Gabriel, 84, during a break at Chapter.

Fr. Humbert, 87, presides at Masses at St. Anthony Shrine.

Fr. Humbert, 87, often presides at Masses at St. Anthony Shrine.

Would you consider remembering our senior friars in your financial giving? Your charitable contribution comes at a time when our elderly friars need it most, after many years of faithful service. It says “thank you” to them for all they’ve done and continue to do. The quality care your gift provides helps bring comfort and peace to them in their old age.

Your gift also goes twice as far with gift matching from the Jasper Foundation! For nearly a decade, the Jasper Foundation has graciously offered us a $10,000 challenge grant for donations offered through this appeal! This means that your $50 gift becomes $100, and your $100 gift becomes $200, and so on. If you are considering giving, this is truly an excellent time to do so. Due to your generosity, we’ve met and exceeded this challenge every year since 2009, and we’d love to keep with this tradition!

We are so grateful for any tax-deductible contribution you can make, and it is our privilege to remember you in our prayers. May God bless you for your generosity. Thank you for supporting our Franciscan mission.

Peace and all things good,

Fr. John Bok, O.F.M., Co-Director

Please give to our senior friars on our Donation Page.

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Loading the “Get Kids To School” van

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Loading ‘Josey’ the van is a science and an art.

Now in its seventh year, the Get Kids to School program in Negril, Jamaica, is making sure 150 children have the uniforms and supplies they need to attend basic, primary and high schools.

On Sept. 4, the first day of school, “Our way-too-small bus was packed; we made three runs to and from school,” reports Fr. Jim Bok. He’s praying for a bigger Coaster bus for the program, overseen by Rotarian and volunteer Joan Cooney.

Would you like to support the Get Kids to School program?  Visit our Donation Page and write-in Get Kids to School in the comments box.  Or contact Friar Works Co-Director Colleen Cushard at 513-721-4700 Ext 3219 or email:

Fr. Jim Bok, OFM, Joan Cooney (Ms. Joans) with students from the 'Get Kids To School' program as they board 'Josey' the van that will take them to school.

Fr. Jim Bok, OFM, Joan Cooney (Ms. Joans) with students from the ‘Get Kids To School’ program as they board ‘Josey’ the van that will take them to school.

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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. Colin King, a blessing to God’s people

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Fr. Colin with Avaree, the newest altar server at St. Mary's

Fr. Colin with Avaree, the newest altar server at St. Mary’s

After eight years of formation and study, newly ordained Fr. Colin King, OFM was eager to begin his first assignment as a priest and missionary in Negril, Jamaica where he spent his pastoral year as a friar minor before his ordination.

Fr. Colin left the US on July 19, 2017. Since he spent his pastoral year there, he is very familiar with the abundant needs in Jamaica and is passionate about the Get Kids to School Program. In lieu of gifts, he and John Ahearn from Holy Name Province asked that all of the gifts from their ordinations be donated to the Get Kids to School program.

“Colin hit the road running! It was like he was never gone. He sweats profusely because of the heat and humidity. He is  a wonderful blessing to the friar community here and to God’s people; especially the youth” said Fr. Jim Bok.

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Fr. Jim Bok keeping limitations in perspective

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Fr. Jim at his 70th birthday party

Fr. Jim at his 70th birthday party

Word spread fast about the breaking of my leg the night I had my 70th birthday party.  Thanks to everyone for your concern and prayerful support.  I am currently in the rehab process which is going well.  For an old-timer, my progress is amazingly good—or so says my surgeon and therapist.  Let’s chalk that up to good genes (thanks mom and dad) and a stiff upper lip (had to say that since I live in a former British Colony).  My positive outlook and hopeful spirit is helpful too.

Though, I confess my stay in the Savanna-la-mar hospital emergency room for 15 hours and in Montego Bay Hospital for five days was a great challenge to the up-beat me.  I was miserable.  The spirits rose when I was told I was going home on Saturday.  On Sunday morning, I headed to Mass in a wheelchair propelled by somebody else.  Welcomes and good wishes were plentiful.  My spirits were buoyed.  Then we came to the exchange of peace.  Tracy, twenty-five, severely handicapped and deformed, carried by her grandmother, Maureen, came to me in my wheelchair, to bring their peace and receive mine.  I could barely refrain from sobbing.  That I should be miserable even for a day.  I will leave my wheelchair behind soon enough.  Not so, Tracy!

I see the same people, places and things as I did several weeks ago.  Now I see them in a different light.  It’s funny how misfortunes or trials, or breaking your leg can keep your focus where it belongs; on the other and not the self.

Fr. Jim and Nickoy

Fr. Jim and Nickoy

In my need to get out of the house I was determined to join our Friday morning trip to the grocery store.  And I knew what I must do.  Arriving in the parking lot, I got into my wheelchair and headed directly for Nickoy McKay!  I spun around and backed in right next to him.  Nickoy sits outside Hi-Lo most days.  He has a rare disease which confines him to a wheelchair.  I never pass him without a greeting and I always get a smile.  He knew of my broken leg and wished me a return to good health.  We commiserated on life in a wheelchair.  Eventually, I get to leave mine but he does not.

And I’ve thought of my dad a lot these past few weeks.  He suffered with ALS for about eight years.  I watched the neuro-muscular disease slowly sap his ability to move and talk and ultimately breathe.  He had much to complain about and had to be miserable now and then.  Confined to a wheelchair and ultimately bed, he never complained, was never upset with God and always kind to his caregivers.  To this day I do not know where that came from.  Dad has helped me keep my “sufferings and limitations” in perspective.

It has been some time now since I complained about my broken leg and poor me.  I think of Tracey, her grandma, Nickoy, my dad, and so many others.  Your well wishes and prayers, and the support of wonderful benefactors, have pushed me along to better health; physically, emotionally and spiritually.  And I cannot wait to take J.B. (our dog) to the beach for our regular walk, run and swim!

Physical therapist Ms. Addiman assesses Fr. Jim's situation.

Physical therapist Ms. Addiman assesses Fr. Jim’s situation.

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